Where Search Marketing Comes Up Short

Nailing search is crucial to your business, but it’s only half the battle. True, search is absolutely necessary. You have to get it right. It has the power to drive incredible return on your marketing dollars. It is table stakes in the ever-changing game governing the digital marketing ecosystem. And many marketers have, for the most part, figured it out. If you haven’t, you’re likely leaving money on the table — or worse, handing revenue to your competitors. If you’re among those who have got it covered, nice job.

It should be simple, really: search is helping consumers find what they are looking for, efficiently and accurately. Done.

But what do we do with consumers who don’t know what they are looking for?

When consumers don’t what they’re looking for, it’s not a search experience. It’s a discovery opportunity.

Discovery is an experience that contains a bit of magic. It’s finding an unbelievable deal on a product, being the first person in your group to post that wicked funny viral video to your Facebook page, or learning about a hot new band from your custom Pandora page. It’s the unexpected and highly relevant surprise from a brand you’ve come to know and trust. Better yet, it’s the same from a brand you’re not familiar with. In the analog world, it’s the wine recommended by the sommelier that, incredibly, matches the entire table’s varied meal choices. Or the perfect suggestion above and beyond what you’re looking for from your personal shopper at Nordstrom. We’ve all had these experiences. And as different as they may be, they share one remarkable thing in common: tremendous power to creating lasting and vividly detailed memories. Memories help build relationships, and relationships build brands.

So why don’t more brands focus on creating discovery experiences in addition to enabling search? Helping our consumers discover things they didn’t know they were looking for is a key part of what we should be using new technologies to accomplish.

The Web is overflowing with companies trying to enable this across a variety of different verticals:

  • Music: iLike, last.fm, iTunes (including the Genius feature), Pandora, and more.
  • News and Web miscellany: Digg, StumbleUpon, and even Twitter.
  • Video: YouTube, Hulu, and pretty much every other streaming video player are all hot on the trail of discovery.
  • Shopping: Amazon‘s collaborative filtering may well be the shopping pioneer of discovery, but more and more players are catching up, including fashion sites like Polyvore, Like.com, and more.

These brands are going out of their way to enable the discovery experience for consumers, and consumers have clearly indicated they love it. And yet, beyond the retailers above, I can only think of a few marketers really leveraging the discovery opportunity.

Discovery may well be harder to handle. It may be finding close contextual relevance or tapping behavioral targeting in a smart new way. Maybe it’s a visual search triggered by an item snapped with a camera phone. Or perhaps a surprisingly relevant link delivered by scanning a QR code (define) or a Microsoft Tag. Could it be a unique, immersive digital touchscreen experience that guides the customer through a series of choices to determine preferences and then delivers the right thing at the right time?

It’s not a search result. It’s the unexpected. It should surprise and delight. In an exploding and increasingly fragmented media landscape, discovery can be the means to a powerful and lasting connection. And the good news is that in many cases, the very technologies that are causing fragmentation are also enabling unique ways to deliver on this discovery opportunity.

P.S.: If you’ve got examples of marketers getting this right, I’d love to see them. Feel free to comment here.

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