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SearchTHIS: Integration Concentration

SearchTHIS: Integration Concentration Kevin Ryan

Almost everything I have ever needed to know about adult life I learned from a Kevin Smith film.

  • 'Clerks' -- risking everything for your craft can pay enormous dividends, even if it means putting your house on the line.
  • 'Mallrats' -- the empowerment/disempowerment methodology can go a long way to taking your critics down a notch while saving a little pride for yourself.
  • 'Chasing Amy' -- if you can't learn to bury the past when in love, your romance will bury itself.
  • 'Dogma' -- any God worth worshipping must have a sense of humor.
  • 'Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back' -- GOOD friends WILL always be there, even if you tell them to go out HUNTING for their own glory.

Latest and probably least in the Kevin Smith creative library is a little film called 'Jersey Girl' that didn't do well in the box office. A good idea that wasn't a hit? Or, maybe a successful young director testing the boundaries of his skills? Smith probably wanted to go beyond making "movies with characters whose central preoccupation is weed and fart jokes."

At this point you are undoubtedly asking yourself, what does any of this have to do with the price of bubble gum in Singapore? Like Smith's films, search engine marketing (SEM) has had a good initial run, a few winners, a few losers, but no real jackpots at the box office.

Yes, Google is a verb, but to most marketers SEM is still a four-letter word. Advertisers toil away with the in-house or outsource decision, and have no idea who to trust for the right information. The keepers of client relationships, agencies, are beginning to understand the search space while being bombarded with bad press, mostly from optimization firms with decidedly self-serving agendas.

Clearly, search has a few hurdles to overcome in order to be recognized as advertising. And before search integration graduates beyond afterthought. Let's take a look at the barriers, Jersey Trilogy style.

"I'm Jay, and this is my hetero life mate Silent Bob."

Although we've discussed the intermingling of advertisers, agencies, search shops and designers here before, the conflict seems to have gotten a bit worse lately. Specialized search shops declared themselves winners of the search marketing ownership battle before the war began by suggesting that agencies can't or shouldn't be trusted with adopting search. The battle cry of search shops goes something like, "Agencies don't understand search, and even if they did, they couldn't possibly make money operating search initiatives."

That's not exactly true. Most agencies are managing search in some form and agencies (the smart ones) are not known for providing services they lose money on, are they? According to a recent Jupiter research report, 46 percent of agencies provide full search services while another 29 percent outsource only "some SEM services." The remaining 25 percent either outsourced all search services or don't include SEM. One could ague the meaning of "providing SEM" to an agency is simply buying paid listings, but that myth is starting to fade away.

So what's different with an agency? Aside from a general lack of third-party funding, how about cost and operating models that are fundamentally different than a search shops.

A few firms are appointing a "head of search" -- to establish a leadership presence for SEM within the agency -- and staffing up. Much in the same way traditional media buying and planning had to be adapted to fit online marketing, search -- and most specifically the paid realm -- is being adapted to fit online media buying operating profiles. Sure, there are problems with this type of adaptation, but it's a step in the right direction.

Another option for an agency, which often coincides with appointing a search leader, is retooling the existing staff, i.e. training media planners to include paid search. A look inside the media planner's mind will find idealistic, young entry-level employees seeking to enter the exciting world of advertising. The reality of what they find more closely resembles a Dickensian workhouse scenario. Media planners are overworked, underpaid and get pulled in five different directions simultaneously. They are the unsung heroes of advertising, and are most often found at the bottom of the agency food chain beneath senior and middle management, account staff and creatives. Despite the inevitable adversity they face, they are developing an understanding of search, much to the chagrin of specialized optimization firms.

The biggest problem for agencies isn't mastering search, it is the generalized negativity that exists in the world of serving clients and living with secondary information in our modern age. If you have not already done so, take a look at Devin Leonard's epic, "Nightmare on Madison Avenue." The agency world used to be the place to be. Now it seems our world has gone from Dick Van Dyke's idealistic universe to a day on the hill with the Golgothan.

The Big Rubber Poop Monster vs. Mooby the Golden Calf

Optimization firms are getting chubby right now due to the enormous cash being thrown at them from venture capital investments. That's right, I said it: fat on investment money. I can't go to a trade show without a VC rep tossing me a business card and saying something like, "I just gave VXY firm Z million dollars, what do you think?" If they are not getting wealthy on third-party funds, specialized search firms, capitalizing on the popularity of paid search, are growing by leaps and bounds with notoriously high margins earned on organic search services.

So what are they doing with all of this fat cash? The good SEO firms have migrated focused service offerings to include paid search components amid dedicating significant resources over the years to justifying organic search service cost structures. Some even preach about the importance of organic search and the evils of paid search to help illustrate the need for pricey organic search initiatives. The really sharp search specialists have some wildly fascinating tools designed to help automate or otherwise help build a better search experience focusing on critical campaign management issues, such as bid management or return on investment innovation.

