View From the Trenches: Search-Style Media Convergence

Although this article ran on on April 24, 2009 and discusses a trade show that happened many months ago, it remains current because purveyers of media continue to liken their approaches to those of search, which remains a foundational online marketing modality.

The eMarketing Association’s EM9 conference and ad:tech took place in San Francisco this week, each offering different programs and attracting different audiences. After speaking at EM9 and attending ad:tech, I observed common themes involving future of digital marketing and PPC  search.

First, it was interesting to see how many newer media vendors were drawing parallels to search marketing, particularly paid search. PPC search and its demonstrated power and precision for advertisers has set the bar for online media, particularly the segment where performance must be demonstrated by some form of direct response metrics.

For example, contextual targeting players are positioning themselves as “search.” Behavioral display networks are comparing their results to search and often hawking retargeting, which I can attest works well if executed correctly. Affiliate marketing companies are including search as a “core” competency in marketing materials.

Nearly 100 percent of the trade-show exhibitors had a message on their booth or within their collateral relating to performance marketing. I was hard pressed to find any branding messages among the exhibitors. Yet, interestingly, the ad:tech sessions seemed slightly more branding or holistic marketing-focused. In comparison to prior years, however, branding-oriented messaging in session titles and content were far less apparent. Perhaps it’s the economy and the focus on measurability that has shifted both the content at conferences and on the exhibit hall floor.

Media exchanges (regardless of how you define them) continue to be hot. As media publishers find it difficult to sell online inventory at premium prices to brand advertisers with few or no measureable objectives, this inventory is increasingly finding its way into exchanges, where it is often used to retarget searchers or existing site visitors. This is a great for search marketers and advertisers because it opens up additional highly-targeted touch points.

Iggy Fanalo, CEO of AdBrite, talked about how algorithmic targeting beats a media buyer every time and how exchange or open systems allowing advertisers to bid for impressions will result in a more efficient marketplace. In one form or another, executives from several technology providers and platforms spun this same message. Each is executing a bit differently and decisions about who to integrate with for direct search are similar to those made by agencies and SEM providers with respect to the need to make decisions on the display side using integration at the API level.

In a departure from the traditional approach to building or announcing exchanges (which typically cater to large direct-response advertisers), ReachLocal launched an exchange (they call it an “Xchange”) specifically targeted to local advertisers, who are not traditionally big spenders in such exchanges. In a similarly unusual move, ReachLocal’s exchange allows publishers to specify the ad inventory options available to local advertisers even within specific categories of such advertisers. It will be an interesting experiment, because the comprehension of online marketing among local advertisers has been far less developed than it has been among typical big-spending advertisers.

SMX was co-located within ad:tech, which finally added a much-needed focus on search missing from earlier ad:tech events. But the SMX track, because it was primarily focused on the fundamentals and general trends in search, was not, in my view, comprehensive enough given the high percentage of search spending compared to spending within the overall online media mix. Furthermore, session topics stretched the boundaries of what would ordinarily be considered search marketing, including topics such as mobile and video.

At the eMarketing Association EM9 conference, Jeff Glueck, former chief marketing officer of Travelocity, shared a bunch of data supporting his contention that he is a “direct response brander.” In particular, he explained how he justified his offline media spending by building econometric models to understand the impact that offline and online media have on sales. He lamented that so few CMOs of large marketing operations measure online advertising meticulously while virtually ignoring the efficiency and effectiveness (or lack thereof) of offline media. He drew parallels between niche magazines and online sites that are very narrowly focused and how, among offline media, the most successful media were magazines. Similarly, Jeff espoused a desire to find similar highly relevant contextual placements within online marketing.

He also covered retargeting, including competitor retargeting and the importance of understanding baselines when measuring the lift to any marketing campaign. Having spoken to him in the past about search engine marketing, I know he’s a strong advocate of every micro-segment of a search campaign proving itself independently, as well as applying attribution models within search.

Search is clearly the foundation for many forms of online marketing because this unique touch point both creates and harvests demand created by other media and marketing efforts.