The Irresponsible Marketer

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When times are tough, what makes more sense: to market to those who are interested in what you’re selling or to anyone and everyone in hopes of breaking through?

You are never going to catch me arguing that there is not both a power and need for mass media branding (there is). It works. If you don’t believe me, do yourself a favour and read Rob Walker‘s excellent book, Buying In. But, in a day and age when budgets and people are being slashed and Marketers are being asked to do more with less to get even better results, where are the real efforts being placed?

Put all of your money into Search (both organic and paid).

Think about it this way: traditional advertising is a "hope and a prayer" (must we really trot out the infamous quote from John Wanamaker: "I know that half of my advertising doesn’t work. The problem is, I don’t know which half.") Brands take out ads in hopes that people see them, remember them, and then (either at that moment or at some point later in time) act on them. Some of the best ads have a conversion rate of 5% (meaning 95% of the people who saw it did nothing). On the other hand, if you think about the context of search, we have individuals who are actively raising their hands and looking for something specific. It could be your product or service or they could be creating search queries that have enough keyword relevance that you could be in front of them. On top of that, you don’t pay for that ad, unless they click on it.

The truth is that most Marketers are not putting the right dollars against the real ROI. 

It’s not just search. I’ve been in countless meetings where mid-level Marketers say that if given the dollars for their Direct Marketing initiatives they could practically guarantee more revenue and sales. The truth is, it’s simply not as sexy to show-off a search engine marketing report as it is to put an ad on the rink board of some NHL franchise. Let’s be honest too: there’s zero chance that we can make these reports any sexier to those who write the cheques (reports will never be as sexy as billboards in Times Square). Marketers simply don’t get excited about Marketing optimization or using tools like Web Analytics to help them sell more. Sure, there are some who are catching the drift, but the majority are simply uninterested.

Marketers are being irresponsible.

If you haven’t maximized all of the money you can spend on Search and then used whatever is left over for your more general branding campaigns, what you’re really saying is that you are less interested in those who are actively either looking for you or have a need/problem that your brand fulfills, and that you are more interested in potentially attracting a very small percentage of the mass public who might actually act on some of your more generic mass media advertising campaigns.

Does this make any sense to you?


  1. Joel,
    I totally agree with you – and it’s an uphill battle for the lot of us. What I’ve noticed recently is something even worse – marketers seem almost bitter about all this hoopla about what is going on on the Internet.
    So now they expect a Magic Bullet. If you don’t bring back a glowing report with 1,000s of clickthroughs, they look at you as if to say “aha! i TOLD YOU online doesn’t work!”
    Forget longtail, or conversion with real intent (as you speak of in your book… which I’m almost done reading).
    They want to see performance even better than advertising (as untrackable as that may be), and then they think they’ve proven us wrong when they don’t see it.
    Sad times. Clearly we Web folk have much more to do.

  2. What if you’re advertising to a potential audience that doesn’t know about your product or how to effectively find out more info about it? Display engages and reminds users of products/services they may have forgotten about otherwise and within contextually relevant sites can serve the same ultimate goal as search, no? Obviously only paying to serve up your site to those who are looking for it makes perfect sense, as well as a regularly optimized and relevant keyword list, but visual impact is still important. Pictures are worth how many search terms?

  3. Justin,
    I wouldn’t be so morose as all that. Is it difficult to get our bosses to invest in some of the more fringe-y marketing tactics? Sure. But I doubt strongly that many execs are hell-bent on “proving us Web folk wrong.”
    I’ll admit that I’m guilty of thinking the same thing. But when I need reassurance, I ask my boss if he knows the phone number of a local restaurant. When he gives it to me, I ask him where he got it. And he invariably tells me, “Google.”
    That’s enough for me.

  4. Eleanor,
    “Pictures are worth how many search terms?”
    Pictures alone? They’re worth zero search terms.
    Pictures with good alt text and relevant surrounding content placed on a page with an appropriate URL, keyword-rich title and h1 tags, targeted meta keywords and a solid meta description? Well, that picture is worth a LOT more.
    Point is you’re creating a dichotomy where there isn’t one. Pictures are good. SEO optimized pictures are MUCH better.

