Search in A World Of Converged Media

I spent a good amount of time over the weekend poring over Altimeter Group’s recent report, “The Converged Media Imperative.” The research is highly recommended reading if you haven’t yet downloaded it yourself. Authors Rebecca Lieb and Jeremiah Owyang unpack their findings over 26 slides, identifying throughout the requirement to connect with audiences through a combination of paid, earned, and owned media.

  • Paid media: explicit pay-for-placement advertising (broadcast, digital, search, etc.)
  • Earned media: media exposure that is accomplished without a paid media component (public relations, organic search, social media activity and exposure, etc.)
  • Owned media: assets that the organization itself owns for self-promotion (corporate websites, campaign sites, social destinations, etc.)

The overarching premise is that consumers today are dynamic in that they rely on a range of influences when forming opinions about brands and researching purchase decisions. This is further complicated by consumer mobility; smartphone technologies have multiplied the range of potential touch points.

For marketers to effectively reach these dynamic, mobile, complex consumers, a fluid orchestration of communications activities is now essential.

After absorbing these themes (and others that ran amok in my mind), I naturally turned my thoughts to the field of search engine marketing. Search is clearly caught in the cross-hairs of Lieb and Owyang’s view of a converged media reality. As recently as two weeks ago, I stressed the importance for SEMs to “know your role, and this research puts even more pressure on us to acknowledge that much of the efficacy realized from search is directly connected to the awareness- and demand-generating activities from other channels.

Pulling back out of the weeds a bit, I see three key themes immediately emerge from these insights

1) Digital marketers as “orchestrators.” Just as a conductor leads his orchestra with poise and precision, the digital orchestrator reacts and responds to the ever-changing dynamics of our connected world. Digital orchestrators need to possess deep cross-channel competencies in order to identify and respond to changing market conditions and emerging opportunities.  This is a very senior marketing professional: one with expertise in all facets of digital and traditional marketing.

What will separate the legitimate digital orchestrator from pretenders is a fluency in data. Equal parts of left- and right-brained activity will be necessary for brands to successfully and simultaneously delight, engage, convert and retain customers. Rapid iteration in communications messaging, and constant re-optimization, will fill the orchestrator’s day.

2) Agnostic media partners. An extension of the above, agency partners will be pushed to become more channel-agnostic than ever before. With the rise of the digital orchestrator, communications tactics and media mix will always be in flux. The legacy model that most agencies employ looks at discrete financial performance (if not a formal P&L) by discipline area. Within media departments, search, display, and traditional channels are viewed separately from one another.

If your job is to sell search and your client has available funds, guess what you’re going to push for, regardless of what the data may suggest? Search. I know, because I’ve been there myself.

The agnostic media partner in a converged media environment will advocate for optimized video assets, more broadcast media, or a refocus on social channels. Whatever is in the best interests of the client at that particular time will prevail as the recommendation.

3) Thought leadership as a marketing communications hub. The most interesting piece of the Altimeter study was the “Converged Media Workflow” graphic that appears on slide 13. It reminds me of a similar graphic that Lee Odden of TopRank Marketing presented two years ago at a B2B marketers summit, which advocated for corporate blogs as the hub of all communications. This more robust, circa 2012 version makes many of the same recommendations, but positions content and real-time data as centerpieces.

That “content” is very likely corporate thought leadership, which by its very nature is original, compelling, and share-worthy. It is an owned body of work that can earn attention for the organization through numerous channels, search included. It is also a very logical enticement to offer via paid media outlets.

The presence of data throughout the workflow/optimization cycle provides for a halo effect over time: subsequent communications have greater built-in audiences to receive and socialize the content. And the greater that content is acknowledged and socialized, the greater new materials can be leveraged as enticements for paid media.

The cyclical process begins anew, over and over.

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