Search and Display: Has Convergence Arrived?

For years, many have viewed paid search advertising as the most simple and measurable form of online advertising. But with the growth of display ad exchanges and demand side platforms to manage the buying, display advertising has “gotten back in the efficiency game,” relying more squarely on data and bottom funnel metrics, and less on clicks and views.

Building on the data-driven approach championed by search engine marketers, demand side platforms are now enabling display advertisers to replace much of the guess work of traditional media plans with bidding algorithms built on the learnings from a campaign as it runs. Borrowing even more literally from search, advertisers are now starting to use consumer search data to retarget display advertising.

So, are search engine marketing and exchange traded display advertising ready for their convergence moment? Will search agencies successfully cross over into data-driven display practices? I recently spoke with Dax Hamman, VP display media at iCrossing, a Hearst-owned global digital marketing agency, to discuss these and other questions.

Mike Baker: Search advertising, by its nature, is highly measurable. In your role as a display advertising evangelist in an agency with its roots in SEM, how do you educate clients about the value of display campaigns and their unique metrics?

Dax Hamman: iCrossing has pioneered an approach to display that is particularly effective in ROI situations, focusing on talking to the individual expressing intent rather than simply shouting at the crowd. This approach is much more familiar to a search marketer and therefore is understood more by our client base than premium CPM buying and home page takeovers.

Often, the hardest leap a search marketer must take is how to measure the campaign. SEM is very click based and an action is easily tied to a result. Display conversely relies more on post-impression data, a continuing hot topic amongst marketers in general. At iCrossing, we advise clients to run quantifiable studies to benchmark the post-impression results and determine what should be accounted for. This is often enough to alleviate any concerns.

MB: Expertise in search engine marketing and display advertising has traditionally resided in separate domains – for both agencies and their clients. What will it take to successfully bridge that divide?

DH: Agencies often structure themselves to suit the needs of a client, and while clients continue to typically manage SEM and display out of separate budgets with distinct goals, agencies will provide two teams of specialists. At iCrossing, we have merged SEM and display into one single media practice and have been cross-training individuals in order to find the synergies that may exist. This “new” world of exchange buying makes display planners think more quantifiably and bid-based like a search marketer and so the two camps are more aligned. Sometimes questions arise such as “who should manage a performance campaign that uses real time bidding” as you need both types of expertise working together. Quite simply, we can provide the framework for both parties to learn the other’s trade, and then the more experience each person gains, the quicker the synergies will come.

MB: What can search advertisers learn from display advertising, and vice versa?

DH: Like any form of marketing, display and search do not sit in silos, therefore the learnings from one channel should inform the other. There are some specific cases though where the learnings are more direct. iCrossing has been testing search retargeting, with Yahoo for instance. We also have been buying the data directly, of which there are now several including Magnetic, Chango and The success of these campaigns is in part based on selecting the right keywords, of which the SEM campaign is the richest source of learning.

We also see cases where a SEM campaign can be improved by understanding why certain contextual buys in display are effective and what messaging works best. For instance, the iCrossing display team will often provide the creative units for a banner campaign on the Google Content Network for the SEM team to run.

MB: Cross-channel, multi-format convergence is the “holy grail” of digital advertising. How close are we? What role will the big three (Google, Yahoo, MSN) search engines play in making this vision a reality? This may be controversial, but do you view them as partners, competitors, or both?

DH: As an industry, we move closer and closer to convergence every day, and the benefits are being felt by brands already. The big 3 are certainly a factor in this, but we see them as more partner than competitor, educating search marketers about techniques such as display retargeting, and making it easy to buy it and place it. With the typical size and complexity of our clients, we do not see any of the engines being a sole provider to any of them. For smaller brands and smaller agencies I think the threat is greater – the reality is there are very few needs that a marketer at a small company cannot fulfill with Google.

DSPs like DataXu will be at the center of the convergence as more and more media comes together. I do not see just display or even display and search together being bought through such a platform, but potentially all media, including offline.

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