April 02, 2010

5 Hints at Google's Next Moves Google’s greatness lies in its ability to continuously get smarter and better. It doesn’t hurt to have all the money and most of the talent in the world to apply to this task. Yet the ethos of consistent testing and tinkering toward improving search results is driven by the culture as much as the desire to outpace or anticipate competitors. Every so often, we mortals get a glimpse into what they’re up and what they might do next. I’m indebted to Jann Kanellis, Brad Gosse and Josh Titsworth for cueing me about these 5 developments. Different Results on Different Computers. Last December, Google began tracking search results by machine address. That means if you search the same term on your work computer and your home computer, its possible to get different results. This is probably more likely if the search has a local angle, which might be a clue about Google’s future direction and their desire to improve penetration and ad sales among local ands small businesses. It also might reflect their understanding of what you’ve searched for on that particular machine. Remember they watch what you type in and what you click on to track and study this stuff. As it is Google serves up local results if you enter a city, state, region, postal or zip code in the search bar. Since they know your location from either your IP or machine address, they can automate the process of including the nearest products, retailers or services. And while it’s not 100% accurate, it is regularly getting better. Different Results at Different Times. Google changed the search algorithm and has instituted random A/B testing. So it’s not unusual to search the same term at different times and find yourself getting different results because you’ve been silently assigned to either the control of the test group. You can get much more technical information about this here. But this hints at an effort to segment audiences and identify times, topics, geographies, demographies and affinities for more discrete results. More Real-Time Results. To counter the influence of Twitter, Google has struck deals with an array of social networks to include posts, tweets and updates in search results. Google doesn’t display these randomly but instead has developed its own process for weighting based on numbers, frequency, authority and intensity of sentiment. We’d all like to get a look at the assumptions and the data sets underlying this effort because the ability to track not only what’s going on but what people are feeling and doing right now can be a very powerful insight for marketers and politicians. More Pictures. Google knows how many people are looking at still and moving images online. After all the own YouTube and are looking for better ways to drive traffic and increase ad sales and the monetization of video content. Notice that photos and videos are steadily creeping into your search results pages. Notice also whose videos get served higher up on the page. More “Related Searches.” Google knows that the math doesn’t always work. So to set your expectations and reduce the disappointment you might feel when they get it wrong, they are serving up additional phrases; usually variations on what you searched for listed under a header that reads “Searches related to ….” This hedges your bets and theirs and signals a desire to try their best to get it right. In many cases it’s useful because consumers often don’t know how to phrase an effective search request. Some of these changes will up-end your existing SEO tactics and some will challenge your PPC tactics. But carefully watching and handicapping Google is something every marketer will have to do into the foreseeable future.
Talking to Recession Survivors The recession traumatized Americans. Forced to roll with the punches and devise coping strategies to counter complex economic forces beyond our control, consumers figured it out by trial-and-error. Now that there’s a glimmer of hope and a few data points to suggest the beginnings of recovery, we see the world through different eyes. Eyes skeptical of government and financial institutions. Eyes looking inward. Eyes that stared down economic ruin and made crucial trade-offs to survive. Eyes with “a renewed sense in their own resourcefulness and priorities” according to Eyes Wide Shut, an insightful and eye-opening qualitative study of 1200 consumers and a quantitative survey of 700 consumers conducted by Ogilvy& Mather in Chicago and Communispace. Consumers made conscious choices either to re-trench by shifting spending patterns to preserve their lifestyles or by re-imagining new ways to work, live or operate. It wasn’t fun but “consumers made very interesting trade-offs across seemingly unrelated categories in order to get their lives in balance while still feeling like they are treating themselves to those things that make them feel normal and well taken care of.” We coped. Often by eating in, gorging ourselves on junk or comfort food and booze, popping happy pills and zoning out playing games or finding friends online or in front of the TV. Now we’re thinking and acting differently than before… at least for now. And we think we’re re-setting our behaviors and our perceptual filters. Consider these four implications for crafting post-recession consumer advertising messages: Everyone’s from Missouri. Hype be damned. Consumers want unvarnished facts and figures, stats, odds and data without the spin. They Google everything and check you out on Angie’s List, Zagat or Facebook. They ask around online and off and carefully weigh every purchase. Each purchase is a careful choice, often a trade-off, so it has to deliver both intrinsic and psychological value. We Want What We Want. Purchase decisions are “deliberate and intentional” and may include complex personal trade-offs and calculations to justify or fund purchases. You can’t psyche out millions of consumers inside their heads. Instead make the value proposition clear and help them do the math. “Personal context and attitudes change daily” as we buy things to make ourselves feel better, feel safer and to put distance between us and our recent memories of deprivation. Everyone’s a Survivor. Americans coped one-by-one. As a result there’s not a great reservoir of trust in the system. Instead consumers believe “if its going to be; it’s up to me.” So messages have to help individuals sort themselves into your product or service offering by emphasizing, utility, value and convenience. We are weirdly optimistic and empowered. The Game has Changed. The recession changed the ground rules and assumptions behind the America Dream for many. We hit the ceiling, lost our jobs and our savings and our homes. We faced the kind of physical threats our grandparents lived through and warned us about. As a result we are re-booting our relationship with money, work and property. We’ve readjusted our sites downward. We’re more appreciative of what our parents had and we shifted the target from having it all to keeping it together as best as we can. For the moment, we’re talking about family, stuff we actually like or can do and direct. And we have a new appreciation for our own resourcefulness inner resolve and strength. Brands who don’t get it risk being dealt out. You don’t have to serve each individual variation but you have to speak to the mindset. You need to be where consumers are and intercept them doing the things they’ve carefully decided to do. Brands, who focus strictly on deals, will be jettisoned once we’re feeling a little better about things and seek to forget the recent hardships. The actual state of the economy has nothing to do with consumers’ mindset. We’re done with the recession. Been there. Done that. We coped and we’re moving on. Brands need to accompany us.

Danny Flamberg

I am a veteran marketing consultant working with leading and emerging brands

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