Winning at digital

Google’s Leonie Valentine shares her thoughts on digital marketing for small and medium businesses.


Leonie Valentine is Google’s Asia-Pacific customer experience director, managing a team that looks after customer care for Google’s small to medium business (SMB) advertisers across Asia. That includes businesses that use AdWords, Google My Business and Google Analytics.

Businesses across the region can pick up the phone and reach a local language-speaking support person, or chat in a dozen different languages, or email as well.

Helping countless SMBs across Asia Pacific means Valentine is very well placed to notice the major trends, challenges and success stories for SMBs in this region.

And Business State got to pick her brains.

Business State: What do we mean when we talk about ‘customer experience’ and why is it so important for small and medium businesses?

Leonie Valentine: As the internet has developed over the last 18 years, the landscape for small business has changed dramatically. It used to be very much about local business and you were only servicing your local area. Now, using online marketing, local businesses are able to reach customers in the next town, the next state and even overseas.

What really sets businesses apart is the experience that an individual customer has with your business. People buy from people. They buy from people that they like, and a lot of the experience of interacting with organisations is people driven, such as the service. ‘We received great service so I want to go back.’ ‘They guaranteed the product.’

When you put yourself in the customer’s shoes and you think about all of those experiences that you’ve had, and they’ve been terrific, it mentally predisposes you to go back and buy more from that organisation. 

Why is it important for a business owner to put themselves in the customer’s shoes and understand how they actually go about making decisions and buying stuff?

Getting out and into the local areas and understanding the challenges of local markets is important.

For example, we did an exercise where we went into the local markets in India, which are very tightly packed, and assisted those businesses to get their little flag in the exact right position on Google Maps, so that people could find their business in a crowded bazaar. Little things like that can make a big difference to individuals.

In places like the US, Australia and the UK, we take for granted the high bandwidth and high speed networks, but in some places you’ve got 2G mobile phone connectivity and the local broadband connection is super slow. It’s always critical to think about how your customer is experiencing your product.

So knowing how people are searching, such as if they’re using mobile phones to find businesses, is important?

Yes, that’s one of the big lessons for a lot of the Australian small to medium businesses that design and sell their goods and services outside of Australia. They have to really think about who’s going to be accessing the internet and how they are going to be accessing information about their products.

The internet allows businesses to export in a way that was previously out of reach for most small businesses. An Australian small business that wants to export needs to think very hard about the experience their customers will have. For example, in a place like India or Indonesia, about 60 percent of the internet user base is mobile only. No access to desktop, no PC. So it completely shifts how these small to medium businesses should think about reaching their potential new markets.

We’re very interested in your recommendation to ‘learn from extreme users’. Can you give any examples of small businesses that have seen great growth by using digital marketing?

There are so many! For example, in Vietnam there is a guy, Mr Nguyen, who makes a centuries-old braised fish dish. It’s a very common dish in Vietnam, but the braised fish from Vu Dai village is unique, a recipe passed down the generations for over 700 years.

Thanks to the internet, he is able to market his braised fish online and he now delivers it all around Vietnam. That business is amazing and it shows how the web can help great businesses scale and realise enormous ambitions.

And I love this story because of the ecosystem for that business. It’s not just him that’s benefiting; it’s the guys that raise the fish, it’s the people that make the clay pots, it’s the people that supply his wood. And then there are the employment opportunities that he’s made for the village around running his own call centre, running his own customer service, hiring more and more cooks.

What advice do you have for businesses trying to get started in digital marketing?

For any business, it always starts with their business goals. What’s the fundamental purpose of your company? What goods or service are you trying to provide? Who are you trying to reach?

It’s then important to translate that into marketing goals. Our teams help people look at the target keywords that somebody may be searching for. If you’re talking about flowers and you’re talking about wedding arrangements, it could be ‘wedding flowers’ as your keyword.

Then, like all things in life, in your business, you really need to think very carefully about how much you are prepared to spend to get what kind of return? The return on investment becomes a very critical question.

What are the main challenges that you help SMBs with? Is there a common theme?

There are a lot of different challenges.

For some people, it comes down to the basics. They understand their business and they want to target some customers. They are looking for help in how to target their online activity in a more focused and cost-effective way.

The people in my team are not customer service personnel; they’re online specialists.

With the basics down, what’s the next step to innovate?

A lot of organisations start with getting a website, but these days smartphones are everywhere and a desktop site is not enough – businesses need to make sure their sites work well on mobile.

They also constantly need to evolve. Tools like Google Analytics can tell website owners what’s working and what’s not.

Landing pages are like the front door of your store. If you have a great landing page, people will want to come in and spend time with you.

What do you love about working with SMBs?

For us, small and medium businesses are at the heart of what we do. Anywhere in the world, whether it’s Australia, the US, Indonesia or Sri Lanka, small and medium businesses are the heart of a healthy economy.

When we look at all of the businesses across Asia, we see how important they are for their local communities, not only in terms of generating wealth, but also in terms of the next generation of people who are being brought up and the overall well-being of those countries.

What we’re seeing now more than ever before is that they’re able to use digital technologies to reach more and more people and be successful in much shorter periods of time. That’s great for them – and it’s great for their local communities.

Bank of Melbourne regularly hosts events with business leaders to access their insights into the world of business. To find out more, contact your Relationship Manager.