Search Marketers: The 4 New Expectations Of You In A Cross-Channel World

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We all understand what cross-channel is, but how many of us really walk the walk and approach every day like cross-channel marketers?

Most of us were trained (or trained by people who were trained) in an era where we have chiefly worked side by side with other channels, but not so deeply integrated.

While a majority of marketing organizations today run multi-channel campaigns, most still execute Search as a separate channel with very limited consideration to the others. Maybe we start our search promotions at the same time as our colleagues in other channels, coordinate budgets, or use very similar creative directions, but holistic cross-channel coordination across teams, technologies, and partners still eludes us.

Even though there are pockets of cross-channel opportunities such as search retargeting to display or product listing ads across search to social, the tools haven’t really caught up yet. The data show that most marketers are at least aligned with their channel strategy, but only a limited number are coordinated.

Now is the time to start really thinking hard about how your career is about to be affected once cross-channel does take center stage.

Defining Multi-, Cross- & Omni-Channel

Although many marketers interchangeably use the terms multi-channel, cross-channel, and omni-channel, I offer the following definitions (in order of marketing maturity).

Multi-channel. A marketing approach that runs multiple marketing channel at one time. Maybe some simple coordination and a few cross-channel tactics, but a very simple, straightforward approach.

Cross-channel. Multiple channels used together in a very strategic way that has a greater effect than each single channel could contribute by itself.

Omni-channel. All channels connected and working together to seamlessly market to each customer in a 1:1 manner at scale.

So, for example…

  • Multi-channel: A national retailer’s online marketing portfolio includes search, display, mobile, social, and online video ads.
  • Cross-channel: A national retailer runs display ads targeting search visitors with product images based on the pages they visited on the website. Social ads are coordinated during their TV spots to take advantage of second screen and multi-tasking consumer usage habits. They also target video ads to their best customers tracked from their loyalty reward email preferences.
  • Omni-channel: Every time an individual consumer intersects with the digital marketing of a national retailer, their ad experience is determined on-the-fly based on the data of every previous interaction (whether they were months, weeks, days, or even seconds prior) to provide 1:1, highly relevant marketing at scale and in real-time.

Slowly, but surely, we are moving into the era of cross-channel marketing en masse. It will be advertising Darwinism where the companies stuck in multi-channel will fall behind the ones who are able to figure out the cross-channel conundrum. Eventually, the tools will be available for marketers to mature into an omni-channel approach, and they too will overtake those who fail to evolve.

What adjustments will you have to make very soon in order to become the cross-channel search marketer your organization and clients need you to be? Here are the four new expectations of you in a cross-channel world:

1. Embrace Your Contribution Value In A Cross-Channel Measurement System

“Marketing attribution” has been a buzzword for almost a decade, and many marketers have been either able to implement or at least experiment with this approach. However, this has historically been an initiative driven by the top of an organization and rarely embraced by the practitioners on the front lines.

Some search marketers have seen drastic deltas between the conversion and ROI tracking that an attribution system generates versus their own, trusted SEM tools. This leads to skepticism, doubt, and ultimately pushback on the validity of the attributed measurement results.

In some case, the search teams literally give lip service to the attributed measurement and keep working as if it didn’t exist! For performance marketing agencies who are paid out based on the results they drive, or in teams bonused on goal thresholds, attribution could absolutely impact their wallets if not rolled-out carefully with all issues addressed.

Ironically, when these same marketers are challenged philosophically about which is better — last-ad click or holistic, attribution measurement — common sense immediately dictates that measuring things in silos is not really the right way to go. Attribution, as a concept, has been embraced, but often fails in practice.

You, the cross-channel search marketer must not only agree to run your SEM strategy via attributed measurement, but actually learn to embrace and prefer it. It’s okay if your ROI “drops” as long as the key stakeholders understand that doing so will drive better results for ALL of their marketing investment.

The bottom line is that search marketing doesn’t live in a bubble. The same consumers impacted by SEM are also being bombarded with online and offline ad impressions all day, every day which must be measured together for true context.

Become a cross-channel leader and accept your place in the cross-channel measurement story. When done right with every team’s buy-in, attribution should lead to better marketing than a siloed approach.

2. Utilize Data From Every Channel In Your Search Strategy

In the multi-channel world, search marketers have been trained to pour through their account data to find the golden nuggets of insight that can drive awesome optimizations. For example, an ad group with falling click-through rates will get a creative makeover using the highest performing ads as the template to build out new ones. Or, a campaign is doing really well in ROI or ROAS but not spending enough so the answer to that challenge is to bid up keywords.

