(This essay was co-authored with Jeff Molander, Web marketing expert, speaker and CEO of Molander & Associates Inc.)
Web ad networks are busy buzzing about the death of the "last click" referral source model – where various kinds of publishers compete for getting credit for the eventual sale or action. It's hailed as the cure-all for understanding the attribution dilemma that's plagued advertising for years – what ad campaign actually prompted the customer to tack action. Meanwhile, there's some honest-to-goodness innovation going on. We see it at both the macrocosmic and microscopic levels.
The next killer apps are likely to emerge from somewhere between, so look to Google and Facebook for the answers.
Turning "Totally Sick" Trends into Customers
Google is debuting a service it calls "Flu Trends," which compiles search queries related to sore throats and stuffy noses to predict the timing and geography of flu outbreaks.
The results correlated to years past have been scarily prescient. It's a really cool aggregation of information that isn’t simply qualitative -- as in "people are talking about this or that a lot" -- but rather building on the behavioral triggers. Namely, why they might be searching certain terms at certain times (and at certain locations) and actively drawing conclusions about future behaviors (i.e. getting sick).
Knowing that the flu is raging in a particular place can prompt folks to maximize hand-washing and minimize getting sneezed upon, but it's just a hint of what's possible:
- Restaurants: How about aggregating search info on, say, a Friday night, and spitting out a list of restaurants or nightclubs that are prompting the most interest from barflies? Think of it as a real-time TripAdvisor for eating that draws from various sources beyond search engines. Consider the instant nature (and significant user-bases) of micro-blogging platforms like Twitter...where are the crowds flocking, how long are the lines – right now? What's generating massive attention tonight to the tune of feet on the street? This sets up competing clubs to actively tout shorter wait times to club-goers. Using instant micro-blogging technology they can deliver instant offers to patrons.
- Local and national advertisers: They're already leveraging instant knowledge into instant behavioral prompts – asking for the sale or giving customers reason to stick around (remain loyal)… or buy more. Passionate groups of enthusiasts are already using flashmobs to further their cause or just plain have fun. How might advertisers do the same to ring the cash register or keep customers coming back?
- Fashion: Trend or "coolspotting" is a very real, specialized and lucrative business for a few highly-paid professionals. This is bound to change and soon. Imagine if you could find out what shirt style or color was most popular at any given moment? Google’s "Women's Pants" can tell you what's hot, what’s not – as well as where that demand is occurring.
- Financial Services, jobs & education: Aggregating searches for "bankruptcy" correlated with searches for "thrift stores" might serve as a leading indicator for economic trends. Same for searches related to finding a job or a college degree. If you think this isn't already going on think again. Multi-million dollar lead generation houses like QuinnStreet and Oversee.net have been cashing in on this little secret for years, while advertisers themselves have sat on the sidelines.
It’s the Velocity, Stupid
The velocity of everything is changing – including that which we can know. Certainly things in the world of finance are moving faster than ever but velocity is increasing in consumer taste as well. What turns people on today is a turn-off tomorrow. Consider JetBlue: is it surprising that they've adopted Twitter as a means to keep customers informed? What other behaviors might they induce using Twitter and other social media devices?
Google is slowly opening up its behavioral knowledge coffers of data , creating opportunity for market researchers, advertisers and digital innovators. Will you be one of them or will you wait for digital middle-men like QuinnStreet to innovate around you and mark up your costs?
By making search ads available in the late 1990's Google gave birth to mainstream "affiliate marketing" programs as innovating risk-takers (affiliates) moved in to experiment at driving direct response results (purchases, business leads). The behavioral data behind Google Trends is ripe for similar innovation and the company is bound to repeat its successes with paid search ads – especially considering advertisers’ pulling back on/decreasing paid search spending.