Specialized optimization or SEM firms have money to sponsor research. Agencies don't. Search firms have money for big sharp booths at industry conferences. Agencies have little interest or funding for this type of public presence. Agencies have to live within their own challenging profit and loss statements and no one is throwing money at them.

The resulting effect? While advertisers want their agencies to fight the good fight in learning and integrating, optimization firms have established themselves with a strong foothold as experts in their field, while successfully brainwashing marketers into believing that an agency couldn't possibly navigate search successfully. I really have to hand it to the search specialists for executing a wicked smart plan there. I just hope I am around to watch the fun when the investment markers come due.

"In this world gone mad … the monkey will spank us."

So what are clients doing with search, and how do they view the mess? Some are orchestrating a separation of paid listing components from organic or natural search by hiring one firm to deliver search engine optimization while asking the existing agency to handle paid or sponsored listing responsibilities.

Most often, clients know exactly how much revenue the agency generates with the client relationship. That is to say, the client understands how much the agency charges and for what. That's not exactly the case with some search engine marketing firms.

There are some wild ways of making money in search. My personal favorite is a hybrid cost structure that incorporates revenue generated by the search program into the firm's compensation. It's a pretty simple formula that looks great until the client applies some science to the equation. Say the search initiative generates $50,000 a week and the search firm receives 5 percent of the revenue generated as compensation. Great, except the client is paying $10,000 a month for a service that the search firm could accomplish for $2,500 per month and still maintain a 25 percent margin.

Other creative cost structures include assigning flat click costs to organic search listings and paid listings alike. The search firm's profit then becomes the difference between the actual click cost and the previously agreed upon sale click price, or arbitrage. The end result of this pricing structure is very similar to the revenue sharing method -- big fat margins for the search firm.

Clients are beginning to wake up and smell the malarkey, and it is only a matter of time before search shops are forced to live within the confines of normal margins. The sexy trade-show booths will get a little less enticing, the research will have to perform well to be sponsored, and at least half the search firms we know today will go the way of so many dotcom bubbles.

Next Week: The FTC hobby plan, spammers, and what goes better with Coke?

iMedia columnist Kevin Ryan's current and former client roster reads like a "who's who" in big brands: Rolex Watch, USA, State Farm Insurance, Farmers Insurance, Minolta Corporation, Samsung Electronics America, Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Panasonic Services, and the Hilton Hotels brands, to name a few. Ryan believes in sound guidance, creative thought, accountable actions and collaborative execution as applied to search or any form of marketing. His principled approach and staunch commitment to the industry have made him one of the most sought after personalities in online marketing. Ryan volunteers his time with the Interactive Advertising Bureau, Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization and several regional non-profit organizations. Meet Kevin Ryan at Ad:Tech today and the Jupiter Advertising Forum, July 28-29.

One of the biggest challenges of email advertising is creating emails that can be viewed. Every email service, from Hotmail to Lotus Notes, features applications that disable email images, thereby making it possible that users will see an email devoid of images. The creative solution is to design emails that communicate with broken graphics and add HTML text next to the images. "The brand and offer should be stated in text, not graphics, so if the images are off you can see the offer," says Richard Evans, product marketing manager at Silverpop.

Full-scale emails with text and graphics don't always work. For example, an email for Bath & Body Works (below) was so overburdened with offer copy that it couldn't be read in one sitting. "An email is like a retail store window," says Lisa Harmon, principal at Smith-Harmon. "You should put enough in the store window to interest them to come into the store, but not the entire store. There should be a balance between enough info and so little they don't know what they're looking at."

Besides the body of an email, advertisers must prepare the subject line, which will fail if it doesn't include the brand name. You have a 32 to 60 percent higher chance of having a business-to-consumer email opened with the brand name in the subject line, Evans says. Use of certain words, like "free," in the subject line could result in spam filter blocks -- but "free" isn't necessarily banned, so use it carefully.

A common email creative problem results when print or direct mail ads are repurposed. "It makes no sense," Harmon says. "People are in a different mode with email, their box is cluttered, and you only have two to eight seconds to communicate the message to elicit a click."

Email copy should be short and to the point, and images should be real life, which produces more clicks than clip art, Evans says.

Another unsuccessful move is to include a limited number of links, which impedes response. "Having one link button is harmful; you should continue to provide links throughout the message as image and text links," Evans says.

Another creative problem arises when emails are created quickly, with little forethought. "The fast hit-send nature causes people to think less and put less time into the creative," Harmon says. "Email is one of the few channels that continues to perform in the bad economy, so people should put more time into the creative execution."

The advent of social media has been ripe with advertising struggles because the social media environment isn't necessarily conducive to advertising. Many marketers contend that posting static banners on social media sites is a no-no. "Eye tracking studies indicate that people don't look at them," says Andrew Frank, a Gartner analyst. "It's hard to names ones that didn't work because nobody remembers what they were."

