What the evolution of search can teach marketers about digital transformation

chicago bing search

For years, search engines have proved themselves as the gateway to the web, an entry point to the content of webpages people wanted to read.

However people don’t want to just read anymore, they want to publish, play, share, watch and exchange.

The way they search has evolved too: they have gone from asking “what” to asking “why” and “how to.”

At Bing we have seen a three-fold growth of queries starting with “Why” compared to “What” queries, which tells us people are no longer looking for information… They are looking for answers.

These expectations have increased with the rise of modern experiences like Cortana. This personal assistant makes sense of our search history, our personal preferences, our location, the instructions we give her vocally, to identify what is the most relevant information to action upon, right here, right now… And sometimes without having to even ask her explicitly.

cortana

To address these new expectations, it is critical to evolve the way search is considered.

The internet has become a connective fabric between entities such as People, Places or Things and as a result, search has developed machine learning capabilities to start making sense of the world in which we live. The final layer is artificial intelligence which has stitched together the fabric to the model, and can start taking us to new possibilities like recognising faces and even feeling, or predicting the future.

Consumers today offer brands numerous different signals through their behaviour online.

Historically, marketers needed to understand the variant meaning in words, for example when a consumer typed in “Chicago”, they may have been looking for the Musical, the Band or a trip to the City. Patterns were gathered but what do they actually mean in the consumer’s head?

chicago bing search

Through the explosion of social networks, a new set of signals have emerged, where people can express their feelings and their personality. As a result, a bunch of connections between people for a variety of reasons are now in scope. Bing was one of the first to understand those connections with its Facebook partnership, which combined both relevancy and individualisation.

Devices have then changed the game. Through smartphone democratisation, on top of “what” and “who”, brands are now offered the context of “where”. Consumers now holding the ability to search in their back pockets adds immense potential to what someone could mean.

The same me can search for “coffee” in the street to look for a cuppa, and use the same word at my desk to help my son with his exposé on coffee harvesting. Same me, same word, but different geospatial context and therefore intent.

Online and offline customer experiences are producing even greater amounts of data for which we now have the computing power required to stitch, but also to analyse and interpret.

By bringing these data sets to the cloud, unaltered or pre-filtered, pooling them in a data lake for instance, we can then plug them into the advanced machine learning capabilities we have sharpened in search to identify the true commonalities and uniqueness of the individuals without compromising on timing.

By taking into consideration the growing amount of signals, and with the computing power behind our machine learning and artificial intelligence, we are now capable to not only understand but even anticipate what people truly want.

What does that mean for brands? It allows them to use search experiences that are truly personal and relevant.

Marketing transformation. At last.

What happened to search as a service is currently transpiring across the entire digital industry. It is putting back the customer at the centre of everything.

Great marketing starts with the customer and as modern marketers, we need to recognize that every customer is unique. They are technologically savvier than ever and are connecting with brands across a number of channels, with the expectation of a personal connection and an understanding of their distinctive needs and desires.

Marketers can now innovate more than ever and bring marketing to its essence: people.

Thanks to technology platforms and search at the heart of these, we can understand customers changing needs and connect with customers across different devices, at home or on the go.

The customer experience is now at the centre of the business strategy and marketers are responsible for infusing a customer-centric culture into their organisation.

To do this, marketers need to connect with customers along every step of the customer journey, collecting and responding to information to deliver campaigns that resonate. They need to drive the innovative digital and physical campaigns that inspire customers and turn them into loyal brand advocates.

Unlocking the power of search will be the fuel to that fire.

Cedric Chambaz is the Head of Marketing, Europe at Bing Ads and a contributor to Search Engine Watch.

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