We’re Not In Search-Land Anymore, Toto

By Aaron Goldman, VP Marketing & Strategic Partnerships
Appeared in MediaPost's Search Insider

That’s the conclusion I came to after the whirlwind that was Search Insider Summit Captiva Island plopped us back onto the mainland, crushing the Wicked Witch of the Silo.
Now, we’re off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Integration. But will he be as elusive as the great Oz?

Join me as I muster the brains, heart and courage to make the journey to Emerald City 2.0 — a place where digital media reigns supreme and search is embedded into the platform, not a channel unto itself.

Somewhere Over the Search Rainbow

Anyone who was at SIS Captiva can attest to the fact that the major themes of the conference were not specific to search. Rather, they were what I call “search-and” — search and social, search and branding, search and mobile, etc.

For those who weren’t in Captiva, you can catch up on all the buzz by reading my last two columns. Suffice to say, the dialogue meandered quite a bit, with search never quite being the sole focus but still the common thread. By the end of the three days, we were left wondering whether or not we’d even be having a search-only conference five years from now.

Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain

The conversation among attendees — especially on the client side — seemed almost aspirational in tone. Sentences started with, “Wouldn’t it be nice if…” or “At some point…” and ended with “But we’re not there yet” or “But the CMO just doesn’t get it.”

The general feeling was that publishers and agencies delivering truly integrated solutions was putting the cart ahead of the horse — or shall I say, integration is a horse of a different color.
As long as large corporations have separate marketing and ecommerce departments, truly integrating search will be the stuff of pure fantasy. What’s the incentive for a publisher or agency to create cross-channel solutions when it requires sign-off from multiple client constituencies spanning various P&Ls?

Follow The Yellow Brick Road (to Mountain View)

There is one company that’s not waiting for the world to change. Of course, I’m talking about the Big G. I think it’s now safe to say that Google’s mission to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” is about as stale as playing “Dark Side of the Moon” on loop after the three MGM lions roar (OK, that never gets old — but you get my point).

Google’s modus operandi these days is to bring search-like advertising to all forms of media. However, its aggressive push into TV, radio and print might be less about Google seeing a need in the marketplace for integrated solutions, and more about needing to diversify its revenue stream, which is still predominantly paid search.

Regardless of Google’s motives, it’s clear that there are inefficiencies in the media-buying process that Google’s solution remedies. The fact that media agencies have been slow to adopt Google’s TV, radio, and print platforms speaks less to the results Google delivers and more to the limited scale it provides (today).

The Ruby Slippers

Perhaps the real gem in a world of digital media ubiquity is not in efficiency but in targeting. The latter is where Microsoft is sticking its flag in the sand, as evidenced by its recent acquisition of Navic.

Per Steve Ballmer — “There will be no media consumption left in 10 years that is not delivered over an IP network. There will be no newspapers, no magazines that are delivered in paper form. Everything gets delivered in an electronic form.”

Auction-based pricing and single-interface buying and reporting dashboards — Google’s sweet spot to date — are nice but don’t capture the full potential of a pervasive digital media platform. That honor goes to behavioral targeting across all consumer media touchpoints, which is where Microsoft seems to be laser-focused.

I’m Melting, I’m Melting

And what of a world in which executing programs across all media is as easy as, er… no more difficult than, running a paid search campaign today? With the lines between channels blurred, the silos that exist within marketing organizations, agencies, and media publishers must be melted away.

On the agency side, media was separated from creative primarily to aggregate clout and create efficiency. Then digital media was broken out from traditional to capitalize on skill sets unique to each discipline. Then Google came along and gave Joe in his garage the same pricing as the big boys on Mad Ave, before going one step further and creating tools to automate much of the media-buying process. Is it time for the agencies to fold all these competencies back together again?

From a media publisher/aggregator standpoint, the migration has been underway for some time to combine traditional and digital assets — inventory and people — into one holistic solution. Companies like NBC Universal have taken a leadership position, and upstarts like Spot Runner are positioned to carve out a nice piece of the cross-channel pie.

Which leaves us with marketing organizations. Ideally, the transformation would start here. That would certainly make it easier for agencies and publishers to align accordingly. For whatever reason — inertia and recession being two major ones — it looks like this will be the last shoe to drop.

There’s No Place Like Home

So what are we, search marketers, to do today?

Do we continue to deliver our solutions in a silo, while we wait for Fortune 500 companies to tear down the walls? The runway is still a few years long for search-only solutions — agency and media-side — and the margins are relatively fat, so I can’t blame companies that decide to go that route.

But if we’re playing for the long haul, I think it behooves us to get our houses in order today to be prepared for the coming convergence. I’ll pick it up here in my next column with some practical steps search marketers can take today to be ready for the world tomorrow.

Now start tapping those heels together.


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