While many studies indicate that banners don't work on social media sites, it appears videos don't always have the intended effect either. Dove's two-minute video follow-up to its popular Evolution video provoked protest from the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which charged Unilever with hypocrisy for the conflicting messages of its Dove and Axe ads. This provoked a satire video that fused the Dove and Axe ads and "made the company look hypocritical," Frank says. "It's an example of a cautionary tale when you do video on social media."

People don't visit social media sites to view content as much as to interact with peers, which demands a different marketing approach. And sure enough, a different approach exists, as companies send posts to blogs and message boards seeking to instill messages about their brands.

But many of these efforts backfire because they aren't executed properly or they miss their target completely, according to Susan Getgood, principal at Getgood Strategic Marketing.

There are many examples of social media blunders. Skittles famously developed a Twitter-powered homepage that led to negative comments about the product on its own site. Pepperidge Farms' Fishful Thinking campaign sent a special invitation to mommy bloggers. When they replied and didn't hear back from the company, negative comments abounded on Twitter. The weight loss drug Alli started a blog that sought to generate comments from consumers -- but those consumers didn't want to talk about their weight problems. "Mistakes come from not understanding the right tool or using the wrong one," Getgood says.

While many recent video ad executions have offered intriguing forms of engagement, video ads that are repurposed TV ads represent a serious creative faux pas. "Chopped-up versions of TV campaigns don't work," says Bill Day, CEO of ScanScout.

The reasons TV ads don't work online is because viewers have already seen them, and they are too long to play with most online content, including the short video clips that play at YouTube and most film sites. Pre-rolls are getting shorter, but agencies that continue playing 30-second spots online risk alienating viewers, who may stop watching the content -- and possibly leave the site and not return.

With pre-rolls, the goal is to play an ad that is watched in its entirety. "We've found, over the impressions we've served, that viewers interact within eight seconds of in-page media and don't wait until the last 10 seconds of a 30 second video," says Mike Griffen, vice president of marketing and strategic development for EyeWonder. "You should put the call-to-action message up front if you want them to interact."

A recent video ad for "S. Darko", created by Moxie Interactive for Fox Home Entertainment, gave viewers the option of viewing four different trailers. This is an example of great video ad creative because it was interactive and promoted viewer involvement.

This is the way in which online video advertising can beat TV, says Day of ScanScout, which provided the technology for the "S. Darko" ad. "TV ads are made for the sit-back experience, and online asks users to get involved with the brand. Taking action is more valuable than sitting and watching for the advertiser and the viewer."

Another interactive video ad innovation comes from Hulu, which allows viewers to choose the ad they want to see. In this case, longer-form ads are OK since viewers are watching full-length TV shows, says Chris Allen, vice president of video innovation at Starcom.

In general, the evolution of online video advertising has revolved around creating alternatives to pre-rolls. Overlays, which were popularized by YouTube, are the most common replacement. With overlays, users click on small banners at the bottom of the screen to play them, which scores points for interactivity and viewer choice. But, Day notes, some overlay ads are awful due to their poor creative. Likewise, Allen says they don't work if they cover up too much of the content the viewer is watching.

Video ads usually play alongside companion display units, such as 300 x 250 pixel banners. What works is when the display unit syncs with the video -- an unrelated banner can be deemed a creative failure.

Alternately, some advertisers opt to create their own long-form videos, which can be viewed on their own as creative content. But Ogilvy's Bastholm is wary of them. "Just because you can make it longer than 30 or 60 seconds doesn't mean you should," he says. "A lot of virals are incredibly long and not better for it. Agencies have to learn from other industries how to write long form content. The story telling is just not there." In short, agencies that create video advertising must become talented filmmakers.

In-game advertising is currently experiencing rampant growth, but there have been a number of creative pitfalls along the way, from the overabundance of static product placement ads to irrelevant ads that don't fit the games.

The Madden football game initially went "too far in terms of ad placement," with too many ads that disrupted the game, according to Jay Krihak, a senior partner and group director of gaming innovation at Mediaedge:cia. The same criticism can be levied at the Shaun White Snowboarding game, which was cited by GameSpot.com as "the most despicable use of in-game advertising" in 2008. It was "a desperate attempt at product placement, loaded with Target branding, from obnoxious billboards along the icy slopes to a Target Chalet."

Dario Raciti, director of gaming at OMD, says the Battlefield game made the mistake of placing a dynamic ad in a futuristic shooting game, which was irrelevant. "Placing dynamic ads with signage for today's brands in a futuristic environment doesn't do anything for the advertiser or the user experience," he says.

Raciti says one of the biggest mistakes in in-game advertising is trying to replicate ads from real world environments. Placing the same billboard someone sees driving on a highway in an action game doesn't work because "when I'm playing a game and I'm running and shooting, there's no time to read a billboard and the copy on it," he says. A highly visible logo and brand name is sufficient for an in-game billboard, he says.

