It's About The Consumer, Stupid!

Here we are, roughly midway through 2010, and I find myself thumbing back through old articles on Search Insider, like my first of 2010, titled "The Opportunity Impact Of Change."  As I looked back at trends, my own thoughts, and how our business has evolved I recognized a theme -- which is not surprising, for, as they say, vision is usually 20/20 in hindsight.  That theme is around the art of pinpointing and predicting future value -- and how often this gets separated from where value is actually created.

Simply put, value is created by the end consumer, and everything flows back up the food chain from there.  This seems really simple, but all too often this gets over-thought and muddled with the confusion of one's organizational place within the food chain.  History has seen it before, and our industry is rich in change and opportunity with lots of exposed risk.



Let's start with where value has traditionally been made in the media world: TV and creative as a mechanism to drive value and extract value in return.  We have seen in everyone's favorite show, "Mad Men," how the transition from creative to media+creative went.  In our industry we go through long periods of the same punctuated by quick spurts of massive change.  So fast-forward to this year, where we have watched how strong digital has become and how much search is a part of the post-recession growth.  I wrote about this in an article titled "My Big-Bang Change Theory."  Just a few months ago after Media Post's Search Insider Summit, I also wrote about how consumers were driving change in our industry -- but how much have we changed in how we drive value for our clients, based on how consumers' behavior is changing?

For all the growth in consumer search usage and all the research demonstrating search's value in a multimedia-digital world, many advertisers still under-invest in search by not scaling their budgets in line with their target audience's usage, and then not strategically tying that in with all other communications efforts.  There is still a huge missed opportunity with video optimization of existing assets and outtakes to ensure optimal exposure across all relevant SERPs and engines. Many advertisers are additionally missing out on mobile-, local-, and social-related searches, for reasons ranging from trackable ROI to perceived risk of exposure to the inefficiency of effort to volume.  Plus search is, for my liking, still too limited to direct response.  I could go on, but I assume you see where I am going...

So now, let's look at Google for a baseline.  They continue to try and crack the shell of social, mobile, and other emerging areas of search because that's where the consumers are.  This is the fastest growing aspect of search and much of it exists outside of the engine's core reach.  They are making these efforts even though in some cases the volume and adoption is in its infancy, because they are trying to lay the foundation now for future value creation as search behavior evolves.

If you were Google and were watching a percentage of your early funnel search traffic go to other niche communities, services, and/or mobile apps, then you would worry. too. Having a lock on navigational queries isn't enough because on top of that you also know advertisers, agencies, networks, and technology platforms alike are using multiclick attribution, so you know you will lose some percentage of the value of that final click to conversion.  So what you do?  You continue to put resources into testing different options so you are prepared for what's next.

We could debate the quality of Google's efforts and corresponding results, but that's not the point.  The point is to question what we are doing in our organizations to find new areas of value creation.  It would seem simple to just follow the consumer, but organizational silos and barriers get in the way. 

We need to be more like Google and be bold and aggressive because, moving forward, the consumer is mobile, the consumer still watches TV, is digitally connected, and increasingly very search-savvy.  As a result of this search-centric connectivity, we need to break down silos and develop new practices.

Below is a list that, while by no means exhaustive, represents my hot buttons du jour:

1)     Use search data upstream in media mix planning and share consumer insights downstream with the search teams.

2)     Keep fluidity to search budgets, "fish where the fish are."

3)     Don't ignore nontraditional search elements.

4)     Don't fund search budgets by taking budget from other media; they are key search drivers.

5)     Don't let ownership of your site and tagging impede optimization.

6)     Don't ignore the data.

You do have to wonder why we make it so hard.  If we just followed the consumer and stuck with some basic common sense, would we find more success?

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