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SearchTHIS: ad:tech, Search and the Future

Kevin M. Ryan
SearchTHIS: ad:tech, Search and the Future Kevin M. Ryan

New York's Hilton at 53rd and 6th is the place to be this week for the biggest ad:tech in the history of the show. Monday morning, I along with my fantastically patient (I'll get to that in a minute) panelists embarked on a journey of light and sound while attempting to draw some level of conclusion on the future ad models in search.

I was joined by John Battelle, chairman and publisher of Federated Media and author of "The Search," which is rapidly becoming the book on all things search, Martin Laetsch, manager, worldwide search, Intel Corporation, David Jakubowski, general manager, MSN search strategy and go-to-market and Ron Belanger, director worldwide advertiser strategy, Yahoo! Search Marketing. The panelists, hereafter to be known as saints, each had a unique contribution to a discussion that took a bit of coaxing to get moving.

Forthcoming search advertising models, as Mr. Battelle noted, will not look anything like what we refer to, and think of as, search today. As we discovered, a discussion on the future ad models in will inevitably turn into a privacy debate.

Train wreck

Before I begin, let me thank my panel for not leaving me on the stage. In my tenure as a speaker at industry events spanning several years and a few countries, I had yet to really experience an embarrassing audio/visual disaster. Well ladies and gentleman, my name has now been entered into the A/V book of shame. Preparation is my life. The world as I know it is littered with outlines, agendas and action items. But sometimes no amount of preparation can help.

Everything that could possibly have gone wrong did go wrong. Topping the list were stage lights burning so bright that we all may have permanent cornea damage; then the laptop connection decided not to work, so the idea of establishing our discussion tone visually was impossible. I know it's my fault for using this cryptic and relatively unknown operating system called Windows and purchasing a computer from that mysterious upstart computer manufacturer, Dell.

Miraculously, we managed to pull some great discussion out of the fire, and I would like to thank my saintly panel for saving our discussion from disaster and our extremely patient audience for hanging in there with us.

Google me this

It shouldn't matter what Google does with their ads… so long as the received value, which advertisers can measure, is higher than the price they pay, according to Google CEO, Eric Schmidt as quoted The New York Times, October 30, 2005.

I know it shouldn't matter, but does it?

Consumers are preoccupied with complaining about how much information is being gathered about them. The general idea of search as a directional experience for consumers is an interesting concept, but a short lived one, and future models will require advanced methods of understanding consumer behavior, an area that Google is pioneering.

While Google was noticeably absent from the future think panel discussion, they are clearly still the 600 pound Gorilla in the space. Google has been experiencing a bit of negative feedback on features such as auto link and other data collecting devices, but as Intel's Martin Laetsch noted, Google is an easy target and is being unfairly criticized.

MSN's rich experience

Target me with whatever you like as long as you think I might like it. Mr. Jakubowski's expert representation of Microsoft's new targeting capabilities provided audience members with an exciting look into the MSN's new AdCenter, which allows advertisers to target searchers with demographic criteria, along with other key profile information from MSN's vast databank of registered users.

Though AdCenter was only recently introduced in the United States, advertisers are already using the information to reach out to users increasingly creative ways, according to Jakubowski. AdCenter's Targeting center allows advertisers to buy keyword advertising in specific geographic locations, target by day of week and time of day (daypart targeting), gender and age groups (demographic targeting).

According to MSN, AdCenter's Keyword Research Tool provides advertisers a greater ability to choose the most relevant keywords and to reach their target audience by providing a profile of who clicks on specific keywords. These profiles include number of search queries on a particular keyword, traffic information, demographic (age and gender) data, as well as geographic location and a lifestyle and wealth index.

Yahoo! reinvents technology

Yahoo! announced Tuesday a new partnership with TIVO that allows users to program their television viewing from the web. Not to be left out of the advanced targeting method party, Yahoo! is integrating tried and true methods of monitoring user's behavior -- such as the Buzz Index -- with new technologies merging the online experience with a more traditional video experience.

In order to accommodate greater demand for integrated offerings, Yahoo!'s brand advertising and search marketing sales forces are now aligned under one sales organization. Yahoo! also provided a sharp overview of technologies that are designed to enhance and enrich the search experience:

Yahoo! Video Search allows consumers to access all types of online video, including news footage, movie trailers, television programs and independently-produced video.

Yahoo! Audio Search Beta enables users to easily find podcasts, music downloads through music services, music videos, albums, artist bios and other related music information from a variety of sources, including Yahoo! Music Unlimited, Yahoo! Video and Image Search, and the web.

Y!Q Beta analyzes the content of a web page and provides consumers with contextually relevant search results at the moment of search inspiration.

Yahoo! Search Subscriptions Beta enables users to search multiple online subscription content sources and the web from a single search engine.

Apathetic futurethink

Drink the Kool-Aid if you must, but consider the following: like it or not, providers are gathering all kinds of information on users to help find better ways to interact with you. As one audience member was quick to point out after the session, supermarkets, credit bureaus and direct marketers have been collecting personal information since the dawn of databases.

