Integrated Marketing: Why Search Needs a Large Seat at the Table

Significant effort ends up going into helping key executives of larger brands understand the role that search should play in marketing and how to budget it. Discussions generally end up focusing on how the search strategy should integrate with the other marketing efforts by the business.

Integrated marketing continues to be a hot topic, and was the subject of a keynote panel at this year's SES New York. These types of panels are great because they help provide a much deeper perspective on the industry.

For search marketers (when I use search marketing I mean SEO and PPC collectively) looking for a quick tidbit, this isn't the type of panel for you. This panel forced you to step back and really assess things at a strategic level.

Two major points clearly emerged from this panel: 

  1. Clear confirmation of the need to view marketing activities as an integrated whole.
  2. There remains a huge gap between the way most in the search marketing industry look at their task and the way traditional marketing people do.

Dana Todd (SVP, Marketing and Business Development, Performics) moderated the panel, which featured Lars Feely (Group Search Director, Neo@Ogilvy), Brenda Fiala (VP Strategy, Blast Radius), Mark Huffman (Executive Production Manager, Procter & Gamble), and Giovanni Rodriguez (Digital and Social Strategy, Deloitte Consulting LLP).

SEO vs. PPC vs. Marketing Overall

In our industry we sometimes view search as the central focus of everything. After all, people are increasingly moving online, and we have studies that show us that online spend is continuing to grow in a huge way. EMarketer released data in February that shows that online ad spend will exceed print ad spend for the first time in 2012.

emarketer-print-vs-online

But, something that Feely said really stuck out in my mind:

Search is often treated as a harvester after the idea is put out there. But there's another way of looking at search. Come to the table with ideas of how search can affect the planning cycle from the beginning. New product, come with list of keywords. Take 10-15 keywords branded for the product. No one will be searching for these since it's brand new and then watch the traffic spike over time. Watch it grow. Shift copy as it grows to calls to action, drive sales."

Interestingly, after the "but" in the above quote, the activity still centered on harvesting. If you wanted to take this to the extreme, you might think of search marketing as nothing more than a new fangled type of call center.

Let that one sink in for a moment. That's right, many people think of our entire industry as nothing but a call center.

To be clear, no one on the panel used those words, but the general sense of the search marketing industry as being focused on harvesting was something that fit the intent of the discussion from end to end.

Also of interest was the fact that the word "SEO" was hardly ever mentioned. Fiala used it a few times, but I am not sure that any of the other panelists used it at all.

"Search" was mentioned quite a bit, but you got the sense that the focus of this activity is on paid search. After all, if you're in harvest mode, do you want to harvest now, or 6 to 9 months from now? The lack of immediacy in SEO remains its big boat anchor.

This general theme is supported by Webmarketing 123 data.

where-allocate-majority-digital-marketing-budget

This doesn't mean that SEO is being ignored, but the uncertain return of the investment, and the long delay in obtaining the return remain real issues.

As someone who has built and sold several companies that did 100 percent of their marketing through SEO, I can empathize with these ideas being hard to swallow. However, in recent years I have been involved in working with many major brands and have gotten an increasingly strong sense of where search marketing fits into those environments.

If you are an SEO, and you are pitching budget managers on how much you can do for them, just be aware that you are there to harvest demand, not create it. Try positioning your SEO campaign for what it can be – a channel to harvest long-term demand for your product – or products like yours. It may even be the single highest margin way to do so.

Marketing & the Big Idea

The panel began with a discussion of whether the most important thing was the "Big Idea" or "Big Data". In other words, where do big wins in marketing come from? By someone having a creative genius moment (a "Steve Jobs" moment) where a huge concept comes to them, or from leveraging large amounts of data to uncover some awesome insight?

At the heart of big brand marketing is developing an understanding how their product can uniquely serve some compelling human need. I spoke to Mark Huffman in the speaker's room a few hours after the panel, and he gave a great example.

If you make Pampers, are you pitching the idea that your diapers don't leak? Or is about a happier, healthier baby? A mom who sleeps better? Diapers that don't leak does not seem to stand up to those two other needs does it? Of course, there is a follow on issue of whether or not you can effectively associate your product with the other two potential benefits, and how you do that.

To me, the real discussion here was the process for finding the big marketing idea, be it via data or inspiration. Both are equally valid, and what is most important is that you recognize the idea when it surfaces and have the will and the capability to execute it.

How can search fit into that? Keyword research can be treated as a source of big data. Definitely some things to be found with that line of thinking.

PPC campaigns can be used to see what messages people respond to. How about checking incoming search query data (yes, we still can get some of this from our analytics tools) to see what terms people are searching on. Could be something there.

The biggest win with search? You don't need to focus on just one big idea. The big idea for your product might be associating it with a happier healthy baby, but people search on thousands of other benefits and problems related to diapers.

Big idea marketing focuses on a small range of high level ideas that capture the imagination of the consumer. This is awesome stuff.

In search, however, you don't need to limit yourself to the big idea. You can market against each and every problem or benefit for which your product is arguably the answer. That is pretty awesome, too!

Summary

There is a big gap between traditional marketing thinking and the way search marketers typically think. For our industry to reach full maturity, that gap needs to close, and there needs to be movement on both sides. Yes, we're in the business of harvesting demand, but search should have a large seat at the table for the following reasons:

  1. As our culture becomes increasingly digital, search represents one of the largest channels for harvesting demand created by traditional marketing.
  2. Search can harvest demand that traditional marketing didn't even try to create. This may the single most important benefit of search.
  3. SEO deserves a large seat at the table because it may provide the most profit in the long run, which creates cash flow to fuel future programs and growth.
  4. Ranking in top positions on generic search terms has a large brand impact.

Closing this gap is going to require an ongoing effort to communicate in the language of traditional marketers. While it makes me pout to say it, we aren't at the center of the marketing universe, we just have a large and growing role to play in the bigger picture.

P.S.: Thanks to Virgnia Nussey for her live blog coverage, which I leveraged to remind of some of the key points made by the panelists.