Last week, we discussed -- in a neatly packaged homage to the greatest creator of sophomoric yet moderately cerebral filmmaking in our time, Kevin Smith -- the development of agency in search and the foundation of search specialist firms' hostilities toward the agency world. Indeed, to really enjoy and possibly allow oneself to absorb the messages in a movie like 'Dogma,' one must separate the message from the big rubber poop monster, as it were.
Likewise in search, without several grains of salt and a great sense of humor, many times the marketer's message, goals and objectives can get lost in a myriad of hype, misinformation and conjecture. So here we go again, closing out this series of shattering search marketing dogma, in the hopes that we all don't end up as clerks selling cigarettes and smelling like shoe polish.
What the hell is the FTC up to? Seriously. I've had a rant cooking about this since I saw the letter just over two years ago demanding search listings be labeled advertisements. OK, search sites labeled all of their listings as such, now back off. This means leave inclusion alone, as it is the last bastion of search engine marketing freedom.
I have an idea -- why don't we ship Ralph Nader and the subsequent interested parties at the FTC over to the terrorist training camps? They can teach the boys who are planning to blow up our national landmarks about the delicate intricacies of labeling search ads and nitpicking every aspect of our otherwise happy lives. I am guessing the terrorists will either kill themselves, or begin feeling so sorry for us they'll call off the next wave of attacks. In any case, it might be a nice hobby for them, and they desperately need one.
Also in the Potzer category is the bane of an honest search marketer's existence, the spammer. Search spammers not only give the industry a bad name but they also make it difficult for the honest folks to make a living by offering comparatively inexpensive -- although ultimately worthless -- services.
Last week, I had the unfortunate displeasure of listening to the sales pitch of one these less than savory search firms. Said slimeball had some of the slickest sales tactics I have ever heard, but the misinformation presented had me writhing in agony. For instance, I was not aware that Google is required by law to crawl Web sites. And, while their activities are not considered spam by the evil dark lord Google (are they kidding?) they somehow managed to get their own URL banned from the Google index. Right. Of course. I am sure there is a perfectly logical explanation for being banned and I have for sale a sharp-looking 1982 Buick Skylark with only 3,000 miles on it. Honest.
"I am not even supposed to be here today"
The now ubiquitous story of one marketer generating tremendous buzz with a Super Bowl spot exhibiting a new product launch without including a search component epitomizes today's lack of integration in search. While the ultimate point may have gotten lost amid Janet Jackson's "nipplegate" scenario, this action (or lack thereof) is unfortunately typical of the agency or search firm disconnect with product-launch search marketing. A new product release is planned, media initiatives are planned, marketing efforts are planned, but it is difficult to assign a cost or plan for terms yet to be searched -- so it is generally left behind.
The real problem here is forecasting (more on this later) search spending. In order to effectively project paid search costs, optimization firms and agencies alike use historical search numbers, estimate costs based on average bid prices and project traffic. It's not exact, but before losing sleep over how to include search, an advertiser might be well suited addressing whether or not search is actually needed or finding creative ways to include search aside from buying product-specific terms.
Let's say, for argument's sake you are one the biggest brands in the soft drink universe. And, oh, let's say you buy up a lot of the real estate on Yahoo! and MSN to help with the Internet portion of a new product launch. OK, so I am referring to last month's Coca Cola C2 launch. Amid much hype and well-orchestrated positioning, the new cola was introduced to the Web world via two powerhouse portals. Search was conspicuously absent from the launch and Coke came under fire for skipping search, but was search even necessary?
According to Hitwise clickstream data for http://www.cokec2.com/ in the week ending June 19, the site received very few visits from search engines. Hitwise indicated the majority of visits came from Yahoo! (58.43 percent) and MSN (19.61 percent) homepages and the Coca Cola Web site (1.58 percent). Further analysis from Hitwise showed two search engines, Yahoo! search (0.87 percent) and Google (0.16 percent) sending a very small portion of traffic into the C2 site. The fact is, very few searches were actually conducted for C2 keywords and time spent attempting to forecast "future search" was obviously better spent elsewhere.