  5. We unfortunately see this kind of behaviour in salesas well, though which one trained the other is hard to say. Corporate directives decree that we ask every customer at least a set of five questions, each one about the major catagories of our margins, each question totally unrelated to the other outside of all five products being in our stores.
    Is any thought given to qualification? No. Yet what does every ultra-successful salesman on the planet do? Qualify, qualify, qualify. Ensuring your product is worth your customer’s time is absolutely the most important proceedure in all of sales. Otherwise, it’s nothing but wasted time and resources.
    Search is one way to fix marketing. But it’s still a fairly one-dimensional solution unless there are other pieces to the targetting puzzle. Set this against the backdrop of Facebook shutting down Beacon, and it makes for some pretty amusing stuff.

  6. As much as marketing and consumer behaviour have changed over the past couple of decades, some old standards remain true.
    Further to Eleanor’s point: What about the people who aren’t actively looking for your product? Or even your product category? Or your industry? Or who have already chosen a competitor’s product (but not yet purchased) and are no longer searching? Or have incorrect prior notions about your product’s capabilities? Or already have a comparable product and plan to replace it with another of the same brand, without even shopping around for an alternative? Etc. etc. etc.
    Remember the “A” in the old AIDA model?
    As popular as Search is, it doesn’t even come close to reaching everyone who might be a strong prospect.
    I’m currently doing a pile of home renovations, for example. I’ve been regularly searching for things like “kitchen sinks” and “light fixtures” and seeing organic and paid search results related to those topics. I’ve been reading e-mails (in Gmail) about windows and doors (and therefore seeing AdWords ads relating to these topics). I’ve read several home improvement articles with keyword-targeted advertising on the page.
    But I’ve also come across “branding” ads that are still highly targeted and relevant to me. I’ve found a great-looking washer and dryer set through online advertising. I’m not even thinking about choosing appliances yet, but those ads were exactly what worked for me. Likewise, I’ve learned about an interesting new roofing material via a paid sponsorship in a “green living” e-mail newsletter that I subscribe to. And then there are the various construction-related ads that I see when playing online games or viewing friends’ online photo albums — ads that are obviously being served to me through some degree of Behavioural Targeting…
    Frankly, I’m a little tired of people equating “Internet marketing” with “Search” (and maybe, in the last year or so, “Social”).
    As Ian mentions, Search is just one part of the targeting puzzle (I’m going to steal that phrase, by the way, Ian).
    The overall topic of this post is absolutely correct: marketers need to be responsible. But don’t pigeon-hole this into a couple of specific tactics.
    We can use a huge array of online marketing tools and channels that are measurable, accountable, optimizable, and very very targeted. We can show ROI for even the most broad of “branding” initiatives… IF we build them properly and set responsible goals from day one.

  7. I think there is plenty of space between branding and search. Inbound marketing is more than just search advertising. It actually take a fair amount of budget to get effective organic search results. This includes creating content and promoting it, good PR to have articles with inbound links, and other forms a marketing that drive traffic. I’ve always worked with small start up tech companies so I’ve rarely had the type of budget that supports a true branding campaign but at the same time, when budgets are cut, I retain PR and other forms of inbound marketing.

  8. It’s very easy to spend a lot of money on keywords that have affinity to a product or service. But are you really getting people thinking about making a purchase (assuming that the intent of most search campaigns)?
    Although not always possible, ideally you want searchers to be thinking about your brand – and searching for your brand. That’s because brand keywords are almost always the most cost effective because they have the highest Quality Scores. A strategy to encourage brand searches is to run compelling display ads on relevant sites on a cost per click basis. For example you can generate millions of impressions on targeted Google Network sites for very little spend. Our observation is this often causes a lift in brand searches when running concurrent AdWords campaigns.

  9. Simple solution: take SEM/SEO out of the “Marketing Department” and put it firmly under the control of the Sales Department…

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