Another creative challenge for in-game ads is proper placement within the game environment. "We did a study that looked at placements where eyes [were] tracked in the racing genre and found that ad placements by the side of the road were less likely to be looked at than ad placements in the middle of the road," says Jonathan Epstein, CEO and president of Double Fusion.

In addition, in-game ad content must be carefully monitored. "Text-heavy ads are great for role playing games but not for racing games, because it's unlikely the user's eyes will focus on the message while racing," Epstein says. For racing games, a logo or short tag line is appropriate.

Other in-game ad faux pas include too-long ads that play before casual games, as well as casual games that are skinned with advertising in a way that the sponsor's logo serves as the background of the game being played. "It's easy to do -- lazy advertising that offers no value," Raciti says.

Above all, casual game advertising should be entertaining. "Players want to escape, and the last thing you want is too serious a message," Krihak says.

The introduction of the iPhone provided expanded opportunities for mobile advertising with landing pages that play rich media, including movie clips and other video. "The landing page experience can be 3D in nature, with the richness of the video [looking] much better than [on] other devices," says Tony Nethercutt, vice president of sales for AdMob.

But 90 to 95 percent of mobile advertisers' audiences still use WAP devices, which means the advertising is generally limited to standard text and banner ads. Banner ads are preferable because even if users don't click on them, they see the advertiser's image.

Ads that have been lifted from other media, including print and TV, don't work for mobile advertising because of the size disparity. "The ad takes up a bigger percentage of the screen in mobile, so there's only so much room to put the info," Nethercutt says. The amount of copy and the size of the image must be carefully monitored. "We say make it twice as big or else the user won't know what they're reading or have time to read it."

Another problem with mobile advertising is overload. "Someone puts up an ad that connects to a landing page and says, 'Watch the video,' and once the user gets there, there are 20 things they can do," Nethercutt says. "If the goal is to get more video views, move it higher on the page with a bigger call to action."

Scott Terger, managing partner at Fli Digital, says mobile ads that click to traditional websites don't work because the website is a larger file size that hinders the experience. Thus, mobile-specific landing pages are preferable.

Another creative challenge for mobile advertising is the need to select a product or offer that's consistent with mobile usage. Kent Johnson, director of business operations at Platform A-Mobile says a national bank campaign failed when it offered the wrong product. "People aren't looking to refinance a mortgage on a handset or can't absorb the info on that front," Johnson says. "They redirected the effort to let people check their balance, see if a check cleared, and find out where the nearest branch is."

Johnson also says click-to-call campaigns "had their day" and aren't popular any more. "Users might be interested in the offer but aren't ready for a call, so setting up contact on a landing page is more successful than sending them straight off to a call."

The biggest creative problem facing banners is that that the static GIF image is a dinosaur. "It's ancient image technology," says Ross McNabb, director of digital advertising at Eyeblaster. The whole idea behind static banners (i.e., generating click-throughs) is losing ground because click-throughs take users away from a page that contains entertaining content that seeks to keep them there. Today's successful banners feature video or game content that allows users to view it without leaving the page. Static GIFs are a creative dead end.

McNabb cites two other reasons banners can fail creatively:

  • An advertiser's brand name isn't easily identifiable throughout the execution, with no clear call-to-action.

  • Poor frequency management, which exposes viewers to the same ad over and over again, is a sure way to command inattention.

There are also examples of banner executions that failed creatively because of their hideous content. The LowerMyBills.com campaign, which features silhouetted dancers and other characters prancing around copy promoting loan applications, was so outrageous it prompted a software developer to start a blog that critiqued the ads as "aesthetically bad," according to a tech producer for The Martin Agency.

A widget for the Los Angeles Dodgers offers a dynamic feed for each game with video highlights. A widget for a local utility company provides static gas prices. Any idea which one's the winner?

"You must have appealing content or results will plateau over time and drop off," says Peter Kim, CEO of Interpolls. "Very static widgets are bad. You have to give them something back for taking the action."

The action is placing the widget on a social media page, which is a big step because users don't want to clutter their pages. "Once they place it on their page, others will be exposed to it, and they'll place it on their page, too, so it's a large advantage for marketers," Kim says.

Since teenagers are the most common recipients, the content must include video, and it must play fast. "The youth market has attention deficit disorder, so you only have a split second to draw them in," Kim says. "Using Flash animation for 10 seconds before you show the video isn't good."

Successful creative for widgets must include entertaining content that is updated on a daily or weekly basis. "Having dynamic content as well as video are the key features we've seen in executing a high grab rate for the viral effect," Kim says. 

Virtual world advertising that works -- such as the Kool-Aid Man with jiggling ice cubes seen on WeeWorld -- integrates into the lifestyle of the world's avatars, says Lauren Bigelow, WeeWorld's general manager. Advertising that doesn't work includes logos slapped onto virtual world merchandise and, of course, plain static billboard signage.

