Last week, I wrote about the importance of recognizing search advertising as both a direct response and brand-building tool. In the column, I suggested the industry is improperly ignoring the value search delivers beyond the direct conversion. I also suggested we don’t often hear enough about companies effectively using search to activate seasonal and promotional campaigns.
There is no singular reason, but a confluence of factors that keep search marketing strategies focused on the direct return it provides. The one factor I can’t argue with is that it works! Search is the most efficient driver of responses; it delivers volume and enables real-time learning and immediate opportunities for optimization. Who can argue with that? However, much as I use about 2 percent of the functionality of MS Excel, this approach doesn’t capitalize on all the built-in features of search.
The Dreaded Silo
One important reason we are yet to see committed search integration for brand-focused campaigns is the dreaded silo. It’s unfortunate the term “silo” is now considered cliché. The truth is this is a real issue, and not one easily resolved. The creation -- and later the destruction -- of silos is also part of the natural evolution of change.
When the Internet first garnered advertising attention in the 90’s, interactive agencies were born out of necessity. The legacy systems of traditional agencies didn’t well foster this new thinking. When search advertising started to hit the mainstream, not long after the bubble burst, we saw the creation of search-centric agencies, again because interactive agencies also didn’t foster this new thinking. In both cases, the desire for faster innovation rightly created a new silo. We can view much of the same thinking from brands as they began creating .com divisions (or even entirely new companies).
The fact that these walls need to be broken down isn’t news. What is important is that these barriers disappear without dumbing down the expertise within each segment. This is a great fear of many organizations that continue to live in their walled gardens. Luckily, every day, I see more evidence that the tide is turning and companies are beginning to support specialization and integration. Media, agencies, and marketers are all working to ensure that the mix of specialization occurs without resulting in a fragmented solution.
Search Engine Silos
Breaking silos should be easiest for the search engines. Is it really that difficult to create a sales organization that is client-focused and provides a team of specialists that know how to communicate with each other? We accomplished just that in my days at L90. I was responsible for a product line and worked through the leads sales agents to craft solutions for their clients. When multiple specialists were needed, we coordinated on a single solution. In that sense, the only internal difficulty the engines face is how to compensate their team, but unless you work at that company, this is not an issue you care about. I will grant this -- the search engines are stuck in the crossfire of forcing smart change but also servicing their clients (agencies and marketers) in the way they are currently set up.
I’m stuck on whether I think agencies or marketers have it worse on the silo issue. Let’s look at marketers first. At the end of the day, marketers have the final say. How they set up their organization to integrate search marketing influences how the rest of the industry will react. No doubt large organizations need internal search marketing experts. Too often, the challenge placed on people in these roles is to justify their search investment much like one would for direct mail. Instead, when organizations realize that search advertising both captures sales and stimulates them (in store for example), they will expand the metrics of success and include search expertise during the strategic planning process. In a large organization, implementing these structural and behavioral changes is not easy. It is rare to find sweeping change when incremental change is easier to handle. However, there will be a tipping point, and it's coming soon.
Finally, we come to agencies -- the side of the aisle I currently live within. My experience has shown me that most agencies are actively working on bringing together search and (at least) online display advertising. This is a good first step, as long as it is merely the first step. The challenge for us agency people is in some ways not dissimilar from that of the search engines; push change and still be responsive to our clients, as they exist today. If my client is rewarded based on direct response metrics, I better maximize those results. But if the agency is doing its job, we are also pushing for and supporting the changes necessary to be cutting-edge six to twelve months out.
Specialization with Integration
Specialization with integration -- let’s use that as a rallying cry. We are all experiencing this trend. Let’s make sure that with the feast of opportunities before us, search marketing has a seat at the table.