The centralized search model is over. Welcome to your personal search.

I was having dinner with a dear colleague one night after a long day. He was trying to explain how uTube will become the video search engine in the future and that fact was key to understanding a new way to optimize search in video. “Nothing will come close” he said.

Rather impolitely, I kept saying, actually insisting, “No – they won’t be”. He looked at me rather incredulously and not without good reason. He was well ensconced within bosom of the techno-glitteri and he moved in the high-glam world of high tech. He knew stuff about uTube that most people didn’t. I was not just challenging him; I was challenging most of the accepted wisdom of the techno Silicon Valley world; that in the internet game there will be a few search winners, Google and uTube. Game over. That belief was required for the rest of our conversation to continue.

Poor man. He could not get me to agree to that simple, well understood principle.  I could not buy into a monopolistic search belief system. I sense the centralized search model is ready to fall apart. I was not just being argumentative or combative, but I sensed a “new” trend that has been operative for 20 years was starting to asset itself and only few people seem to see it.

I call the trend, “the techno-edge effect” and the main principle is that new technologies migrate from the enterprise level to the consumer level, to the “edge”, at some point. Some simple examples to illustrate my point:

  • Corporate Audix systems (messaging systems) evolved to become consumer answering services and ultimately devices (1980s)
  • Desktop PCs became personal PCs (1990s)
  • VoIP for enterprise migrated to consumers via services like Vonage (2000s)
  • Centralized software development to crowd sourcing (2007)
  • Podcasting was a corporate activity, now anyone with a webcam can be a broadcaster (2008)
  • Centralized news service to citizen journalism (2008)
  • “Cloud” computing would have only been contemplated for business a mere few years ago – now the model of the new Netbooks is that your data is “in the clouds” (2010…)

(Enough yet? If not email me, I can send you about 2 dozen more J)

The point is that the march to the technology edge is unrelenting and undeniable. The only question is how fast a particular technology will move to the edge. One could argue that Twitter became so successful so fast because it encouraged a high level of customization and personalization – it moved out to the edge really really fast.

Very interesting, but what pray tell, does this have to do with the entrenched and well accepted belief that search will be dominated by a few centralized companies?

Everything! Because I believe technology has reached the point where we will be able to create a totally personal web not through some centralized company, but through the transformative ingredient of trust. Now that people are creating trust for themselves (via communities, blogs etc) the power is shifting relentlessly from centralized search providers, (like a Google or uTube) to distributed power of the Trusted Web.

The model of the Trusted Web and decentralized search

Instead of semantic search or intelligent search agents from big companies driving the web’s evolution, I contend that each person’s ability to drive trust into every web action will be the animating force that moves us from centralized search paradigms to a new, decentralized one. In the new model, we will be able to search better because our trusted communities are doing search for us. We can better trust sites, because people we know had good experiences and we will learn about new things on the internet with services like Twine or HopSurf that gives us ideas based on people who are similar to me.

In the future, we will rely on the power of our networks to inject trust into our search – we won’t go to Google first. If some specific event requires that I get search help from a diverse set of backgrounds, I can create a virtual, new trusted group from all my networks. We will still search internet, but we will start with our trusted network first moving out only as the need requires.

This new proactive model of creating trust is not some future, far off concept. It is happening here and now. We now use trust based content rating systems to determine what content is more trustworthy. Reputation systems allow us to better trust verified SMEs (subject matter experts) versus just any reviewer. The explosive growth of communities demonstrates how people are proactively creating trust through shared interests. Twitter, Comodo HopSurf and Twine are interesting in this decentralized model because they provide an individualized community-based “trusted information filter” to help sort through the deluge of relevant data. Forums are yet another mechanism for people to create individualized trust by letting users share experiences.

All this adds up to the inescapable trend that the techno-edge effect for the Internet is that trust will be dismantling the centralized search monolithic model we have today. We are now moving to this new trust decentralized model. A model I call the Trusted Web.

Watch this space.

Judy Shapiro

http://twitter.com/judyshapiro

“He BING’d it!”

If any of you track how “Judy Consumer” is faring with the new BING, you will know that “Judy Consumer” has been pretty hard on BING. “Judy Consumer” recently dinged BING for its lack of delivery on its “decision engine” promise. “Judy Consumer” could not figure out how to get the decision engine price chart promised so beautifully in the spots by JWT.

I, Judy Marketing Geek, was also down on BING but for entirely different reasons. IMO, the BING campaign took two clumsy missteps.

