Elite SEM plans to build support for brands looking to better understand the data they collect through their own and partner systems. During the next few years, the company will focus on counseling marketers how to use their data.
Ben Kirshner, Elite SEM founder and CEO, points to the lack of qualified data scientists as one of the biggest challenges brands will have in 2017.
Many digital agencies built data teams in 2016 simply to hold on to the client, only to find themselves stuck in the middle of a who-owns-the-data war, he said.
In 2017, big data and artificial intelligence will continue to evolve, but engines like Google and Bing will spend time fixing shopping applications, making changes to their search engine results pages.
Kirshner thinks brands will begin to see smart data hubs from Amazon, Microsoft, and Google improve the quality of query results through an increase
in voice search volume.
Voice will make search easier for consumers in 2017, but Kirshner doesn't think it will become a disruptive technology to the search industry in 2017. "I think it's still a non-commercial feature, where people look for the weather and not diapers," he said. "Advertisers aren't bidding aggressively for the generic-related terms like 'diapers' and expect the voice search algorithms to return branded query results on mobile similar to desktop."
Voice search will create a lot of searches similar to Maps, but not for commercial use. Five years from now you'll say "hey, I need life insurance" and the query will return results the person can use based on historic searches and connections with other devices.
Kirshner believes the shift will likely occur in 2018 and 2019, but for now the engines will continue to focus on building support for artificial intelligence until they have "enough data to give me information on specific types of insurance services when I say 'I'm looking for car insurance, please,'" he said.
Kirshner has built an interesting business model based on risk and reward. Employees are called "intrepreneurs," defined as risk-takers willing to accept a flexible salary based on their service to clients at brands. If the agency rep helps the client grow from $10,000 per month in billings to $100,000 because the campaigns are successful, they get financially rewarded.
Elite SEM runs without financial backing from venture capitalists or investors. Kirshner gives phantom equity to the 150 employees and plans to add about 50 people annually for the next three years,. If he ever sold the company each would get a percentage.
"I was fortunate to grow up in a house of entrepreneurs, watching my father and grandfather put their employees first," he said.
Kirshner estimates the agency's revenue will grow 25% in 2017. "I'm expecting between 20% and 25% growth for search," he said.