"Standard banner ads in virtual worlds are a complete disconnect," says Debra Aho Williamson, an eMarketer analyst. "If you don't pay attention to banners online, why would you do it in a virtual world where there's so much going on around you? Anything that doesn't fit in with the world doesn't work."

"Pop-out windows pushing a product derail the user experience in virtual worlds," says Barry Gilbert, vice president and research director at Strategy Analytics. "One of the key things is to build unobtrusive advertising that's less in your face."

Bigelow agrees that pushing products is a losing proposition, while making branded products part of the user experience works best. Visitors to WeeWorld become avatars who buy clothes with WeeWorld currency, which paves the way for apparel advertisers to show their wares. Cover Girl successfully promoted its make-up by offering it for free to avatars, and Skittles candy offered hats, bathing suits, and skateboards that visitors donned. This strategy works because "it spreads," Bigelow says. "Once you get it, your friends see it, and they all become brand ambassadors."

Even advertising for less desirable products can work. A razor that was advertised in WeeWorld shined when it touched an avatar's legs. "It was the opposite of slapping a brand, it was integrating it into the things they do," Bigelow says.

What didn't work at WeeWorld was an attempt by an apparel manufacturer (that Bigelow declined to name) to simply stick its logo on clothes. "They applied old advertising techniques to a new medium," she says.

In some cases on Second Life, visitors have soundly ignored some of the stores that brands have created in the virtual world. Because the stores weren't properly integrated into the user experience, there was no reason to visit them.

In general, many marketers view virtual world advertising as being relatively new and untested. "What's the appropriate media for the advertising and how you develop effective and unobtrusive campaigns, no one has the answer for that," Strategy Analytics' Gilbert says.

Actually, WeeWorld would beg to differ.

Ken Liebeskind is a freelance reporter and copywriter who specializes in digital advertising.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Mobile experts

Mobile is a growing field that requires a variety of unique skill sets. Candidates need to be steeped in technology while having serious chops in strategy, creative, and the basics of marketing. And, while all these skills are important, technology especially tends to be the common thread through key roles within a mobile business unit. Talent in this specialty needs to be on the cutting edge of technology, not only knowing what is current and real but knowing what is coming next.

In addition, star talent stands out by having the ability to effectively articulate the brand journey for the client. Yes, so much in mobile is new and technology-driven, but mobile employees benefit from a skill that is timeless: the ability to communicate in a way that inspires and persuades the client. Creatives in this space need to think post-PC digital; mobile strategists need to understand a consumer's path to purchase and be able to speak within this new and continually changing cultural landscape.

My advice for candidates: In addition to staying on top of the best trends in mobile technology, work on core communication and persuasion skills in order to have the best opportunities for impact within an agency.

UX designers

There is no doubt that user experience (UX) has become extremely important for any agency that does digital work. Like other specialist roles within advertising, there is a scarcity of talent available in this emerging discipline, which has very few standards and many overlapping skill sets. For recruiters, it's particularly challenging to determine the quality of candidates who list agency experience since each agency defines UX in its own way. And, it's hard to assess potential success based on a portfolio alone.

On top of that, senior talent in this space often struggles with the leadership aspects of their role because their careers have mostly involved working independently with little management responsibility. Put simply, finding a UX specialist who can manage is like finding gold. Meanwhile, the new folks who are entering the job market have often been ill-prepared by their schools for agency life and business-centered roles. This can make it challenging to onboard recent graduates.

My advice for candidates: If you are a recent graduate, work at translating your experience and knowledge to an agency context. It might be wise to have an internship at an agency to learn what it's like culturally. If you are senior talent, in addition to staying on top of your UX portfolio, invest the time to develop your leadership and communication skills.

Account planning

When it comes to small talent pools, account planning provides many a headache for recruiters. There are simply not enough planners to go around within the U.S. in general -- and it can be even trickier for digital agencies to find them. The problem is this: Planners want to build brands. They want to be involved in brand positioning and consumer research, and they want to work with creative on big umbrella ideas. But there is a general assumption that digital agencies are only about technical and creative solutions.

Unfortunately, while that's true for some agencies, I can tell you that it's definitely not true for us and many others. At Digitas, we're pulling connections planning, user experience strategy, and account planning together into a brand strategy group. We're looking for a new kind of planner -- someone with both traditional skills and a deep understanding of consumer interface, social, and media planning. It can be challenging because this requires hybrid talent who are too few and far between. Thus many agencies, like our own, are growing these hybrid planners organically and cultivating a new type of planner for a new time.

My advice to candidates: Keep an open mind. Digital agencies aren't just doing technical work -- they're changing the brand conversation. There are a lot of great opportunities out there for planners who want to be attached to the agency of the future. Don't limit yourself.

Technology experts

In this day and age, it's essential to find technology experts who can map their first-rate ability in their craft to a larger, more holistic project. Too many technologists are unable to see the big picture, and that limits their effectiveness within an agency context.

