Going Out of Business: The End Of Search Marketing

A guy walks into a search pitch meeting and says, "Thank you for inviting me here today. But I'm not in -- and you don't want someone in -- the search marketing space to be your search vendor."

Now the punchline to that could have been the guy ends up on a barstool in about 15 minutes because he was thrown out on his ear. But it wasn't. In fact, the reality was a two-hour discussion about the change that is taking place which has its roots in search, but transcends our business entirely.

Most people in the search space have spent the past five years desperately looking for ways to get into the "grown-up" conversations. Big agencies, which puff up their chests and tout their TV buying revenues and the power they wield in shaping the opinions of consumers through 30-second commercials, have been the power brokers that search could only dream to be.

And while a few companies have evolved or attempted to distance themselves from the search-only business through PR devices and VC-based means, the majority of search agencies are now either subsets of larger chest-thumping media groups or, still in a very search-centric, solutions-based world that remains stuck talking about bid management technologies and keywords.



Full disclosure: I oversee both agency-centric search groups and a stand-alone unit in the space, so my commentary comes from a place of full view, which I believe qualifies me to talk about what may happen next. And that next is a place where the old guard and the new guard find themselves united in a battle for perceived value in the eyes of both advertisers and consumers.

It's also the reason why I suggest that the business of search marketing is evolving to a point where, inside of 12 months, the suggestion that we are in the search marketing business will be like suggesting humans are in the oxygen business. It's simply what is required to survive. For a long period of time, we've agreed that search is changing consumers. It's also changing marketers because it forces them to be relevant and timely.

Our job as marketers is to elevate perceptions about brand, and encourage these brand experiences to be shared. A portion of this is done inside the context of paid media, be it TV or search. But the brand, the connection and the distribution has to be the driver, not the sheer volume of media we can buy at cheaper costs than the next guy.

Advertising sits at a crossroad today where a majority of consumers attribute, in part, the current economic plight to the industry, and younger generations feel empowered to form opinions through their own collective without input from the very merchants whose existence is dependent on brand affinity. The question of change is not so much a question, but a mandate that some are moving toward rapidly -- while others hold on to the past without care for the pending repercussions.

Our future is digital, and it is rooted in a more social and searchable world, but it remains centered around the brand, the assets and attributes that exist within that brand. So, when is a search agency no longer really a search agency? Next time, I'll explain what I think the future holds, why it will become the norm and what to look for in this new vehicle for brand performance.

8 comments about "Going Out of Business: The End Of Search Marketing".
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  1. Jonathan Mendez from Yieldbot, May 8, 2009 at 11:51 a.m.

    Chris, where have you gone? Our job as marketers is to sell stuff. Focusing on brand perceptions and sharing these experiences sounds like you've been brainwashed by the big agency world. Brand perceptions and attributes are 100% in the consumer control now based on real life experience, not advertising. I say in the minds of most consumers your brands are not welcome to interrupt those peer-to-peer conversations. What you are welcome to do it help people achieve their goals. This is what search does so well and why it (and other performance advertising) continues to eat the lunch of soft metric brand awareness. If you want to focus on brand I suggest you forget perception/sentiment and focus on demand-gen that can help drive those back-end performance numbers.

  2. Steve Baldwin from Didit, May 8, 2009 at 12:04 p.m.

    I liked this article because it was very well-written. But I think that the statement about search agencies being "stuck" in a conversation about bidding technologies implies that these technologies aren't important.

    If you're racing competitive cars or are in the competitive car racing industry, you're going to have a lot of conversations about the mechanics that determines who wins and who loses. Whatever your object is (winning the branding race, or the ROI race, or the market share race), only fools ignore the hardware that's under the hood.

    Big agencies don't have any clout when it comes to putting forward first-rate bidding technologies and the strategies governing their operation. You CANNOT WIN without them. This is where big agencies, with all their "chest-thumping bluster" utterly fall down. They cannot afford to build first-rate bidding technologies and cannot afford to buy them.

  3. Jaime Marin, May 8, 2009 at 12:13 p.m.

    Good analysis of the industry. In my opinion you are right on the money here, and the way I see it, is that agencies keep on defending TV buys because is a great revenue generator and not many people including myself know much about what the future of advertising and media buying or media placement will be.

  4. David Lazar from Inc., May 8, 2009 at 12:17 p.m.

    We view search as part of internet marketing, those with TV buying history do not get search but have customers who want media is part of internet marketing is part of social marketing...but inside search you have seo, ppc, directories, shopping feeds, content optimization, blogs, video, images, social website profiles, and more. If an old ad agency says they are a search agency what does that mean? Search alone is one part of internet marketing- not the entire process - and it can deserve the attention of a dedicated company or agency if mixed with other marketing strategies. There are companies that just do PPC management and others that just do Optimization – and there are companies that do both.

  5. David Lazar from Inc., May 8, 2009 at 12:18 p.m.

    too bad you cant track tv like you can track search...

  6. Daniel Laury from Geary LSF , May 8, 2009 at 6:46 p.m.

    Chris, I have seen better. I was intrigued by the header and started reading but frankly I don't know where you're going. You need a follow up to clarify your thinking.

  7. Ruth Barrett from, May 11, 2009 at 12:59 p.m.

    I think it is hard for folks with a brand orientation to ever be comfortable with the way things are going and to be rewarded for their efforts in the wide wide world of the Web. The climate in which branding came into full bloom has changed.

    Consumer power and control coupled with interaction or "responsiveness" (to use a traditional term) of the medium performs to expectations (benchmarks) when generating a lead or selling a product/service off the page. With the movement towards more sustainable lifestyles our citizens need solid information upon which to make choices and, as choice architects we need to create "nudges" in THAT direction. (Good book, Nudge by Thaler and Sunstein)

  8. Joe Fredericks, May 12, 2009 at 4:44 p.m.

    Great article. Exchanges, digital, yes.

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