First, they made the mistake of using the rational thinking of research and strategy to drive a creative strategy (what’s more rational than a “decision engine” position I ask you). That’s not so bad except the resulting campaign is all corporate bore that hangs loosely on a form but it still lacked the ability to really connect to “Judy Consumer”. It lacks “techno-soul”, it lacks creative sparks.

If one compares these spots to say, Apple, the contrast is clear. Apple spots are well grounded in rational thinking but give primacy to the creative spark that animates it all. Every Apple spot has that techno-soul. The BING spots don’t and so they can not really reach “Judy Consumer’s” heart. No spark and no campaign can go from “ok” to great (again think Apple spots).

The second misstep the campaign took and is the one I personally find the most difficult to bear, largely because Microsoft is held as a role model for technology advertising. The BING campaign failed to deliver something as basic as an honest, clear and simple understanding of what BING does actually do. Instead, JWT created a simplistic (note I did not say simple) campaign lacking in any real meaning? How does BING help anyone decide anything? Is the price chart just a gimmick?

“Judy Consumer” does not need to know the algorithmic nature of how results are generated, but she needs to understand how to connect BING’s abilities to what she does everyday. She deserves to understand the basics behind the big promises.

These two missteps represent mistakes made on the part of both the client and agency. Microsoft made the mistake many tech advertisers make – they confused simplistic messaging (that’s a bad thing) with simple messaging (that’s a good thing). Simplistic marketing tends to appeal to lowest common denominator and this often limits its ability to connect meaningfully, emotionally because it vaguely assumes “Judy Consumer” won’t understand anything too complex. On the other hand, simple marketing boils down your value proposition to a comprehensible and honest articulation of what you deliver. BING’s advertising is simplistic and assumes the “Judy Consumers” won’t understand much. That’s an underestimation and its flaw. Its simplistic promise is all big rational promise without its techno-soul.

But what mistake did a great agency make? They failed to drive the campaign to achieve a key magic ingredient – the techno-soul of the campaign. It lacks creative spark. I can’t say what happened for sure, but 12 years on the agency side gives me a pretty good idea. The agency strategy folks (left brainers I’ll call them) probably did some research (quantitative and/ or qualitative) to learn that people are dissatisfied with their current search experiences because they often yield lots of irrelevant results. With that key insight in mind, then multiple ideas were spun off and then another round of testing was done to refine the concept.

Next, the “rational” campaign was smoothed out and polished so that it played well in presentations and board meetings. It probably tested well too. Yet, in all this left brain, rational massaging to get the campaign sold-in, the techno-soul was lost.

In fact, the decision engine position sucks the soul out of BING. Why? Because that type of position goes against the concept of the Internet as a free information resource for all. Not all information seekers are seeking a decision.  In fact, this whole decision engine positioning vaguely suggests a new class system within the Internet that favors those who can make decisions, techno-code for people who can buy stuff. Maybe it’s just me – but this approach seems to be limiting the Internet’s natural capacity for unfettered expansiveness. A creative mind would have understood that.

Now as any good client understands, after you’ve told the agency what you don’t want, you must give clear direction on what you do want. So now let me have some fun for a moment and I’ll pretend I am “Judy Client” thinking about how BING might be marketed. My brilliant agency has shown me reams of research to tell me that consumers often get frustrated with search results that are off the mark.

As “Judy Client”, I would want to hear how real people describe their BING experiences. I would ask anyone I knew about their experiences (much to my kids’ chagrin as I interrogate their friends on this type of stuff). Then invariably the inspiration moment would come with my husband being the messenger this time. He described how his friend “BING’d” for an obscure piece of information and was greatly surprised and delighted when he found it.

And then in a breath, I knew he had expressed the perfect position.  BING can become synonymous with a new type of search … one that is great at finding the informational needle in the digital haystack. He even said the word BING with a “ring”, suggesting that the word BING is so auditory and should be more overly integrated in the campaign. Or maybe there’s an effort to create “He BING’d it” as a techno-colloquial phrase. I can even imagine how BING becomes the sound you hear when you get a great result.

I get that positioning and I think “Judy Consumer” would get that.  I would excitedly call my brilliant agency kindred spirit to share with him/ her the insight. And I would trust they will know how to create life and a soul around that idea. In the end, no research can take the place of gut creative judgment. No amount of rational strategy will help an ad campaign rise above the mundane to greatness. It takes a rare combination of brilliant agency and client talent along with a healthy dose of intuition to create brilliance.

So remember Microsoft, if some clever agency person comes to you with a recommendation to establish “He BING’d it” as colloquial term, remember – you heard it here first.

