When The Lights Are On, But Nobody is Home
Just as someone on the busy street bumps into me, I have a mildly depressing thought: many of these lights have no one behind them right now. Like stars that died many millions of years ago, the light we see is the last remaining trace of where real people have been. These same people are now bustling down the street in an invisible mass to their next stop. I trudge along, feeling cheated. I crumple up my mental canvas and throw it away on 23rd Street.
In search engine marketing, we love the complexity and sophistication of understanding the individual consumer, and yet the mass seems much easier to deal with. We can see the masses. They are everywhere. The individual is much harder to keep track of.
So what is are search engine marketers to do when the intersection between the brands, the agency and the consumer is the data they're seeking?
Hmm, data. Better call my colleague Kevin Lee, executive chairman of Did-It. Our discussion focused on the mathematical problem of segmenting based on demographics to reach a mass market, and segmenting based on behavior to reach the individual. Direct marketers were early adopters of the practice of adding behavior into the equation to improve ROI.
"So, Kevin, why do I receive excess junk mail from credit card companies that I never intend on using?" I ask. It turns out that I share some demographic or behavioral traits with a group of people that are likely to respond. "I see, so I guess this makes me a big fat outlier on the SPSS chart?" I ask. Exactly. Marketers strive to reduce friction--they are fully aware that sending me mail is waste, except they still don't know who I really am. They see that there is a light on, but they don't know if I am home.
It looks like the direct marketers have become out-sliced and out-diced in the face of SEM. Could MSN, by adding demographic data to the behavioral knowledge of search, be infinitely better at eliminating friction? We take the model a few years out, and assess the potential for the on-demand offspring of SEM, from wireless to television.
This is where Kevin raises the troublesome question of profile data ownership, and the looming threat of cookie deletion and blocking. Until we answer this question, we might never really know who is home, and who just left the light on.