Good technologists must also have the ability to successfully navigate the structure of an agency by shepherding projects through their complete lifecycles. They must be able to provide specialized guidance through project design, implementation, launch, and maintenance -- all while ensuring that end-to-end solutions are met on a constant basis. And they're responsible for defining and promulgating technical best practices, standards, and technical strategies across multiple channels.

It's often challenging for recruiters to find individuals who can flex between these technical and functional capabilities. Recruiters want individuals who can show that they're up-to-date on emerging technologies and the digital landscape; have managed technical design and the implementation of project solutions; and have overseen effective programming, installation, configuration, documentation, operation, monitoring, and maintenance of web hardware and software environments supporting web solutions delivered to multiple clients. All of these requirements combined set up recruiters with a limited talent pool.

My advice to candidates: Work at your big-picture skills in order to present yourself as a technologist who is able to map your unique skills to a bigger and bolder project. It might be a good time to advance your own knowledge of business strategy as it relates to your field.

Search marketing experts

Search marketing professionals are a hot commodity if they can lead the strategy, management, and performance optimization for a campaign. This is especially the case when an agency is recruiting for search marketers who have operated on a larger scale with big-budget client campaigns.

This pool of candidates is limited because search marketing and performance specialists often don't have significant experience incorporating search into much larger, multi-channel media campaigns. Most candidates available today have only operated on a smaller scale. It's also important to find search experts who have a clear understanding of both performance and display media and how they work together.

Agencies often expand the pool of candidates by considering individuals from the client side or from search engine companies -- but the challenge still exists. Ultimately, we're all competing for search marketing experts who can operate on a larger scale and consistently demonstrate a strong passion for numbers, analysis, and digital media strategy.

My advice to candidates: Similar to technological experts, search professionals should consider developing strategic capability within their work and presenting this to recruiters. Be able to demonstrate that you can go deep in your function while staying broad in your thinking.

Social marketing specialists

The evolution of social media and real-time marketing has been transformational for advertisers. At Digitas, we operate social with the mindset of a newsroom, constantly looking for opportunities to create brand awareness for our clients that breaks through all the noise. This approach to social requires highly adaptable and curious social experts who are able to quickly respond and adjust to changing conditions and contexts. And while social requires in-the-moment marketing, we also want our social experts to focus on developing and executing social marketing strategies that are more long term in their orientation.

The challenge sometimes with sourcing talent for social is that everyone with a Twitter account thinks they're a social media expert. For us, social goes far deeper than just posting on Facebook. Our social leaders anticipate and monitor the evolution of social media. They set the tone, philosophy, and strategy for today's web. Thus we look for candidates who have experience in all facets of social, including social listening, social platforms, community development, social gaming and entertainment, content, and public relations.

Since social media is still a relatively recent phenomenon, it's challenging to find candidates who check off these boxes, along with also being strong client managers and internal collaborators with the ability to identify and win new business opportunities. Because of that, when we look for candidates, we often think outside the box and pursue talent from non-traditional resources like publishing and politics.

My advice to candidates: With social, there's so much in the way of free resources available online. For entry-level strategists in particular, if you don't have experience in one of the areas we've listed above, there are countless free tools, platforms, and case studies that you can experiment with or learn from to try to fill the knowledge gap.

Data analytics specialists

More than ever, agencies are challenged to produce analytics and measurable results from their campaigns. A lot of that is in response to the pressure being placed on CMOs to deliver success. But in general, proving ROI is also core to any service business. This context demands a beefed-up focus on advanced analytics. With that in mind, we search for talent who understand how to conduct and evaluate sophisticated analyses and can turn those data into high-performing marketing campaigns that enable clients to maximize their marketing investment.

These type of analysts need to understand more than just data. They need to be heavily involved in how data statistics work and interpret those data into effective marketing campaigns across channels. We want specialists in this field who are obsessed with the bottom line for our clients.

Qualified candidates need to have a strong understanding and passion for marketing and an even stronger passion for data. They need to have a background in economics or statistics but also be consultants with a comprehension of general marketing strategies. What's great about this field is that the growing study of marketing analytics in schools is producing young talent who are hungry for agency experience. For more senior talent, we consider individuals from consulting and market research firms.

My advice to candidates: Show recruiters that you understand how to tie data back to relevant marketing and business goals. Instead of just thinking about big data, think smart data.

At Digitas, understanding how important it is to find top talent in these growing areas, we also put an intense focus on building a positive employee experience. While recruiting new superstars is crucial to future success, retention of uniquely talented specialists is a key part of our overall talent management strategy. That means encouraging an open and collaborative culture, providing constant learning and development opportunities for professional growth, and rewarding and appreciating our people for all that they do.

Paul Gorrell, Ph.D., is chief talent officer at Digitas.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.
"Needle and hay" image via Shutterstock.

