Stop Selling Search, Start Selling Performance Marketing

During Search Engine Strategies Chicago in December, I had the opportunity to share a table and more than a few drinks with some industry friends at Kitty O’Sheas, the Hilton Hotel pub in Chicago. Instead of walking down Michigan Avenue and admiring the beautiful holiday decor like most tourists, we stayed in, pounding ’em back for an event called Drunken PPC Rock Stars.

We were bad. I mean at times, incoherent bad. Luckily, like’s own Daron Babin says, “the FCC doesn’t own me!” and they broadcast the whole thing — uncensored. It was a fantastic, shameless evening filled with absolutely great insight into some of the brightest minds in the industry.

Some of the topics that came up were:

  • Google AdWords new ad formats and some preliminary results from host David Szetela.
  • Google’s apparent attack on organic search results (paid ads are taking up so much more room now than ever, and some fear these will soon be all that’s left on the first page of results).
  • Matt Van Wagner’s trumpet solo.

At some point, Szetela asked, “What’s better — SEO or PPC?”

Everyone quickly agreed they were complementary channels. This started a “potentially” fascinating discussion on what I call performance marketing — that is, marketing across a variety of channels, measuring every significant interaction, such as ad views, clicks, page views, conversions, sales, phone calls, and having the ability to optimize your marketing mix based on hard evidence of each campaign’s contribution to the overall results.

Now, I did say “potentially.” Because there was much alcohol involved in the discussion, the exchange didn’t go as far as I wish it did. But I’ve been thinking about this for some time now, since long before SES Chicago. The future of marketing lies in data and in what we can do with said data.

There is evidence of this everywhere:

  • The transition of marketing budgets from traditional channels to online is accelerating every year, making a larger proportion of all marketing campaigns readily measurable in much more meaningful ways than they ever were before.
  • The emergence of mobile marketing, driven by the vast adoption of location aware smart phones with high speed Internet access (like the iPhone and Nexus One) will change the way we think about finding stuff forever.
  • The rise of the ad exchanges and Demand Side Platforms makes display advertising sexier than ever before, allowing for auction-based procurement and real-time bidding, and provides marketers with the ability to add some serious accountability behind their branding efforts.
  • The dominance of paid search and contextual advertising, specifically through Google AdWords and its challenger, Microsoft adCenter.
  • The pending social media advertising revolution. Facebook is already there (yes, you need to take another look at Facebook ads), and so is LinkedIn in for all you B2B types. We’re all waiting to see what Twitter will do, but I expect to see another massive opportunity there.

I could carry on, but the picture is clear. There is a huge amount of potential here for you, the agency, to take your client list and grow the size of their engagement with your company many times over by helping them do more — in fact, for many of them, much, much more.

You should know that the larger, more sophisticated agencies are already diving head first into performance marketing. They’re embracing the multiplicity of ad exchanges, leveraging the “fresh-out-of-the-oven” demand-side platforms, automating their paid search, experimenting with the emerging social advertising networks, deploying powerful (yet sometimes overstated) tracking solutions for multiple exposure attribution, and even managing plain vanilla affiliate programs.

Basically, they’re doing the kind of marketing you’ve been doing all along: data-driven, performance-oriented marketing. Except they go well beyond search, and they get multiple times the share of their customers’ budgets than they did before. You can do this, too.

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