Judy Shapiro

http://twitter.com/judyshapiro

Brilliant marketing made simple – Trust the creative heart.

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” Einstein

I got a recommendation from someone to read the book by Martin Lindstrom, called “Buy·ology; Truth and lies about why we buy what we buy”. It describes the new neuromarketing sciences exploring how the brain’s physical reaction to our thoughts, sensory stimulation or even rituals can evoke  brand loyalty or apathy .  According to Lindstrom, this new understanding of the biology behind our unconscious mind’s ability to make “decisions” faster than our conscious mind, represents a, “…historic meeting between science and marketing. A union of apparent opposites.”

Now, I deeply respect Mr. Lindstrom’s work, but TBH, these types of branding books are a marketing person’s nemesis. They are often recommended to us by CEOs with the implicit expectation of; “Read this so you know which buttons to push. And tell me what you think in 4 days. Thanks.”

If a CEO were to ask me summarize the book, it would pretty much boil down to:

1) Our subconscious mind is much much faster than our conscious mind to take in stimuli and make “snap” decisions.

2) The line between alternate outcomes (dare I say alternate realities) in a situation is as thin as a single thought. If you believe that a ritual or a treatment is going to work – it more probably will. A potent principle in marketing when applied to shampoo or shoes or new technology.

3) If understood correctly, there are fundamental mechanisms in the brain that can be used by marketing to evoke immediate and lasting impact in current and future purchase decisions. Highly useful, no doubt.

4) Finally, the book nobly tries to empower us to make better decisions because we are “armed” with information. I must say, this Mr. Lindstrom’s weakest moment. Being armed with “conscious” rational information does not particularly seem efficacious if we are to believe the bulk of the book which explains in rich detail how driven we are by mechanisms that transcend rational thinking.

But as informative as the book was, I think it misses a big part of the branding story. Mr. Lindstrom, like many others who are drawn to the razzle dazzle of new mind mapping technology, often overlook the real nuts and bolts of what makes marketing really great.

Being great in brand building, IMHO, does not start with technology, but starts with the power of a creative heart. Unlike Mr. Lindstrom who believes that till now marketing and science were “apparent opposites”, I can tell you that much of what Mr. Lindstrom described in the book as powerful branding techniques were not new to me. Why? Because great creative minds in the agencies were using these techniques all along, we just didn’t have the technology or the fancy names to label what we knew anyway.

Some examples:

  • The book refers to “Sensory branding” (page 142) whereby attaching multiple senses to a branding program works a lot better than only  one sense. It also demonstrated that if two senses were inconsistent with each other, (e.g. an image of a lemon has the smell of vanilla), this combination was the least effective in creating a positive brand association. Twenty five years ago we simply called this principle “cognitive dissonance” and any good creative mind knew enough to avoid it without any SST brain scan.
  • Then there’s the very cool idea of mirror neurons, where if you just see an experience, it can feel as vivid as though you are doing it. This mechanism explains the deep satisfaction we get watching spectator sports or theater. Again, back in the 1980s, we knew about this phenomenon even though we did not know the name. We knew about the principle when we created Folger spots to linger lovingly on the brew process so that you could “almost smell” the fresh brewed coffee. We knew this was a powerful marketing technique even if we didn’t have the benefit of science to inform our work.
  • And also we nailed the importance of “Rituals” years ago. Duncan Hines focused on the ritual of making cookies with your kids and Folger became “the best part of waking up”. Again, these principles were masterfully utilized by creative people doing what do they naturally.

We must remind ourselves that neuromarketing or even taken further, the latest new digital marketing technology are tools for the artists and creators. And the best of these minds were using these “latest” ideas decades ago. There was no tension of “opposites” Mr. Lindstrom alludes to, but rather we used our talent to intuit the “science”. The best creative minds already knew what science is now telling us.

I believe Mr. Lindstrom would endorse for a balanced approach. In today’s techno-rich, techno-dense marketing world, it is so very easy to let technology blind you into thinking that there are silver bullet answers in creating powerful brands, (could this account for the stupendously low average tenure of a CMO of about 23 months?)

Instead, let’s turn the model around. Rather than promote the new science as the way to brand vitality, let’s demote technology to its proper place – as a means to an end. Let’s celebrate the creative mind as the primary force that animates it all. It’s about recognizing that for great marketing to live and breathe; even the most amazing new technique won’t work if there is no creative expression of it or if that message is inconsistently applied.

In the end, neuromarketing techniques may tell us that yellower yolks makes eggs more appealing, but ya still gotta get them to buy the eggs in the first place!