1. Hyper-efficient, crazy-cheap cars

The Elio is a three-wheel, three-cylinder, 55-horsepower space age car that gets 84 miles per gallon -- and costs $6,800. Seating resembles a luge, with the driver in front and the passenger in back. The car comes with airbags, a steel roll cage, anti-lock brakes, stability control, and crumple zones. And there is a tablet mounted near the steering wheel. Will it make it to the marketplace? We'll see. The company is taking orders Kickstarter-style with refundable and non-refundable options. But this certainly opens the door to what is possible.

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2. One ring to -- sorry, overused -- control your devices with gestures

The Ring is a clever, though slightly clunky, device that lets you control your devices through gestures. Slide the ring on your pointer finger, hold the button with your thumb, and make movements such as "V," a line, or a circle to increase the volume on your music player, restart a song, and more. (I assume the Ring can be programmed to control any smart home or device activity.)

Click here to learn more.

3. A flying selfie drone you wear on your wrist


Some CES tech is game-changing; some is hopelessly futuristic. But once in a while, there's a gadget I want to buy. Right. Now.

Introducing Nixie: a bracelet you can take off, throw in the air to take a flying selfie (photo or video), then catch as it returns to you. It's designed by a Stanford researcher and a former Google tech lead. #wantwantwant

Click here to learn more.

4. Real-time health monitoring for regular people

Real-time health monitoring in the home has arrived. Imagine your little one is sick. Soon you'll be able to place a soft patch under his armpit that pairs with an iPhone or Android phone to track temperature information for 24 hours. The patch contains a thermometer, flexible battery, and Bluetooth. The app can alert you if the temperature reaches a certain level or show reporting for the doctor.

Bottom line: We're entering the age of personalized, digital healthcare. And this is only one of many examples. Expect to see many more advances in the important area of "hacking your health" (a term I'm borrowing from Denmark West, specialist with K1 Investment Management, and former media exec with BET Networks and MTV Networks). That said, before we commit to Bluetooth and other wireless monitoring technologies, I'd like to see more data about potential harm to children with long-term use.

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5. Robots that cook for you

Sereneti Kitchen Showcase from Sereneti Kitchen on Vimeo.

It's not a humanoid iRobot robot; it's a "robotic automated cooking machine" that features a mechanical arm. But Cooki represents an advancement in digital at-home food prep. Possibly more interesting, the Cooki concept includes a future where users order pre-packaged food options via subscription -- meals Cooki is optimized to prepare. Is it worth $449 for a machine that adds ingredients, adjusts temperature, and stirs your meal while it cooks? Debatable. But as a fan of time-saving innovations (and as someone who never knows when to flip a steak), I look forward to seeing where this concept leads.

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6. Wall-sized tablets

Each year brings us closer to the full-wall televisions described by Ray Bradbury in "Farenheit 451." The newest contribution comes from Fuhu's Big Tab line-up, featuring giant touchscreen tablets in 42-inch, 55-inch, and 65-inch models. These touchscreens are intended for use in places like kitchens and living rooms. Various sets come with ultra HD resolution, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and NFC. Prices will range from $699 to $3,999.

Click here to learn more.

7. VR exploration of Marvel's Stark Tower

Samsung and Marvel have partnered to create a cool virtual experience (a la Oculus Rift) where you can explore Tony Stark's office tower from the Avengers universe. The experience allows for a 360-degree, up-down view of the space and includes fan-favorite interactive details like the Quinjet and Captain America's shield. Entertainment marketers: Imagine creating interactive experiences of Hogwarts, Wayne Mansion, and other popular fan experiences.

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8. Control videos games -- with your mind

EEG and neurotherapy have been gaining traction in many circles, such as with ADHD treatment. But it was only a matter of time before it hit the gaming circuit. Introducing Emotiv Insight, a "sleek wireless headset that allows you to optimize your brain fitness and performance, and measure and monitor your cognitive health and wellbeing."

Gaming isn't the main purpose of the device; it's more intended for cognitive training, but basic games are a part of the brain training experience. So I wouldn't be surprised if both possibilities emerge as popular uses of the device. The device will likely sell for $299 starting this spring.

Click here to learn more.

And speaking of gaming...

9. Truly interactive VR gaming

I wanted to love the Kinect. I thought it would let us walk and run through gaming worlds (e.g., jumping as Mario to knock coins out of bricks and land on turtles). Alas, Kinect's camera-based user tracking was limited, so it performed better with larger arm and leg movements associated with dancing, fitness, and the (very cool) interactive mini games in Disneyland for Kinect.

But I digress.

At this year's CES, we saw a fully immersive gaming experience that lets users walk and run in virtual reality worlds. Vortex Omni features a heavy treadmill-like device with waist harness that supports the user and tracks his footsteps. Omni works with Oculus Rift and various gaming peripherals. Current pricing is $499, though this will increase to $699 on Feb. 1. (Note: This pricing does not include Oculus Rift or peripherals.)

Click here to learn more.

