Online marketing and in particular search is still very much a nascent insurgency. I try to remember that. But at the end of this latest SES, after I had the chance to talk with the leaders in strategy, technology, analytics as well as reps from the engines themselves I walked away (once again) with a sinking and frustrating feeling that few if any large companies or ad agencies are playing this game on the highest levels. As upstarts continue to make road kill of the old media world of publishing & entertainment and search has forever changed the auto and real estate industries (among others) I wonder what these woolly mammoths are waiting for.
Certainly most of the large consumer businesses are lost. As I exemplified in my presentation on Branding and Search, P&G and Coca-Cola clearly don’t get it. Here are two companies with the resources to do ANYTHING they want online and through search yet their marketing efforts are lame attempts at the CGM flavor of the day.
The good news is that the naivete, cold-feet, or whatever is at play here with the masters of industry, has no effect on us. As an industry we have an insatiable desire to keep accelerating the pace of innovation. So while some companies just leech off of search, others truly innovate around it, behind it, through it and with it. Possibly the most innovative of these businesses in the past few years is Kayak. Clearly the best vertical search engine because of its use of the 2.0 technologies available to developers and marketers to improve user experience and deliver relevancy, Kayak is changing consumer behavior. That only means more road kill is on the horizon.
Because of Kayak I’ve purchased flights on a few airlines I had never even heard of, not knowing before Kayak that they flew routes to the cities I was going to. So airlines and users benefit from Kayak’s great functionality and ability to deliver relevant information. The unfortunate part for me is that I still need to go to Kayak when ninety percent of the time I fly on Continental. I would think by now, with all that Continental knows about me and my Elite Gold status I could just go to Continental.com and feel like they would provide me the most relevant and easiest user experience in finding and booking flights. They don’t. All those partner airlines Continental has, well they don’t even link to them from their site.
But I can’t get Coca-Cola out of my mind and as I’m flying home from SES I’m thinking…maybe it’s my problem? I know I’m ahead of the game, they’ll catch up in a year or so. Then, as I get off the plane from SES and check email I come back to my senses. Sure enough there was an RFP waiting for me in my inbox. A relatively new site, but one that you may have heard of, is about to launch paid marketing initiatives for the first time. Their RFP calls for what I would call an agile marketing platform (based on the concepts of agile design) to enable user segmentation, A/B testing, multivariate testing and targeted content delivery to be embedded from scratch into new landing pages and the conversion flow experience. I hope we get the job not because it is a great company, or that it is a large project, but because I get excited and passionate about working with companies that are smart enough to play this game at the highest levels…and will reap the highest rewards.
But I’m still left to wonder how long will it be until the Coke’s and P&G’s of the world step-up? Maybe the better question is, how long until an upstart or rival employs some highly strategic online marketing to cause serious hurt to one of their business units? Time to wake up big fellas. The game is on.