Why Google Reminds me of AT&T – Take 2. Can you spell DOJ?

Many of you will remember the July 7 article in AdAge on Why Google Voice Reminds Me of AT&T, where I broadly outlined how Google, like AT&T before it, can be undone by its ambition to dominate a key “infrastructure” sector, like the web. I contended in the article that, much like AT&T’s quest to dominate information systems, Google’s quest to dominate web services can divert precious resources from core businesses leaving it weaker not stronger.

The article generated, uh, considerable conversation; some polite, some not – but most were incredulous that I could even dare to make such a comparison.

Now, a mere 3 weeks later, Fred Vogelstein of Wired Magazine chivalrously comes to my defense (however unwittingly on his part) with his article; “Keyword: Monopoly …Why is Obama’s top antitrust cop gunning for Google.” where he explores the Department of Justice’s newly launched anti-trust investigation of Google (see where this is going?).

The article explains why the DOJ is going after Google now:

“Recently, Google’s size and ambitions have begun to obscure its halo. Advertisers watch nervously as the company’s share of the search-advertising market have jumped to 75% from 50% …Google’s largest problem isn’t what the company is today; its what is plans to become. Google aims to create a world in which web services replace desktop software.”

Does this not sound familiar?  The government gets nervous whenever one, very large, commercial enterprise wants to dominate any key infrastructure, whether it is software, information or the web. It was why AT&T and Microsoft were targeted in their day and it explains the DOJ timing now.

This investigation is yet another element demonstrating the parallel between the two companies. Sadly, the DOJ investigation changed everything for AT&T and it is likely to fundamentally change how Google does business, even if the case is not brought for years.  You see, once the government had a “virtual” seat at the AT&T table, the lawyers started running the show. It slowed us down, blunted much of our competitive bite and even restricted which technologies we considered. It simply took the life out of AT&T. Google seems prone to face similar constraints.

At this point, I hope most of you can at least understand why I saw and continue to see a pattern repeating itself. The real question becomes what’s in store for Google? What can Google do better/ differently than either Microsoft or AT&T when they were at this critical crossroads? Maybe nothing – I don’t know. Yet, that does not seem to sit well given Google’s well earned reputation for its Google genius. So for a moment, using history as our guide, let’s consider “out loud” some of their choices – together.

In the face of a potential anti-trust suit, Google can follow the path of Microsoft to fight to keep Google whole. It can use the legal argument of “anyone can go to any number of competitors with a better mousetrap” strategy. But that approach is not without peril if the lesson of Bill Gates’ now infamous court testimony with the resulting loss of Microsoft public good will is any indication. Poof – in a virtual moment, a decade of good will was gone. And the irony of following in Microsoft’s legal footsteps is rich given Google’s corporate culture of being as much anti-Microsoft (e.g. their “Don’t be evil” mantra) as it is “for” anything.

Google has another option; one that celebrates what Google what it does most brilliantly; innovate with new business models to create sustainable, profitable and ethically oriented corporate growth. It is an option that follows the contours of AT&T’s footsteps (read on before you all descend into an epileptic shouting fit), but avoids its failures.

Here’s what I mean.

AT&T ended breaking itself up into seven companies (the 7 Baby Bells of which three are still around) after a lengthy and costly battle which left AT&T very much weakened in the process. Maybe, just maybe, Google takes the first, brave step to focus on getting smaller and better – not necessarily around becoming bigger. Google can consider innovative ways to spin off smaller, more sustainable businesses via a consortium or community of like-minded companies. This community of companies model was first tried successfully by the Bell Labs New Venture Group in the late 1990’s. It operated with a structure that let connected businesses share basic, scalable overhead services like HR or marketing, but they remained relatively small to allow for innovation and ideas to flow freely. I was there that time and I can attest to the fact that with this model, we were able to more quickly assess and launch new technologies with successful outcomes.

While getting “smaller” may echo back to the AT&T “breakup”, that’s where the similarities can end. AT&T never really embraced the notion that smaller companies could be stronger and more profitable. Perhaps Google, by staying true to its very DNA to “be a force for good on the Internet” can free us from outmoded business models where bigger is automatically assumed to be better. Google can keep its cool by being a role model for a well balanced company that’s big enough to stay strong and innovative but not too big that it drowns in its own grandeur and bureaucracy.

It has not been done yet. In this respect Google reminds me of no one. And maybe this is what saves them.

Judy Shapiro

This is a reprint from Ad Age DigitalNext column.

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