When I asked yesterday's audience how many people were concerned about data collection, half raised their hands. When I asked how many people didn't care, the other half raised their hands. One audience member suggested that I neglected to ask one important question in my informal survey: of the people that are concerned about data collection -- how many are concerned enough to do something about it?

My guess is this: an outspoken minority will continue to make data collection an issue for search technology providers and online marketers in the future. Many of those who would make their concerns known about data collection somehow don't mind that much deeper information is being collected on them via offline channels.

One thing is certain: the balancing act of privacy and targeting will be with us for some time.

iMedia Search Editor 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.
Kevin Ryan is Managing Partner at Kinetic Results


Telling an inauthentic story

When a brand becomes a publisher, it needs to find a unique voice that resonates with its audience. Usually, brand loyalists are the first to respond to your content and indulge in what you have to offer. However, if the voice of your content is different than your brand's tone, your will alienate readers. Don't tell an inauthentic story or pretend to be a thought leader in areas way outside your wheelhouse. Keep it constant with what your brand stands for.

Trying to do it all themselves without partners

How hard are you working your team to produce articles and content? If you're not partnering wisely with freelance writers and content creators, you're doing yourself a disservice. Bringing on outside voices or working with companies who specialize in content marketing to create a seamless site experience are vital steps to becoming an attractive publishing play.

Ignoring variety

Just as your brand needs to be inclusive, so does your content. If your articles are aimed at smaller and smaller demographics, you are never going to be able to open your brand up to new audiences and life stages. Variety is the spice of life; expand the topics you cover to dip into unfamiliar territories while still being true to your brand voice.

Diane Kegley from RichRelevance, Cindy Pound from R/GA, and Annamarie Bermundo from L'Oreal speak to iMedia about the biggest content marketing missteps brands are still making and why you should avoid them.

Feeling that digital content has to be polished and perfect

Everyone loves perfection, and if you work for a big brand, it's very tempting to feel that your content needs to look like a television commercial before you can share it with the public. While it's important to not produce lazy content, many brands are still paralyzing themselves by thinking that they need to perfect everything they create. The truth is that online audiences are much different than TV or print audiences; they don't mind if content is not polished. Timeliness matters much more for online readers than if every word is perfectly chosen or the images are beautiful. Don't get too hung up on the details in the online world.

Chris Moseley, SVP of product management and brand oversight for The Rockettes, speaks to iMedia and explains why putting too much pressure on the perfection of your material is causing unnecessary paralysis for many brands looking to expand content production.

Trying to act like a 24/7 news room (at least too soon)

It might be the ultimate goal of your content marketing strategy to eventually operate like a well-oiled daily production machine, but one big mistake brands are making right out of the gate is to try to get there immediately. Keep in mind that consumers are not entirely used to brands becoming publishers, and it will take time for you to grow a sustainable audience. Start slow and steady; don't get hung up on the quantity. Publishing even once per week is OK. Remember that your goal is not to be a breaking news organization, it's to gain brand loyalty, love, and recognition through thoughtful content pieces that reflect your brand's values.

Jeremy Brook, global lead of digital strategy and media innovation for Heineken, speaks with iMedia about why it's OK (and important) for brands to start slow with content production and not overextend their abilities for no real reason.

Advertising to readers rather than informing

It's the classic battle of objectives for brands who become content creators: When is it OK to market? It turns out that the line is not so blurry. It's pretty clear to readers when your motives take a wrong turn into advertising-ville. The goal of content marketing is not to collect an audience big enough that you can start slapping them with banner ads and pop-ups. Your goal is gain an audience to inform, entertain, and ultimately turn into loyalists. Imagine your readers walking into a retail store and seeing a wall of products, including yours and your competition's. Who do you think they'll be most likely to choose? If you've trained your audience to respect your brand and its thought leadership authority, you don't have to advertise. The brand markets itself.

Ilana Westerman, CEO and co-founder of Create with Context, Inc., speaks with iMedia about why brands should leave the sales pitch out of content marketing if they want to achieve meaningful success.

Playing it too safe

Lastly, don't be afraid to take risks with your content. If you're producing material that is too standard, plain, and common, you'll never stand out enough from the pack to gain a sustainable audience. Your content doesn't need to be risqué to be different, but it should cause responses and conversations. You need to engage with your readers, and the only way to do that is to say things that elicit a reaction. Don't be afraid of disagreements. 

Adam Kleinberg, CEO of Traction, speaks with iMedia about why content marketing strategies shouldn't be so lukewarm if brands want to cause a stir, and he cites a unique example from his company to illustrate his point.

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Article written and videos edited by senior media producer David Zaleski.

"Newspaper concept with hot topic 'bad news' lying on office desk," "A businessman telling a lie with the fingers crossed," "Portrait of woman with yellow gloves rubbing silver object," "Camera view of a female reporter in a news room," "Illustration depicting a computer dialogue box with an annoying pop up concept," and "Oatmeal" images via Shutterstock.


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