All Marketers Are Geniuses: You either have it, or you don’t

Posted By Josh Shatkin-Margolis On August 11, 2011 @ 7:49 AM In Opinions | No Comments

Rob Griffin [1] is arguably one of the most knowledgeable and expert search executives in the world. As the current EVP, global director of product development at Havas Digital [2], he’s driving product and service development across the agency’s global network. After spending more than six years building out the agency’s search and analytics capabilities, Rob now drives the agency’s digital capabilities in emerging specializations like online video and social media while still keeping a focus on analytics and search. Rob recently sat down with me to answer questions as the second installment in “All Marketers Are Geniuses.”

1. If you weren't a marketer, what would you be?

An advertiser. Seriously. I have always had a fascination with the actual ad side of the business. Even as a kid when I thought I might want to be a jet fighter pilot, I would sit at home and talk to my family about what was “cool” or “not cool” about one ad or another. Then, even through my university days when I was studying in veterinary sciences, I would always debate “good” vs. “bad” ads. When I decided being a vet wasn't for me I found nowhere else to go. Next thing I know, I’m reading books like Decoding Advertising by Judith Williamson, Which Ad Pulled Best by Burton and Purvis, and Social Communication In Advertising by Leiss, Kline and Jhally. The last is quite funny given the title and it was circa 1990 not 2011.

2. How are agencies transforming and innovating with technology?

First and foremost, agencies are being forced to transform as media buying is a commodity and a thing we do, but adds less value everyday. At the same time, our clients are asking for help with data, systems integrations and other areas that traditionally have not been on the agency remit. The interesting part is that the technology providers are learning to provide agencies with account-like service. Some do it well, many do not. This provides an opportunity for agencies to ramp up new skill sets and package them with more traditional agency services to add value to our clients in new ways. At the same time we also need technology to automate the basics of media buying, digital or otherwise. If a client sees less value there, I need to find a way to streamline and automate that buying so I don't crush my existing resources.

To me what's really exciting is the trend for full service digital pitches versus all media pitches or traditional creative and media pitches. For the lack of a better term, I like to call this “experience optimization” because the client really needs someone to buy the media, yes, but more importantly to tie that with their social, mobile and search then optimize this all the way through to their website. In this scenario you are optimizing your media buy from traffic segmentation and customer value analysis. You’re also being charged to optimize the website through to conversion (on or offline).

3. Where do you think search will be in five years?

I've been leading a dedicated search team within Havas for over six years. Now I run product development across all digital. I think that alone should give you some indication. But, of course, take that with a grain of salt because it's coming from the mouth of a search guy. Searching is a behavior that in a short time has become hardwired like watching TV, which now has become to mean watching video on any device when I want it. Search's evolution is similar as it's driven by need and a desire from the consumer. This means as a marketer, or an advertiser, I can't presume to dictate how a consumer should think of me or try to find me, but aim for omnipresence and consistency. I need visibility at all stages of the purchase funnel. This also means search is evolving from a DR channel so that a single search campaign needs to be segmented to be clustered in a way that some have brand KPIs while others have direct KPIs.

This also points toward better alignment of SEO and SEM as well as greater continuity across social and mobile as consumers search in both of these areas. Social and mobile also need to strive for better accountability. Due to various limitations of technology and fragmentation both struggle to be more than a strategic vision in many instances.

Long story short, the search of the future lives across all of this and we need to be able to tailor the experience between them.

4. How will search retargeting play a role in the future of digital media?

Marketers must, in my less than humble opinion, budget search first. Search is where you drive brand discovery and enhancement as well as convert the low-hanging fruit. Search volume is also directly dictated by the consumer. Now, I’m not saying don't buy print and TV because they are the largest drivers of search activity. I am saying that the more a marketer buys them, search budgets must be increased proportionately.

More often that not, this isn't happening. Search teams can still usually show positive ROI without this integration because search, as we know, performs at a high level. But this is a lost opportunity for the marketer and a pet peeve of mine. This limits search retargeting's potential. I think it's critical and will only grow in time as marketers and agencies learn how to incorporate it into the mix without being a detriment to one channel or another.

At the end of the day, search retargeting is totally logical because of one simple thought: if the consumer searched for my brand once and did not convert the way I wanted them to, why not retarget them with some sequential messaging.

5. How do you see other channels -- like social media and mobile-- impacting search?

To me social and mobile are like scotch and cigars or wine and food. They are often interchangeable, go great in pairs, and always pair well with a third ingredient - good friends.

The reality is both represent operational challenges for the marketer and the agency because they cannot exist in a silo. Both require cooperation from creative, product, customer service, fulfillment, media, search, publishing, etc. They both also represent the challenge of forcing the marketing to push less and create more in order to draw potential customers in and share with their friends. This also comes with a requirement of providing immediacy, intimacy and continuity across all other marketing communications. This is in part what I was describing before with agency transformation and experience optimization. The most successful agencies of the future will help marketers adapt to this.

6. You've written a lot about Google. What do you think of the Google+ initiative? Do you think it has abandoned traditional SEM?

They absolutely have not abandoned their search heritage. No matter what they have released, their core revenues are search. They have yet to show they can do what Steve Jobs has proven he can do, which is make lighting strike more than once and continually create new revenue streams and reinvent industries on a wide scale. Never count Google out. They can afford to fail. As is often said in business school and technology start up books, if you are going to fail ... fail fast, learn and optimize. They do this quite well. Proof: Google’s display network and YouTube. Both are gaining real traction now.

As for Google+, I have not yet signed up. I might be the only guy in the biz not to have, but so be it. At least it is written about enough that I almost feel like I have an account. My real issue is that I need a Gmail account to do it and I already have too many separate Google accounts.

7. Complete this sentence: Marketers are geniuses because...

The good ones know how to permeate their entire organizations and drive their agencies for a mutual benefit. This requires strong communication skills, personality, vision, passion and a wherewithal to stick to it. Some of this can be taught and some of this can be learned, but much of this is really a “you have it or you don’t” type of thing.


URLs in this post:

[1] Rob Griffin: http://www.havasdigital.com/meet-the-team/corporate-team/rob-griffin/

[2] Havas Digital: http://www.havasdigital.com/

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