The bottom line? Integration for the sake of integration is a barrier to integration in and of itself. The Coke people have been well served in the past buying search terms or optimizing for search when celebrity promotions are involved or to send traffic into other specific promotions. In this instance, it appears buying the keyword "C2" may have been like adding Velcro straps to sneakers with laces.
My karma ran over my dogma
Industry organizations are easy targets for "we the pundits." While I will be the first to call bullspit when one of these partial liabilities does something categorically stupid (like, for example, aligning with an industry publication… ahem), I have to applaud the efforts of the two big wigs in this space. The always with us Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization http://www.sempo.org/ (SEMPO) are making strides to help SEM integration proliferate.
While the IAB launched its SEM roadshow last week beginning in Los Angeles, SEMPO has been busy with helping its members reach out to the online community. Checking their respective Web sites frequently will help keep you up to speed on each organization's activities. You'll find the roadshows, the studies and the articles. But you won't find many agencies, given the bulk of members are either search specialists or search sites.
And yet, we are all still 'Chasing Amy'
I am still waiting for the blockbuster Kevin Smith film, just like I am waiting for search to win big at the integration box office. In both cases, I have high hopes. There are positive signs with industry education initiatives and research indicating increased adoption rates yet both search firms and agencies alike are quibbling over scraps.
In almost every environment there are opposing forces of good and evil. One might find bright, good-hearted people in an agency, or, one might find a series of sociopaths who thrive on chaos. In a search firm, one might find professionals interested in developing a balanced search initiative, or one might find a series of morons hell bent on fooling the evil search engine masterminds.
In the end, I am reminded of words from ever present foul mouthed, simpleton, weed-head and incorrigibly gauche, Jason Mewes, "Dude, the whole world's against us, I swear to God." Clearly, we are a long way from holding hands and singing together.
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 Ryan at the Jupiter Advertising Forum, July 28-29.
The Home Depot
I know. Of course The Home Depot is a perfect fit for DIY content marketing. If people didn't DIY, then The Home Depot would scarcely exist. As such, the company's website is a library of how-to guides, and its Pinterest presence isn't anything to sneeze at. But YouTube is where The Home Depot really shines. The brand leverages known DIY social personalities for much of its content. More importantly, it taps into the power of "how to" search volume with straightforward educational content like "How to Tile a Bathroom Floor."
Choosing between The Home Depot and Lowe's when it comes to DIY content would be like trying to choose a favorite child. You have to love them both equally, despite personality nuances.
Lowe's also does a great job of leveraging the individual strengths of many channels. But it really caught everyone's eye by being one of the first brands to go big on Vine with its #LowesFixInSix short how-to demonstrations. The brand has since spread its wings further with Vine. But we still love the steady stream of cute and useful 6-second DIY tips.
Philadelphia cream cheese
When the good folks of Kraft's Philadelphia cream cheese decided they weren't satisfied with merely topping people's bagels anymore, they knew they had to dig deep into the culinary world to reinvent the product as an ingredient, not just a spread. The result has been a plethora of recipes, cooking how-to videos, and various other manifestations of entertaining tips and ideas.
MailChimp's mission to help people "send better email" has manifested in its educational approach to newsletter building and email best practices. It's geared toward helping even the most novice of senders understand what gets opened and clicked. Its white papers and guides aren't written for marketing majors. They're written for everyday folks who want to take control of and run their own campaigns.
A lot of materials manufacturers rely on retail powerhouses like Home Depot and Lowe's to do their DIY marketing for them. But not YellaWood. This pressure-treated lumber provider is a wealth of resources when comes to building tips, materials selection, and safety checklists. The company even offers a free fully illustrated PDF book download of unique plans for building a backyard paradise.
Although painting your fingernails might not be quite the same level of undertaking as building your own deck, it's still a daunting task that many people simply decide to outsource to the professionals. Likewise, many assume that perfect makeup applications exist only on the faces of runway models. Maybelline, however, seeks to deliver professional makeup artists' tips directly to consumers via countless video and other how-to demos.
