Integrating Search, Part 2

Integrating Search, Part 1” focused on why search is sometimes separated in an agency and how to begin addressing it. The goal was to convey that, while search is a specialty like media and creative, there are organizational and client benefits to channeling your inner Reagan and demanding to “tear down that wall.” Search should:

  • Translate how it fits into everything an agency does.
  • Avoid beating up the other tactics in order to sell itself.
  • Use data properly to make a case.

Now we’ll focus on some of the harder aspects of integrating search: storytelling, getting a “seat at the table,” and tearing up those multiple business cards.

Search is Part of a Consumer Story

Within the search industry, the leaders in many organizations often started at the bottom. It’s a great testimony to how one can grow in a field, but such a background isn’t without its limitations.

Growing up in search can lead to an individual being tactically driven — making subtle changes based on budgets, ROI, link opportunities, and other data. While certainly complex work, it’s easy to get lost in the weeds of data and analysis. And pursuing tangential tactics that may not actually solve a business problem can confuse internal teams.

This is also the type of approach that doesn’t excite a CMO, sell an idea, or win business. You can talk about optimizing campaign spend and meta tag structure until you’re blue in the face, but it doesn’t explain why the problem should be fixed. This is where storytelling becomes a differentiator.

How to be a Storyteller

I recently worked with the team on a pitch in the travel space; anybody familiar understands that this industry has taken a bit of a beating over the past year. Instead of diving in with a bunch of slides on how their current campaign is structured (poorly) and how their Web site is optimized (it’s not), we created a story around their problem and how search solves it. They didn’t have a bad search plan; it just didn’t allow them to capture tinier pools of travelers. And we built this integration story using the recommendations from my previous article.

Despite the economic climate, people still travel. The difference is now they’re looking for day trips, weekend getaways, and cross promotions with local theme parks (which is what the data told us). TV spend was down and proving less effective than before but could still function symbiotically with search.

Data on user search interest could inform offline efforts while search efforts could be aligned with what’s in-market (see how we didn’t beat up offline to sell search?). We also talked about how search will touch everything in our plan from Web development to media (translating how search fits into everything). While this may yet sound tactical, we explained it all under the following voiceover (cue Don Draper in “The Wheel”):

“There’s gloom and doom all around us. Economy. Job Losses. War. People feel overworked.

It wasn’t but a few years ago that things were great, and we were out there doing what we wanted when we wanted. But even with these problems, life hasn’t stopped. Life is about creating memories. People still want to create memories for themselves and with their families. They remember going on the family vacation or getting a way for a few days down to the Jersey shore. How, no matter what was going on, everyone stopped, came together and disconnected. They still want this. They still want to get away from the stress of the job and enjoy an ice cream cone on the boardwalk while looking out over the ocean. Sure, there are less of them, but the one thing that hasn’t changed is their use of search to find information.

This is why we need to refine our strategy around what is important to them now. Your resorts offer discounted theme park passes; you need to promote that. You’re all about creating family memories; you need content to explain that to people and search engines.

This is a story. This makes a client want to work with you because you understand what drives their customers.

Don’t Let Search Take a Back Seat

How many times have you been asked to create your search story in less than five slides? It can’t be done. But if you use my process you can make 20 slides and nobody will care because you have a compelling reason to be there.

When search breaks, it breaks big. When search is a small part of the conversation, you can’t provide the proper education to your internal teams and clients so that when something breaks they can respond without panic.

All of us have gotten the frantic call from an account director that the client is angry because the “CEO asked why we aren’t number one for [insert keyword here”.” If search has a proper seat, you’re able to educate everyone about keyword competitiveness and approach. Through education and more search-focused conversations, you can prepare clients for the challenges of vanity and highly competitive keywords, re-focusing their interest on more conversion-oriented terms.

You don’t need to prepare a crash course in search for the CMO. You can set up the challenges and manage expectations simply by telling a story properly. Your client teams will love you for this.

Tear up that Card

This is the hardest part. In recent years, more search agencies have either been acquired by larger agencies or created as a separate discipline. As those independent brands are allowed to behave, well, independently, there are fewer shared beliefs on how to leverage search within the larger group.

This ends up diluting the integrated offering and creating internal competition. Typically, search gets “value added” or underfunded and, therefore, not able to deliver properly. It’s not easy or popular, but it’s time to tear up those business cards and look at folding the brand into the agency offering.

Razorfish has had success because search was born in the agency. We didn’t buy a separate brand, and even when we acquired other agencies we made sure everything was done under the Razorfish brand. When you do this competition goes away, revenue confusion goes away, and people start working more collaboratively. It reinforces that they are part of the same team.

If you can’t tell, I’m pretty passionate about how search integrates into the larger picture. I’m also not bitter that sometimes it’s forgotten.

Responsibility lies on both sides. Agency teams need to better learn the value we can bring, but we need to be able to do it in a way that educates partners and tells a story. Integration can be tricky, but stepping out of your comfort zone and embracing the larger world around you can mean the difference between winning a client and walking away empty-handed.

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