Many Boston College marketing majors dream about the chance to work at big-name companies like Reebok, Nike, Nickelodeon, or Google. Marvin Chow has turned this dream into his reality.
Over the past 12 years, Chow, BC ’95, has become a key innovator at Google, where he currently serves as vice president of global marketing. In this role, he has been involved in developing Google Search. He recognizes the importance a Google search can have, as many people turn to Google to find information about heavily significant topics, he said.
“Even with what’s going on with Ukraine right now, we’re looking at like, how can we be helpful?” Chow said. “In these times of crisis, like when you need to find a refugee camp or a shelter, most people turn to Google.”
Chow grew up in Woodcliff, N.J., which he described to be a “small farm town.” When choosing where to attend college, Chow said he gravitated toward the Jesuit education that BC offers.
“When I went to visit, we did everything from party to get up and do Habitat for Humanity, you know,” he said. “I liked this idea of ‘have fun, do good.’”
After arriving at BC, Chow said he felt free to explore various activities on campus, becoming involved in UGBC, diving for the BC swim team, and working with former football head coach Tom Coughlin to produce digital analytics for the football team.
When deciding what to study at BC, Chow landed on concentrating in Marketing and Information Systems in the Carroll School of Management, drawing on his childhood interests.
“When I was little, I was always creative,” he said. “So I always loved marketing and advertising.”
Though today’s BC students use the internet daily, Chow said most people did not know about the internet and the functioning of computers when he first became interested in these new technologies during college.
“I think what was interesting for me was—when I was in school—no one really knew about the internet, and so that’s when I really got into computers and digital work as a profession,” Chow said.
Immediately after graduating from BC, Reebok offered Chow a position, where he created the company’s Digital Internet division. A few years later, Chow accepted the marketing director position at Nickelodeon and subsequently worked as marketing director at Nike. When Google asked Chow to serve as the senior marketing director for Google Asia Pacific in 2009, he had been working at Nike for several years and played a key role in the production of several digital innovation projects, like NIKE+ and NikeiD.
The decision to switch from Nike to Google was not easy, he said, because in 2009, Google was still a relatively new company.
“The company was probably only eight or nine years old at the time,” he said. “So, you know, I got to know them and understand where their technology was going, and after a bunch of meetings, I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to try this thing.’”
Over the course of the past 12 years, Chow said his favorite part of working at Google has been his coworkers. Chow and Google’s current chief of staff, Michelle Winters, met in 2013 and have worked together for the past four years.
“He is someone who is very empathetic,” Winters said. “I think, you know, he cares about the people who are showing up to work, not just the work.”
Savannah Moss, who began working on Chow’s strategy and operations team in 2018, acted as Chow’s speechwriter for both internal and external Google events as he traveled to different marketing offices and talked to different marketing teams.
“I think he’s found a balance of being very authentic to Google’s values, while also talking to big pop culture moments—as well as those big watershed moments when it comes to identity,” Moss said of Chow’s presentations.
Chow also spoke directly to the humanitarian value of both Google and his work as global marketing VP.
“I think that at Google, it’s different from other companies in the sense that I think you genuinely have a sense that people rely on Google—that it helps people,” he said.
Although he loved his role at other companies, Chow said that at times, his job was not quite as rewarding as it is at Google because of the company’s focus on improving the world.
“When I worked at Nickelodeon, my job was to get kids to watch more TV, and it just didn’t feel good,” Chow said. “And I was like, ‘That’s not what I want to do.’”
Chow, who has played a key role in reimagining Google Search, said the search engine provides information for people in various circumstances—from a mother trying to soothe her sick child to a high school student applying to colleges.
“I think the power of information is so amazing in that sense,” Chow said.
Although Chow has enjoyed his time at Google, he discussed how working at such an enormous, wide-scoped company can lead to some challenges. A single team of people can be responsible for covering a wide array of pressing issues at once, such as navigating the search results for topics like the Ukraine or COVID-19 crises. Chow noted that his meetings with colleagues can become tiring and challenging since they constantly switch gears from one topic to the next.
“It’s such a large company, and there’s so much opportunity, so you can never actually capture all the opportunity,” Chow said. “I think you have to be satisfied that you’re doing the best you can.”
Though Google has made significant strides in the world of technology, Chow said the marketing team is always determined to find room for improvement.
“It kind of sounds cliché, but I think a lot of times we talk about this idea that search is not a solved problem,” Chow said. “People love Google Search—you probably grew up with Google Search, and it probably works great. But I think we look at the world, and in some ways, just typing into a little search box feels very archaic.”
Looking toward the future of Google, Chow said the company has already started to investigate using alternative methods to access information, including voice, vision, and lens. Winters added that Google is also exploring methods of searching through the metaverse and virtual reality.
For BC students interested in a career in marketing, Chow emphasized the importance of understanding how to engage and connect with others.
“Marketing is about storytelling,” he said. “It’s about connecting with people. And mastering those fundamentals like empathy, insights, what motivates people, how to connect with people through story and words—that is the craft.”
Although the avenue through which we share information is constantly changing, Chow said the art behind marketing has never changed. When he was growing up, Chow said his marketing medium was television. Now, he’s exploring how to advertise and tell stories through TikTok and Snapchat. Even if today’s technology is unrecognizable in 50 years, Chow said marketing majors can still learn how to connect with their audience and adapt to the mindset of younger generations.
“You know, the medium will change through your career,” Chow said. “But the more you can stay grounded in some of these basic principles and have an open mindset of how to connect with your generation, what are the new tools we need to use, [it] will make you a better marketer.”