No brand quite owns the cooking DIY space like William-Sonoma. This cookware purveyors employs armies of celebrity chefs and experts to deliver custom recipe suggestions and buying guides to customers around the world. Looking for a guide to juicing? Cheese? Meat? Wine? The Williams-Sonoma website has you covered. The brand is particularly effective in the way it employs outside experts to up the credibility of each and every recommendation it makes.
"DIY wood font style" image via Shutterstock.
Building a unique vision based on intelligence
To do anything unique, you need to shake up your thinking and find new angles to approach problems. Our industry has changed more in the past 5 years than in the last 25. It is essential to make everything fuel ideas that cut through the clutter. That requires you to lead by example to educate clients, staff, and the broader industry with the latest intelligence to make everyone smarter and more aware of what's new and next. There are a few key ways to do this.
News that matters
An agency should read the "entire" internet each day -- you should see everything that's happening. Do daily round-ups of what's happening in the marketplace and translate these into written "scoops" for clients -- all with a focus on why it matters to marketers. These include product announcements, new research, and important conferences (CES, SXSW, Mobile World Congress, Davos, etc.). The goal is to share perspectives, knowledge, and new industry developments in order to keep your closest constituents informed.
Designs that inspire
Stimulating your consumers through innovative ideas is key, and one way to achieve this is through your own publication. We've created a living magazine called Items that blends consumer products with a featured subject. These handcrafted product assortments shipped to "agency friends" have a different theme each quarter and contain products we source from around the globe. We want each box to inspire new thinking. Past features include social conversations (ways to develop discussion), adventure travel (get out into the world), and mindfulness (awareness of thoughts and experiences).
Creating a dialogue with your audience is essential. At our live intelligence sessions "Decoded," we peel the cover back on our magazine content and explain to marketers how it will impact their business. Past topics have included social good, mobile creativity, and virtual reality storytelling (conducted at SXSW this year).
Creating an innovative culture
At an agency level, you want to stimulate the best creative thinking so it's imperative to drive an entrepreneurial spirit, limit bureaucracy, and encourage teams with the best environment -- heavily stocked with benefits that allow you to be competitive and retain star talent. These benefits, for lack of a better label, are more than perks -- they're essential for teams to perform. Of course there are traditional benefits like competitive compensation, medical, and dental -- but it's the other stuff that fuels culture. Here are just a few examples.
The adventure fund
Allowing your employees the freedom to enrich their lives through new experiences can be invaluable to your company. At Giant Spoon, each employee gets a check to spend at their discretion on these things. They can attend a new museum exhibit, grab the first edition of a new magazine, or pursue any creative venture they are interested in. We want employees to bring new thinking and fresh perspectives back to the office.
We encourage you to hire the inquisitive -- people who want to ask questions about the world. It can be discouraging if they don't have the ability to attend events or programs that fuel this curiosity, so make it easy for them to attend a conference, networking event, or a panel.
Unlimited vacation days
Many companies are now offering this perk, and the idea is if employees are doing great work, then the work will get done. It's more about letting them manage their life and alleviate any concern about leaving the office early or taking a vacation. Teams work better if everyone is held accountable for their work.
A new process for engaging
On a structural level, it's important to create an environment where ideas surface quickly and resonate with clients. Agencies lean heavily (often too heavily) on media companies and publishers for ideas. It can't work this way. Teams go through an all-too-scripted process of a briefing, and then are given a short time for development and to sort through the best of what comes back. How does this lead to great ideas? We made a rule when starting out that everything must be custom -- that means sitting across the table from companies that provide the most value for client partnerships, and working hand-in-hand to create an idea.
Encourage your teams to search for ideas in unique places. Everything a consumer can experience can be considered a form of media. The output for clients doesn't always need to be an ad campaign or media partnership, but you should look far beyond these channels to new forms of content and emerging technology platforms.
How do we know it is working? We've attracted passionate, curious employees, been hired by forward-thinking marketers, deployed disruptive strategies and ideas, and won a few awards along the way. However, we still know we're only as good as our next idea, which is why we have set up our agency not only to create them, but also to implement them with speed and precision before they expire.
Trevor Guthrie is a co-founder of Giant Spoon.
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"New chapter" image via Shutterstock.