In the cross-channel world, search marketers will also look outward for the exogenous factors impacting their accounts from other channels. Maybe searches on a brand of shoes spiked because a teen idol is wearing those shoes in a product placement ad for in a web series? Or possibly, certain SEM ads are performing poorly because a giant banner buy is stealing that traffic for a week? There’s data there that can absolutely help improve Search optimization.

Other online channels such as Display, Email, Video, Social, Mobile, etc. can be tied back to search visitors fairly easily in today’s world — especially when there’s a login event on the advertiser’s website that connects the user across devices. These channels have loads of interesting metrics and metadata that will help search marketers understand what mix of messaging led to the search visit that paint a very clear picture of how to best drive consumers through the customer journey.

Offline data, such as CRM records, can provide search marketers with consumer information that will help connect the dots. For search visitors who convert online, a portion of them will also have offline historical CRM data that can provide search marketers interesting intel such as previous purchase history, loyalty card status, and demographic/geographic data. Imagine indexing specific SEM campaigns against segments such as frequent buyers, gold-card members, brand loyalists, moms, sports shoppers,

There’s so much value there!

Once cross-channel data begins flowing through the teams, search marketers will have a mountain of new insights to sift through that will help them understand their consumers better, craft stronger strategies, and build more impactful SEM keywords, ads, and account settings. The search marketers who utilize and master the power of the external marketing channels will be able to market more effectively than those who don’t.

3. Provide Curated Search Data Streams To The Rest Of Your Channel Partners

Just as getting other channel data into your search programs will enhance their power, the other channels will desperately need you to share your search data with them to help power their programs.

As I wrote in last month’s column here at Search Engine Land, “7 Audience Targeting Data Types Versus Search Data (The Keyword Is Still The Undefeated Champ),” the keyword that a consumer searches for (as well as the ad copy they clicked) is one of the most valuable single data points an advertiser can leverage. It can enhance display targeting, providing more context for social ads, and cross the device barriers seamlessly due to the platform ubiquity of the engines, etc.

Getting data out is not a big deal when using an enterprise level search platform, but in the cross-channel future, non-search teams are going to want more than just an ftp upload. They’re going to want you to help them understand the data stream, aka a curated feed.

Which keywords are the most valuable? Which new ad copy seems to be working? Has the volume of impressions on a set of keywords been trending up or down recently? Are these brand or non-brand terms? Which keywords have the most competition? These are easy questions for a search guru like you who is very intimate with your account data, but for the non-search teams, they need your expertise and insight to best utilize the feeds.

Search data is an incredibly powerful, 1st party stream that will help your channel colleagues increase the targeting capabilities of their own platforms. They will need your help here to make it useful.

4. Coordinate With Cross-Channel Reach & Frequency Channels

Although anchors in most marketing channels, “reach” and “frequency” are virtually absent in the search marketer’s vocabulary.

Search marketers generally approach SEM as an “on-demand” marketing channel…meaning that if any consumer searches for a keyword we’ve uploaded and then clicks an ad after reading it, then they are absolutely qualified for that impression. Of course, the fact that paid search is also a pay-per-click channel means that search marketers don’t even have to worry about wasting budgets on unseen ads.

So, do reach and frequency matter to SEM?

Not in a multi-channel world, but reach and frequency are the rice and beans of the offline world and even many digital programs. GRPs and TRPs, the key performance metrics of television — the marketing world’s biggest channel — are reach and frequency driven. For search marketers to have a seat at the cross-channel table, they will need to embrace these metrics and understand how their channel fits into these models.

In reach and frequency models, search marketers may find that keywords in a siloed search world that seem pricey will actually be key in reinforcing the total marketing program — even if the ROI on the single channel model doesn’t support the higher bid.

This is more than just a an attributed measurement conversation. If a big, summer blockbuster is coming out and the tv, radio, billboard, online video, and online display ads are pushing hard during the week of the release, the search team needs to be ready to handle the increased volume to close that loop and help the overall initiative. There isn’t time to measure and optimize very impression and react accordingly. You have coordinate these things ahead of time using a single approach — and for many of the channels outside of search, reach and frequency are the most important variables.

Of course, reach and frequency are impossible to control in an on-demand media channel such as paid search. But search marketers will need to better understand what drives the strategic decisions of their non-search counterparts in order to best work together.

What other things are you thinking about regarding cross-channel marketing’s effect on SEM?

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