For all that’s good and holy, can we stop with the nonsense? Hysterics are spewing about the death of Search and how display advertising is finally going to overtake the behemoth that has powered digital advertising since GoTo in the late 90s. The way we talk about the marketing and advertising industry sometimes makes political coverage look modest and nuanced. It makes the discussion of our sports heroes look tame and objective.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: Search isn’t going anywhere. Independently, it was nearly half of all digital spend in 2015 ($26.53 billion vs $58.12 billion). It is more than 2x the size and spend of traditional display and is projected to be at least 3x the size and spend on video until Obama’s successor begins their own re-election campaign (moment of silence). But Search is running up against some very modern challenges. Spend in Search isn’t going away, but it is being invested a little more cautiously for a few reasons, and Display stands to benefit as a result.
Let’s start with why brands are being more thoughtful and cautious about Search in the first place:
1. Mobile: F*ck. Doesn’t mobile seem like the answer to every question asked in our industry? That’s because it is. The original Search business model was built with a desktop browser in mind. But with mobile phones, geo-location, and the emergence of apps, Search has become more geographically localized and more task specific. When I “Search” for food nearby, I do it in OpenTable or I do it in GrubHub, not in Google. When I “Search” for answers to questions, I’m just as likely to post on Facebook or scroll through Quora as I am to ask Google.
2. Attribution: When it comes to Search, advertisers and marketers have higher standards and are getting smarter about the attribution given to Search advertising. Google effectively created “last-click attribution” as the de facto standard because their products stood to benefit from it. As we move to more complex attribution models and start to lean on things like “view-through actions” and “Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT)”, Search will get less and less credit for the conversion. In its place, display and other upper-funnel tactics will start to get more. This doesn’t mean that Search is slowing or underperforming; it does mean that it was historically overvalued and over-credited for conversions. The stock market isn’t the only thing experiencing a correction.
Search is a strong inside game in a Steph Curry, three-point shooting world. It’s fundamental, but it’s not transformative. And it won’t be the difference maker in your performance. Your inside game needs a complement. Enter modern display, which is experiencing a renaissance for some of the same reasons growth in Search is slowing.
1. Mobile: Display has adapted well to the mobile environment, mostly by making itself available in more natively mobile applications. Display is playing well to the efficiency of the mobile platform, whether in Facebook, LinkedIn, or in applications and email. The results are transformative. Facebook ad performance continues to defy gravity with accuracy that’s 2.5x better than traditional advertising, and serving ads in logged-in media helps avoid flaws like fraud and viewability that have plagued and weighed down display ad inventory for too long.
2. Attribution: Going back to the idea of ZMOT, logic clearly supports the notion that not every impression requires a click and not every click was powered by an individual impression. Customers are complex. That’s why, in some cases, it can take a customer as many as 18.2 interactions with a particular brandbefore they take an action. Display has figured out how to make that retargeting more effective. By identifying an individual who is on the front-end of those 18.2 interactions, and then delivering them the right messages wherever they may be paying attention, the advertiser can be more secure in their efforts.
3. 1st-party Data: Retargeting off of the cookie is an exciting and successful proposition. But what makes display even more successful is how it can be, more and more, tied to first-party data like email addresses. Just like display is successfully retargeting off of intent with respect to traditional retargeting, display is also becoming an extension of email (For all the glory and spend given to Search, it is undeniable that email continues to be the most effective advertising and marketing tool the world has every created.) Using CRM Retargeting, display can reach the 80% of email subscribers that don’t open your email by targeting those segments in other areas where they arepaying attention — Facebook, Twitter, Google Search, and even, in emails sent by some of the top publishers in the world.
And there’s the rub. Search isn’t going anywhere and we don’t need or want it to. But, Search has historically been overvalued and with the advent of mobile and more sophisticated attribution models, Marketers are getting smarter about where they put their money and why.
Display has emerged as an exceptional complement to Search, as well as other digital channels. For example, Display is a great way to market and advertise in social already (check your Facebook feeds, Pinterest Boards, and LinkedIn Inboxes), and is becoming a stronger complement anywhere first-party data is being used, whether web, social, search or email directly.
Display is not taking over Search. Rather, the space between display and Search is being filled with impressive new strategies and tools that will make both a little bit smarter. That will make our industry a little bit smarter and more effective along the way.