Search is bought, not sold

Over the past month or so since I first heard the line, “search is bought, media is sold,” I’ve been thinking about it as it’s resonated as both a media planner/buyer and a marketing/ad tech investor.

I went thru the exercise to understand this statement at its core:  why is search bought and why is media sold?

Search on any advertising campaign is pretty much a “must buy.”  Why?  Search is about Intent.  My colleague Taylor writes about it here and here.

Dictionary.com defines Intent the state of a person’s mind that directs his or her actions toward a specific object.

If a person is telling a search engine that they are already going to a specific object, then making it as a frictionless as possible to move said person from search to object is what a search engine delivers.  Pretty simple.

Search is almost cheating from an advertising perspective.  Yes, I said it.  There is no genius or persuasion to search.  Google built an empire that will keep returning cash until their search engine is no longer relevant.  The $200B market capitalization isn’t because Google has built a much better advertising technology, but because Google is playing on the key insight of Intent.  It was and continues to be genius; I wish I had done that.

While search ad copy is extremely important, especially on competitive keyword terms, capturing the Intent is pretty much a numbers game done thru the smarts of the search engine marketing (“SEM”) technologies and the SEM/biddable media analysts using them.

Media is sold, which means that a sales person (or API) needs to contact an agency or marketer directly, build a relationship, and sell in their wares.  This is very different than search.  I like to think that nothing is a must-buy other than paid search.

A good sales person with relationships and a great product must sell to be part of a plan and make a case why.  Alternatively, and increasingly, we’re using API’s to connect us to programmatic sources of buying non-search media that is removing the day to day sales person out of the picture.  Industries evolve.

Data to enhance targeting generally should win out on a media plan before any time of blind or proxy-audience buy.  The picture below illustrates this notion.  The old way of buying media was to start broad and then narrow down based on performance.  Now, it’s about starting narrow because we can, and then getting broader if it’s needed and budget allows.  It’s not that marketers are spending less, it’s that they are more refined in their targeting.

Targeting

What this overall thought proves is that the use of data, at least in the “intent” stage, will drive results.  It’s validated;  $200B worth of market capitalization, validated.

This leads me to an investment thesis of who else is capturing Intent beyond traditional search engines and how can we partner with those companies to accelerate them.  If you know of any, I’d love to chat.

  • http://twitter.com/bhalliburton Brent Halliburton

    I always tell people, “What makes Google valuable is that it has the best inventory in the world: A virtually exclusive monopoly on pages where people are actively expressing an interest in buying incredibly specific things – pages filled with people who are in-market shoppers for plasma TVs, for example”

    Turns out, the best inventory in the world is worth ~$200b. Good stuff!

  • http://www.NextMark.com/ Joe Pych

    Great points, Darren. One thing about search is that it satisfies demand, but it does not create demand.  You already have intent when you search.  Your intent may have been caused by other advertising efforts.  One goal of advertising is to create intent.  This intent-based approach will capture the demand after it is created. It seems you need both approaches… what do you think?

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