"Displaying Search" is a column capturing the intersection of display advertising and search marketing.
The average search marketer doesn't rate display very highly. They operate in a very ROI-orientated world based on hard facts and close to 100% accountability. They see display as fluff, and place little credit on what they see as a view-thru-reliant world lacking in the same level of accountability that they are held to. But the increasing awareness of newer buying models created by the exchanges is making search marketers reassess.
Their brand clients are adding to this pressure; the ongoing macro-economic situation has forced brands to look hard at how they invest in digital; ROI goals are King, branding goals less so. SEM budgets have been the big winner from this situation, but can only continue to be so up to a point. As a full service digital agency that specializes in serving fortune 500 brands, iCrossing has long standing SEM programs that have reached their maximum spend level (whilst still maintaining an ROI goal). And so when the client calls and says they have more budget, where is that money to go?
This question has caused search marketers to look outside their world and investigate display. Often the first place they will turn to is the Google Content Network to which they already have easy access and a familiar interface to place image ads. And from there, offerings from Yahoo and Microsoft Media Network quickly follow, being made available (and often pushed very hard) by their contacts at those engines.
And search marketers start to see similarities for the first time in their way of working with what they see in their display tests. The beauty of a search program has always been is its ability to talk to the individual; it sits and waits for people to come to it, activates itself when the right keywords and entered, and responds with a targeted message. Conversely, display has looked more akin to shouting at the crowd, the idea being the louder and longer we shout, the more people we might find that are interested in the message. And that is a very uncomfortable concept for a search marketer. But by trying the common techniques offered by the engines (often across the exchanges) such as search retargeting and site retargeting, they are now buying the chance to talk to a person as they do in search.
Not only does this make it palatable, it makes it very attractive, and something the search marketer is starting to care about.
In addition, network and exchange buying is extremely flexible. Just like a search program, the marketer can switch a campaign on or off with a moment's notice. It always amazes me when we inherit display campaigns from other agencies that have pre-committed budgets of 3, 6 or even 12 months. It is no longer necessary in the majority of cases, and would be very detrimental to the campaign performance. Indeed, keeping flexibility in the display program allows the overall media dollars to be better utilized. Gone in many ways is the traditional idea of a media mix model, whereby the breakdown between SEM and display is determined at the beginning of the year. Why not monitor the results on a weekly basis and then evolve that budget delineation frequently to cope with the new situation?
And so it's never been easier for the search marketer to evolve, and evolve they must. Forward thinking agencies and brands alike are asking themselves if there should there be a 'search manager' at all; should there instead just be a 'media manager'? Is there really any difference any more between managing an SEM program and a performance-orientated display campaign? I would argue not, and I would further argue that search marketers need to embrace this quickly if they want to succeed and maximize the spend under their control.
The rise of the media exchanges has created a disruptive force that is yet to be understood within search. As an extreme view, will an agency office of search marketers today not look more like a trading floor of a stock exchange in a year or two, media price tickers scrolling around the tops of the walls and 6 screens in front of each person, shifting advertising dollars from exchange to engine to network to exchange? Time will tell.