This question follows MediaPost's OMMA Social event (catch the complete coverage) where a panel discussed the concept of the personal CPM, when brands put a value on consumers who spread marketing messages. In social media, the concept works perfectly, as consumers can become part of the advertising, whether in an ad through networks that target the social graph, or by consumers alerting friends about their brand interactions.
With search, it's different. Your search activities are not broadcast to all your friends, and if they are, you probably want to switch search engines. Yet there are a number of examples of bounties for searchers that indicate the personal CPM can apply. We'll look at four today: Live Search Cashback, Yahoo Canada's Air Miles partnership, the MouseHunt toolbar, and Prodege's Swagbucks.
Live Search Cashback
The best documented of the four examples, Microsoft's Live Search Cashback lists discounts from retailers that can be sorted by the size of a cash refund or the overall lowest price. In practice, it's hardly different from other forms of comparison shopping: shoppers evaluate retailers on a sliding scale of the lowest priced item by the most trusted marketer. This is the only example here where the value of the searcher is dependent on how much he or she spends.
Microsoft also offers rewards for repeat usage of its SearchPerks Perk Counter toolbar, which treats search like a carnival: more searches lead to more tickets, which can be redeemed for real-world goods of varying value. The program's registration filled up with one million registrants, and it's slated to end in April. Toolbars are popular ways to reward searchers, as we'll see from the next two examples. Meanwhile, expect Microsoft to keep leading the search industry in made-up compound words. A few suggestions: SearchRewards, WindowsBucks, or UseLiveSearchAndInternetExplorerOrYourOperatingSystemWillCrashHaHaHa.
Yahoo Canada Air Miles
Courtesy of one of my favorite blogs, Three Minds at Organic, comes the story of Yahoo Canada launching the Air Miles Yahoo Toolbar. Enter 50 queries and you get five Air Miles, up to 30 miles monthly. Is this enough to get people to use the Yahoo Toolbar? You need to run 300 searches just to get those 30 miles. I tried the reward calculator, and it takes 1,175 to 1,450 reward miles to fly round-trip from Montreal to New York, which can be earned over 39 to 48 months. That means up to four years of running 300 queries a month on the toolbar, totaling 14,500 searches. There must be easier ways to travel, like Twitter hitchhiking (or Twitchhiking) around the globe.
Some things have inexplicable appeal, like Howie Mandel, or the nougat in a 3 Musketeers bar. Add to that list the Facebook application MouseHunt, which for me has been the most persistently addictive app I've tried.
MouseHunt recently launched a toolbar, where hunters (as we app players call ourselves) earn the especially potent mouse bait called Super Brie+, with three searches yielding one piece and the opportunity to earn three pieces daily; search results come from Yahoo. Players can also earn Super Brie+ by donating to MouseHunt, completing offers, or buying it on the game-hosted black market for virtual gold. MouseHunt's toolbar makes it easy to earn a substantial amount of Super Brie+ monthly. For addicted players, this definitely has the potential to change their search behavior.
What do the New York Giants, Snoop Dogg, and Barry Manilow have in common? I'm sure there's a great punchline in there somewhere (try your own in the comments), but the one link I'm aware of is that all have branded search engines through Prodege's Swagbucks.com. I've talked about Prodge before, and in several presentations I've included screenshots of its Kevin Federline search engine. To be fully transparent, the swag helped sell me; an autographed photo of K-Fed hangs prominently above my desk. Through Prodege, any query on a branded engine gives the searcher a chance to win Swag Bucks that can be redeemed for prizes from autographs to iPhones. For some reason, an iPhone is worth 84 times a signed K-Fed photo; it should be the other way around.
So, what's your pleasure? Cash, miles, virtual cheese, pseudo-celebrity autographs? The challenge for search engines is trying to change behavior; it's telling that there's no comparable example from Google. It's hardly surprising that so many businesses are trying to quantify the value of increased search usage and will reward consumers accordingly. This economy presents the best time to up the ante. The first search engine to reward searchers with contributions to mortgage and credit card payments may be the recession's best shot at a Google-killer.