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Interesting post. A couple comments:

First, you are correct in that many marketers are not yet utilizing search (and the many other online channels) to their full potential. Plenty of companies barely allocate any time, effort or budget to digital media, much less consider it as thoughtfully and creatively as you have outlined. Interestingly enough, it's often the big brands that miss the boat. The 800lb gorilla company is usually the slowest to move. The smaller guys are frequently at the cutting edge first, trying new things, because they don't have the bureaucratic mess to swim through and can easily allocate some of their resources to a new channel or opportunity at the blink of an eye... and this is what has happened in the digital realm. There are countless examples where a small digital camera retailer has crushed Best Buy in sales via a specific online channel or where a pure play online shoe retailer has had a larger ad spend on Google than Nike. The big guys sometimes just don’t get it... at least not fast enough. When you consider this, and the fact that Nike isn't even bidding on the term "shoes" on Google, it's easy to understand why many of these brands haven't yet embraced the "Cannes-winning engagement scenario" that you propose for paid search... they still need to sit through Paid Search 101. You could argue that Nike is avoiding advertising on such terms precisely because it doesn't reflect the type of brand advertising and engagement scenarios that they are accustomed to and that you describe. However, they have nothing to gain and much to lose by not jumping in and trying something out. There is a lot of exposure they are currently losing by not fully participating.

You questioned whether a paid search campaign can be entirely automated. In my opinion: Yes and no... it depends on your objectives. Different marketers have different goals. There are businesses making a lot of money right now by running purely automated paid search campaigns. Many use systems built entirely in-house to automatically source, select, optimize and bid on various keywords. These companies are profiting off of the arbitrage opportunity that currently exists in the paid search world and are simply purchasing a click for one price and sending it out the other end at a higher price, pocketing the difference. These operations range in size from the shady “made for adsense” and affiliate type sites that Google and Yahoo hate to some of the largest ecommerce sites online... the likes of Shopping.com, Pricegrabber & Shopzilla (all of which charge their own advertisers on a PPC basis... hence the arbitrage opportunity). The systems they have built and the level of reporting granularity that they have implemented in order to optimize their campaigns make them, without much stretch of the imagination, some of the most prolific search marketers that exist today... and I'm not the first to recognize that.

Be that as it may: Most people don’t know who Shopping.com, Pricegrabber & Shopzilla are (although, interestingly, most have passed through their sites at one time or another). Building their brands has never been a goal. They were acquired by eBay, Experian & IAC (respectively) because they are cash cows and provide a wonderful revenue stream. Traditional big brands like Sony, Nike, Gap & Apple have an entirely different set of objectives to which brand building and maintenance are central. A brand building experience requires human input. Connecting with customers in a meaningful, impactful way will always require the thoughtful touch of an artist. In this world, creative rules.

So, if its cut-and-dried immediate revenue that you're after, and you have an effective to track all your key metrics, your paid search campaigns can be setup to target a specific ROI and basically be set on autopilot... making a completely automated solution possible. However, if you're looking to connect with that next potential customer and usher them into a brand experience, no amount of computer algorithms or wonks can help you out. You need a creative team crossing every T and dotting every I in those two lines of Google sponsored link goodness, as well as controlling every last detail on the landing page that follows.

Depending on the marketer's goals, I think there is room for both the sterile, automated solution as well as the Cannes-winning engagement that you describe. However, the former has almost been perfected... but I don't know of anyone doing the latter. Let me know when you launch the first campaign ;) Regardless, when the brand experience is paramount, I agree completely when you say that search needs to be used as creatively as any other tool in the box because it is, essentially, a marketer's chance to have their customer at 'hello'

Thanks for the interesting read!


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