In thinking about what's happening in the media world today, many an overhyped adjective comes to mind -- consumer-controlled, integrated, and plain ole digital -- but, at the end of the day, "converging" seems to best capture the essence of it (not to mention it's a catch-all -- aka cop-out).
See You at the Crossroads
There's no question that the pervasiveness of the digital platform is changing the face of media as people take control of their consumption, leaving marketers, agencies and publishers scrambling to integrate their assets. The result is a convergence of channels -- my favorite is "digital print" as exemplified by the Amazon Kindle -- and a convergence of marketing tactics - e.g., blogs as PR tools and social networks as guerilla word-of-mouth vehicles.
Of course, at the crossroads of all this convergence lies search. Search helps consumers access the glut of content that's now delivered digitally. And search helps marketers connect with those consumers at the most relevant moment with the most relevant message.
But it's becoming harder and harder to separate search from the rest of the media landscape. There's content networks, in-text advertising, search retargeting -- and the list goes on and on and gets blurrier and blurrier. Convergence indeed.
Meanwhile, on the agency side, you have search firms branching out into creative, Web development, social media, auction media, etc. And you have traditional media agencies, Web dev shops, creative boutiques and their mothers creating search practices. Would you like a side of convergence with that?
Back to media publisher/aggregators. You have Google buying DoubleClick to get into display -- while at the same time pressing ahead with TV, radio, and print platforms. You have folks like Spot Runner branching out from TV to search. And, once again, you have rumors of a Microhoo deal. Do you, Yahoo, take Microsoft to be your convergent bride?
As I pointed out in my last column, the only part of the ecosystem that doesn't seem to be converging all that quickly is the org structure at large corporations. You still have ecommerce separate from marketing separate from PR, yadda yadda. Slowly but surely, we're seeing key stakeholders unite and, while today there aren't many Fortune 5's that have truly integrated teams, there are plenty with active cross-functional initiatives.
On The Verge
It's inevitable that these silos will come tumbling down and, when they do, everyone with a stake in search marketing better be ready. Because no CMO is going to settle for a search-only solution. Nor should they.
So what can search marketers -- both in-house and at agencies -- do to prepare for this outcome?
Here's a quick list:
1. Go fly a kite. Seriously. Step away from the spreadsheet. Go to the beach. Hoist a kite. Take note how it goes wherever the wind takes it. And remember, in the fluid marketing world of tomorrow, the key to success will be agility.
2. Learn what CPM means. It won't be long before search, like most media, is bought and sold on a CPM basis. The only question is whether the driver will be a desire to quantify and capture all those "non-clicks" or whether it will be platforms like Microsoft's AdCenter -- that allow marketers to overlay keyword-targeting with other behavioral and contextual selects -- finally delivering meaningful scale (read: buying Yahoo).
3. Take some marketing classes. It's called search marketing for a reason. If you came into the space without a marketing background, you'll need to brush up on your 4 Ps if you want to contribute to the conversation or even just keep your seat at the table.
4. Learn how to communicate. If your idea of communication is telling someone what keywords are working best, what copy test you just ran, or what bid optimizations you made, you've got another thing coming. And that thing is a pink slip. Figure out how to translate search-speak into the CMO's vernacular. Talk about insights gleamed from proactive consumer behavior. Talk about creative messaging that will resonate with a target audience. Talk about supply, demand, and point of diminishing returns.
5. Integrate your data. Share your search data with everyone and anyone. Mash it up against TV weight to see the impact of GRPs on search volume. Roll it up with display (or enable exposure-to-conversion tracking) to assess various consumer touchpoints. Tie front-end search data and any subsequent site registrations to offline sales. Attach search queries to customer profiles to enable more targeted CRM efforts. Position yourself (through search) as the glue that connects disparate data sources and enables robust analytics and modeling.
6. Educate. Demystify search. For so long, we've tried to overcomplicate things in an effort to justify our existence. Break search marketing down into bite-size morsels that even the CMO can understand. Deliver a Search 101 to the offline media team or the PR folks. And then ask that they return the favor and bring you up to speed on their area of expertise.
Fear not, search marketers. An integrated media world does not have to leave you high and dry. To make sure you're not up convergence creek without a paddle, follow the steps I've outlined here and, before you know it, you'll be saying, "I love the smell of convergence in the morning. It smells like... victory."