Playing the Long Game in Search

  |  August 13, 2012   |  Comments

In companies, just like with ballplayers, the ability to stand the test of time and build something bigger and lasting is what defines greatness.

Roger Maris held the Major League Baseball home run record for nearly four decades. But, Roger Maris is not in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Surrounding Maris' magical season of 1961 are many good, but not great, years - and a few mediocre ones as well. Maris lacked the kind of sustained excellent that it takes to reach the pinnacle of recognition in his field.

In companies, just like with ballplayers, the ability to stand the test of time and build something bigger and lasting is what defines greatness. The problem is that people in business, just like in sports, are playing their version of fantasy baseball. From most industry studies the average CMO lasts less time in "office" than the commander in chief does in a given elected term.

When people are measured and incented by a good quarter it can skew the way they make decisions. Bringing this home to search and its highly performance-driven nature, it can lead to decisions made for the short term instead of playing the long game. There are a number of areas where brands should already be playing a long game, but here are three big ones:


For several years, digital Paul Revere's have been sounding the cry for mobile. Now it's growing bigger and faster than most brands could have imagined and few are ready. In search, the percentage of queries coming from mobile devices is close to one-quarter, and for some types of queries mobile now comprises the majority of searches being done. Brands should be buying mobile terms in mobile-distinct campaigns. The long game will be understanding the mobile purchase funnel and how to invest and message in order to facilitate the new consumer behavior.


The most important aspect for a brand when it comes to search is not what they pay or where they are positioned, but what the relevant content is that they serve up at that moment of connection with a consumer. With multiple device types and platforms, the challenge is increasing for brands to maintain a relevant connection. Just like the early days of digital when brands tried to throw :30 commercials online and pass them off as "online video," the short-term problem for brands is treating desktop-native content as if it's viable on mobile and tablet. The long game here is to diversify where possible, and over time, find a way to deliver the right complementary content for each device type to once again move people through the purchase funnel.


For everyone's sake in Redmond, WA and those who want competition to continue in search, it's vitally important for Bing to continue to play a long game. It's been a money-losing venture from the outset for Microsoft, but there's continuing growth in volume, and as mobile grows, especially with Windows 8 coming this fall, this is a company that needs sustained greatness in the search space. It's important for brands to understand that in the future consumers will be connected via a unified ID across devices. That makes content synchronization essential and it makes the potential of a Microsoft solution pool via Xbox in the living room, Windows on the PC, and the Windows 8 mobile experience both exciting and essential for planning against.

If you wanted a single season to remember Roger Maris, the '61 season might be the one you would choose. But if you want sustained excellence, you might look across the outfield that year in the old Yankee Stadium to the left fielder. Playing the final years of his career out of his normal position, the player never hit even half the home runs in any given season that Maris did. Yet, he won three MVPs, went to 12 All-Star games, and is a Hall-of-Famer. That player is Yogi Berra. The long-time catcher for the Yankees played for 20 seasons. Maris was a very good player and for a two-year span he was the back-to-back MVP and the best in the game. But, it's the sustained excellence and longevity of Berra that allows him to be remembered as a Hall-of-Famer.



Chris Copeland

Chris Copeland is chief executive officer of GroupM Next.

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