Search Marketers In The Mist: An Ethnographic Analysis Of The Captiva Tribe
A Note from Gord Hotchkiss, Search Insider Program Chair: At the past Search Insider Summit, we invited Michelle Prieb and Jen Milks from Ball State University to come and give us an outsider's view of search from a Gen:Next perspective. Little did we realize that by inviting two "digital anthropologists" into our midst, we were also giving them a unique opportunity to conduct an ethnographic analysis of the vocabulary, customs and quirks of the Search Insider tribe. Here's their report:
We came to Captiva with a purpose: to share the voice of the consumer with the glitterati of search marketing. What we realized during our stay on the island was that we were experiencing a marketing subculture in a way that made our anthro-senses tingle. We found ourselves in the midst of a welcoming, yet highly specialized group of marketers who were a bit of a cultural phenomenon. And so, researchers that we are, we carefully observed the distinct habits and cultural anomalies of the breed of search marketers found at Mediapost's Search Insider Summit. We set aside our concerns for several marketers' livers and watched in fascination as the conference-goers stormed, normed and formed their way through a 3-day adventure in the delicate balance between marketing to and connecting with consumers.
Upon entering a new culture, if one makes any attempt to communicate whatsoever, there are bound to be misinterpretations. Embarrassing as these things may be, there are often great revelations to be found in recognizing that they tend to result from different cultural responses to the same stimuli within different contexts. Such was the case for us as we made our way through the Search Insider Summit. We found ourselves scrambling to decode the speech, practices and viewpoints of these marketers through conference presentations, networking dinners and cocktail-hour schmoozing. We learned much about ourselves and our subjects through our journey and we noticed parallels between our quest to understand the marketers and their quest to connect with consumers.
As we observed the marketers in their exotic-yet-temporary habitat, we found that they all spoke a similar form of search-marketing jargon, fraught with acronyms only they could understand. Talk of CPCs, CPMs, PPC and click fraud, although perfectly appropriate between marketers at a search conference, can sound like people speaking in tongues to just about anyone else. Terms like lead generation, saturation and organic can hold very different meanings for those not of the search marketing tribe.
Most marketers may not use jargon-filled terms like optimization or monetization when speaking directly with users, but the language used to describe consumers tends to color the way there are viewed. Consumers like to be considered holistically, rather than as click-throughs and conversions, and the degree to which they feel their perspectives are valued impacts how they receive marketing messages.
To form meaningful alliances with consumers, marketers must serve as anthropologists, learning the language and seeking to understand the perspectives of the consumer tribe, as well as the processes they follow. Constant efforts to listen to consumers can help marketers find ways to bridge those language and culture gaps between the specialized field of search marketing, where numbers impact the bottom line, and a world where search is real people trying to find things. In a dynamic media environment, search will continue to evolve, as will the language, expectations and search behaviors of consumers, further emphasizing the need for an anthropological approach to understanding consumer culture.
Now that the summit is over, marketers have dispersed, returning to their nests and hunting grounds to forage anew. We await the next great migration of search marketers to the mountainous regions of Utah in December, where T-shirts will be traded for snow gear and marketers will again exchange insights and innovations over ski runs and libations. As we prepare for the next event, let the calls of Gord Hotchkiss ring in our ears: to continue exploring the future of search and to understand search as a verb, not a channel, with all that implies for understanding consumers.