Seeking Conversions In A Discovery-Oriented World

Because David Berkowitz has been probing the issue of search vs. discovery in recent Search Insider columns (See:, I'd like to point out some thorny challenges faced by the search community as we move to a world where information is shared more freely via social networks and discovered through ways that might be termed "less active" -- because they depart from traditional search query behavior. How exactly are agencies and marketers supposed to think about the idea of discovery as a critical component of consumer influence toward action/conversion?

The Evolution of Influence
In the old days, marketers didn't have to think much about being "discovered," as long as they were willing to buy enough advertising tonnage.  In a world of finite channels and media outlets, random encounters with great creative were guaranteed. Today's world of infinite channels and messaging capabilities has eroded the possibility of ubiquity and added enormous complexity to the media-planning mix in one fell swoop.

Furthermore, creative has been effectively commoditized. For better or worse, the days of "The Nestea Plunge" and "Plop Plop Fizz Fizz" are over, and no amount of whining from Madison Avenue will bring them back. Just as desktop software put the power and freedom of creative development into the hands of many, the evolution of new online media formats has been driven by the ease with which a marketer can create/serve an impression and communicate with an audience. Anyone with the will to market a product or service can be a marketer today, based on the ubiquity of self-service tools for campaign creation and management.

The bad news is that in a media eco-system saturated with creative messages, it's difficult to discover any messages that influence you to dig further. When creative becomes a commodity, we as marketers stand to lose because the powerful touch points we create within the context and path of a consumer's behavior will be void of appeal and fail to bring people into the rabbit hole of discovery as they move daily through their digital lives.

Can You Optimize For Discovery?
The concept of "optimization" relies on the adjustment of certain variables and elements of your controllable media/marketing initiatives to drive an optimal result. With the rise of image and video search platforms, social media sites, and other ways to increase engagement points that influence discovery, the question becomes who, what, when, and where will you track --  then how will you report, and when reported, what will you do to optimize for an intended result, and why?

For agency folks, our toolkit must grow and change to take on this challenge, and our technologies must provide a full picture that is also actionable. A challenge we already face industrywide is bringing the search and media side of businesses together to measure and optimize just a few points of consumer engagementn-- and even this is riddled with questions and contention.

We are also challenged by metrics that can be extremely different based on varying cookie lengths, first vs. last instances as standard forms of measurement, reporting, and APIs required to enable real-time changes based on data and performance.  Let's also not forget that the search person isn't necessarily the search person -- he or she is the SEO person or SEM person, who is not the "media person" (do we now need a "social person?").  To integrate or not integrate has its challenges, as the fundamentals and best practices of each of these disciplines are served best by focus and specialization. Yet optimizing for any path that consists of multiple engagement points will need to look holistically at users and content consumption across various behaviors.

My point is that optimizing for increased "discovery" should be something we all embrace. Consumers of information display overlapping behaviors (often within the same browsing session) that include "hunting" pursuant to a preexisting intent and "grazing"-- using a mindset receptive to serendipitous messaging that closely resembles play. Marketers must keep these two behaviors in mind and make channel/message decisions optimized for both.

Unfortunately, even among some of the brightest minds -- and most sophisticated tracking/reporting systems -- in our industry, true integration of channels in data tracking, reporting, analysis, and action is no easy task, which makes differentiating these complex behaviors and designing appropriate campaigns difficult.

I wish us all good luck, because we're all going to need it. Faced with potentially hundreds of engagement points, all occurring in real time at varying costs and directed by differing strategic intents, we must make sure that the control we exert in our campaign management and optimization efforts really influences performance



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