Knowledge Gap: CEOs, CMOs, VPs and SEM

By Matt Spiegel, CEO
Appeared in Search Engine Watch, November 26

In last week's
column, I discussed the lack of online and search marketing education for marketing/advertising college students and the result this has in our industry's inability to grow at the speed of its full potential. I'm on to a similar theme this week; however, I'm addressing a whole different knowledge gap. I'm now pondering how well our industry is dealing with key decision makers (CMO's, VP's Media/Advertising, agency CEO's, etc.) and their increasing level of search understanding.

In the White Hot Spotlight

The phrase, "a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing" comes to mind as I wonder how our industry can best leverage the expertise spotlight. The spotlight is a fitting image -- the light is hot and bright where it's directly pointed. Outside the spotlight there's a lot going on, it just isn't lit up and it isn't being emphasized.

I'm a strong believer in the power of knowledge sharing. I've never liked working with people who thought their value was in hoarding their expertise. This attitude only made me wonder if that person really knew anything at all. That said, I'm coming to see where a little bit of knowledge is indeed dangerous.

When Knowledge Gap is Dangerous

The key players across the media world are all definitely interested in learning as much as possible about search. After all, paid search is predicted by eMarketer to remain over 40 percent of digital media budgets through 2011 (the farthest out I've seen any projections). With almost $1 out of every $2 online spent on search, if I ran a media company (or an advertising group or similar, that wasn't focused on search, of course) I'd be in line to expand my search knowledge, too. Here's the question: when would I have enough information?

My concern is that too many people consider themselves knowledgeable well before that's actually the case. I need to be clear on what I mean here -- I support people who gather some information and are smarter about a topic today than they were yesterday. However, simply because you now have more knowledge doesn't necessarily mean you are prepared to make key decisions with this information. Yet, this is what I see happening in the search world.

As Good as it Gets?

The question, "Am I getting good or great?" is a fitting query for what too often happens. This question raises its head when there's someone who has enough knowledge to understand many of the moving parts of search.

Digging into the details, an executive sees there are business opportunities being left on the table and begins to wonder, "Is this as good as it gets in the industry or is my team/agency not living up to expectations?" No doubt in some cases it is, but more often than not, I've found that the newness of the industry is the reason for perceived inefficiencies.

It Can't be That Difficult

A second scenario stems from the all-too-frequent "it can't be that difficult" assumption. We've all been there as business leaders. Sometimes I make things sound easier than they appear on purpose in order to speed action. However, just as often, this assumption is made from lack of understanding.

I'm not sure what it is, but I think we're all willing to think there's less sophistication in that which we don't understand (stay focused on advertising to follow this analogy; I fully get that neurosurgery is sophisticated and I don't understand it at all). In these situations, we undervalue the role of an expert and set off on our own, often misguided, course.

SEM Education Leads to Investment, Innovation

For me, this all adds up to our need as an industry to stay focused on demonstrating our value as strategic business partners. After all, it's our job to teach and inform in a manner that encourages investment and innovation. If the industry around us isn't using the knowledge we've given them in the way we'd expect, blame the teacher, not the student.

What do all of you think? I'd love to hear your experiences with your bosses/clients. I encourage us to continue to teach, not pull back from it. Do you agree?


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