10. Forget big, clunky Segways -- introducing IO Hawk

This personal motorized transporter can travel up to 6 miles per hour, and can go up to 10 to 12 miles on a single three-hour charge. The IO Hawk costs $1,799, and is currently available for preorder in white, black, and red. Riders report relative ease of use, after a wobbly first minute or two.

Click here to learn more.

11. Personality-based targeting

This picture-based tool leads users through a game-like experience to gather rich data that can be used for recommendations, digital matchmaking, personalization, engagement, risk assessment, and more.

Click here to learn more.

12. Forget plastic -- print 3D objects in (what feels like) wood and iron!

MakerBot is taking 3D printing (a tech that's still very young in its life cycle) to the next level with filament that looks and feels like limestone, wood, bronze, iron, and other materials. The company encourages users to print items such as jewelry, sculptures, tools, and mechanical models. And according to the company, the materials act like their real-life counterparts. For example you can "sand, stain, oil, or polish [the wood filament] to replicate the look and feel of your favorite wood."

Bottom line: This is a major step forward for a technology that has yet to be fully realized, potentially making 3D printers a more practical option for consumers.

Click here to learn more.

But when it comes to 3D printing, we're even more excited about...

13. 3D printing with chocolate

Hershey partnered with 3D Systems to create CocoJet, a 3D printer that will help chocolatiers and bakers produce unique and detailed chocolate creations in dark, milk, or while chocolate. 3D Systems is also working on a food printer called ChefJet that prints ingredients like sugar.

In addition to drooling over having a 3D chocolate printer in one's home (though it's more optimized for professional purposes), it's worth considering the revenue model for food printing. With paper and ink printers, it's actually the ink cartridges that are the weighty investment. An interesting product line for companies like Hershey.

Click here to learn more.

14. Our kids won't understand what it meant to get lost

They might have been chased out of the standalone navigation system game by Google Maps and ubiquitous smartphones, but Garmin wants to put GPS on your wrist. And after tromping around Las Vegas (and getting lost almost every time we were out), we love the idea. Introducing the Garmin Epix smartwatch. The battery life is 16 weeks in standard watch mode (nice!) and 50 hours in UltraTrac navigation mode (way better than draining our iPhones while using Google Maps.) Epix comes with a year's subscription to BirdsEye, a satellite imagery service with maps that Garmin says will be useful beyond the reach of Google Maps. The device includes an altimeter, barometer, compass, and temperature sensor, and it can be paired with a heart-rate monitor. Pricing will be about $550, and this device will hit the market later this year.

Click here to learn more.

15. Self-driving cars just got sexy

If you worried that riding in a self-driving car would make you look geeky, rest assured, Mercedes has you covered. Its Mercedes-Benz Luxury in Motion concept vehicle is James Bond meets, well, James Bond. (Imagine Sean Connery style mixed (shaken, not stirred) with Daniel Craig cool.) The introduction video shows a man pushing a button on his cell phone to call a sleek, buttery car that opens its door and turns the seat toward the driver, inviting him to enter. Mmm. I'll never be able to afford it, but I will fill a Pinterest board with pics.

Click here to see more.

16. Solar-powered digital jewelry

I won't say Swarovski was the last company I would think would get into wearables, but it wasn't on my radar as a CES contributor. I stand corrected. Fashion companies have been aggressively entering the wearables space, and Swarovski and Misfit have partnered to introduce two attractive offerings: "1. A clear Swarovski Shine with a brilliant crystal face and 2. a violet Swarovski Shine which uses a patented 'energy crystal' technology to power itself. This is the world's first wireless activity and sleep monitor that utilizes an energy harvesting technology to enable it to never require charging or replacing of batteries."

Click here to learn more.

17. Virtual shopping tools are getting cooler

FaceCake gives consumers interactive tools to find, try, share, and buy their favorite apparel, cosmetics, accessories, and more. The company currently offers Swivel, Swivel Close-Up, Swivel Smart Digital Signage, and ShadeScout.

Click here to learn more.

18. Straight out of Star Trek: Scan food for nutritional content

The SCiO molecular sensor is about the size of a lighter, and it can tell you calorie content in food items, whether a tablet is a pill or vitamin, and whether the soda in front of you is Coke or Pepsi. "To deliver relevant information in real time, SCiO communicates the spectrum of the sample to a smartphone wirelessly, which in turn forwards it to a cloud-based service for review. Advanced algorithms utilize an updatable database to analyze the spectrum within milliseconds and deliver information about the analyzed sample back to the user's smartphone in real time.” The device is available for pre-order for $249.

Click here to learn more.

Bethany Simpson is director of partnerships and brand development for iMedia and ad:tech.

On Twitter? Follow Simpson at @bethanysimpson. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Kevin Ryan founded the strategic consulting firm Motivity Marketing in April 2007. Ryan is known throughout the world as an interactive marketing thought leader, particularly in the search marketing arena. Today's Motivity is a group of...

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