Never Losing the ‘What’ of Digital Advertising

It’s curious timing to suddenly see a return to search as a viable playing field in a marketplace where everything and everyone is focused on mobile and video, with programmatic buying driving the market. What mobile has done in resetting the field has put Google’s dominant position into play.

A few weeks ago, The Wall Street Journal ran a piece on Pinterest describing the company’s aspirations of going after search ad budgets. Another recent story from Business Insider looked at the rise of Amazon as the new starting point for searching over Google in commerce-driven experiences. But the interesting reality of all this renewed discussion is not in the return to search as a battleground, but rather the reminder that intent remains the Holy Grail.

This was brilliantly summed up in a discussion at Google last week when someone opined, “The ‘what’ has not changed; the ‘how we do it’ has.” Meaning that while programmatic, as well as mobile- and video-viewing habits, are shifting greatly and altering the way we buy, our True North remains what we’re seeking to acquire: customers expressing intent or interest by behavior.

Think about Pinterest, which describes itself as a catalog of ideas while sharing search query stake. Today, it might be more accurate to rename it “Pintent”: a business built on consumers cataloging visual elements that, when combined, creates a picture of an individual’s future intent. Though it has historically manifested itself in fashion, home design, and food, it continues to grow.

And that’s the tip of the visual iceberg. Whereas Google was born out of 10 blue links and has evolved into a now-driven response mechanism, we are beginning to see a greater shift from responsive to predictive. Start a query on Google for weather and by the time you type “wea,” you will have the answer to the question based on your location.

In no place will this be more realized than with voice search. To really appreciate the dramatic growth in voice search and personal assistance, you have to look year-over-year at the efficiency from Siri, Cortana, and Google. What is becoming evident is that the machines are learning more every day and becoming more capable to behave like your life partner – even finishing your sentences.

The Google Empire was built on providing the widest choices of response, with high relevancy, to your intent state from awareness to consumption or purchase. Now, a multitude of companies – Amazon in retail, Pinterest in personal interest, and Yieldbot in the retargeting space, just to name a few – are looking to carve apart the kingdom with a laser-focused approach to understanding individual intent.

This stands in stark contrast to the idea of buying audiences based on behavior, and will force brands to consider the balance. Again, while “how it gets bought” is still evolving more than a decade after Google brought consumer intent to the forefront of media buying, the “what” of connecting the brand and consumer is still the central purpose for being.

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