Marketer Trend Watch: From Short-Term Focus To Attribution Struggles

At the SEMPO San Francisco monthly Meet-Up last week, which I had the privilege to moderate, there was a terrific panel talking about strategies for emerging from the Great Recession. The panelists, representing Webtrends, the Napa Valley Wine Train, and the SEM consultancy SingleGrain talked about strategies they've leveraged during a tough economic time, what the data is telling them, and what plans they have in mind for 2010.

For instance, though the nascent recovery from this seminal economic event looks to be one of the jobless variety, signs of revival are everywhere -- even given a buying public that's now chastened, more cautious and committed to frugality.  Macroeconomic indicators are trending positively, companies are reporting profits again, and goods and services are being delivered more efficiently than ever.



The business of selling, however, will remain a real challenge for the foreseeable future.  But the way in which people now shop and buy is very good for search.  

Changing behaviors mean buyers of all stripes rely more on recommendations from social networks, comparison shopping, product and services reviews, and more extensive research before buying commitments are made.  Once a commitment is locked in, buyers turn to finding the promotions, pricing or value-added deals then currently available.  Search is at the center of all this activity.

So folks were feeling (cautiously) optimistic. Some key takeaways include:

Companies are much more short-term-focused than ever before.  Whereas in the past a company might be willing to invest in year-long strategies for building and refining a full SEM strategy, today they want to know what SEM can do for them in the next 30 days.  Marketers are approving budgets, but they're just as willing to pull them if the immediate results aren't what they're looking for.  They're much less willing to invest in experiments -- they want what's proven, tried and true.  Panelists and the audience shared ideas for tightly focusing campaigns with carefully constructed outcome objectives, thoughtful research, and iron-clad measurement.  Still: riskier, long-tail strategies are being used with increasing frequency as marketers look for new "green-field" opportunities to exploit.

Marketers are struggling with attribution.  Because budgets across the board are tight, and SEM is seeing an increasing share of the total marketing pie, folks working outside the SEM remit are demanding credit for the impact of their efforts. Turf wars are heating up, with more demand for measurements that prove ties between non-SEM activities and search-driven marketing.  Unfortunately, folks had few concrete solutions for resolving this tension (which is why I, for one, am looking forward to the discussion at next week's Search Insider Summit in Park City, Utah; Gord Hotchkiss' preview provides tantalizing details.)

Marketers are also trying to be more opportunistic.  For search marketers, this often means looking outside their particular silo to partner with folks in display or PR or event marketing to look at integrated strategies for driving new SEM opportunities.

There was also a great discussion about the need to remember that actual people are behind each and every search, and why speaking to their constantly changing needs, behaviors and interests is so critical.  So listening -- whether by digging more carefully through the data or gathering front-line intelligence from sales and customer service - is so very important.  Also, there were some great examples of rising and falling memes  -- and tracking the zeitgeist, in general  -- that led to excellent "just-in-time" SEM campaigns, which can drive shorter-term, more immediate results.

In general, there's real relief that the worst of the Great Recession seems to be behind us.  Though some in the room have been surviving only by the skin of their teeth, everyone was optimistic that 2010 will be brighter than the year we're finishing up.

And a brighter future is something we can all celebrate on Thursday.  (Have a wonderful day of Thanksgiving!)

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