Teenage Search Angst

In the late 90s, I was working on a campaign to make Compaq hip. The firm attempted to buy itself coolness by sponsoring Sting's world tour and setting up a flashy set of interactive functionality on (If you're curious, I'm sure that WaybackMachine has some version or another.)

Just about every month, a higher-up would bring the collective team into a conference room and say, "So what have you come up with for broadband? We need to pitch a broadband initiative." Excited by the promise of what big pipes could allow, we would develop some very cool ideas, and then eventually, every time, conclude that, uh, no one really had broadband access yet.

This is the same teenage angst we are feeling in the search engine marketing industry today, where the technology that's available is far ahead of consumer adoption. We are stuck in the awkward period between proposing a revolutionary idea and doing what is right for the brand.



Rebel without a cause. Tired of addressing clicks and spiders, media coverage has shifted focus to mobile and video search, despite the slow consumer adoption rate. One SEM employee told me, "Everyone writes about it, but no clients are paying for it." And who blames them? It is somewhat unfair to expect a brand to underwrite a particular agency's R&D.

For the record, I believe that search will expand far beyond the interface we know today. I am so anxious to see wireless and video become reality that I just can't stand it. That being said, it is tiring to hear about fabulous new teams and technologies without any real client case studies. I would be much happier if firms said, "We have just launched an R&D team to explore, with some of our forward-thinking clients, how new search applications will evolve over time."

Unfortunately, the press releases inevitably focus on who is the first, the biggest, the flashiest, the jazziest in mobile and video search.

Just be yourself. Friend and techie colleague Keith Marran made it clear that being first was not always best when he told me, "Good applications are never about the technology, they are about filling a need in peoples' lives." This sentiment was echoed by usability guru Mark Hurst at last week's NYC Tech Meetup. Hurst reminded the technologically advanced audience to wield the craft wisely, to build useful products, as opposed to whiz-bang flashy thingies. Just because you can, doesn't mean you should. "Technology is supposed to make our lives easier," he said.

One rule of thumb is to examine your own tech behavior. For example, one SEM sales rep said, "I look at my own mobile habits, and advertising does not fit in well." Knowing that you are in the upper 1 percent of the online population, if you or your kids are not early adopters, you can bet that 99 percent of the online world is not there yet.

It just takes time. Technology is fast, and we love that. Yet speed can kill when you are responsible for a brand's marketing dollars. We need to find a balance as the technology, the agencies and the brands come together and commit dollars to building the future.

Bryan Carlton Byrd, of New Breed Wireless, has an admirably soft sell. He told me calmly a few years back, "If you are not part of the wireless New Breed today, that's OK. Someday you will be, and that may take time." He was right.

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