Search Engine Optimisation is all well and good, but how do you get people to search for something in the first place?

I don't know if you've ever asked yourself this question. I did recently when thinking about the history of media and the even greater power that recommendations have today. If we are in a world with so much choice, where not only media content like video, posts, photos, but also so many products, have become commodities that are everywhere, how do we get someone to find us in the first place?


From Push To Pull

Few would also disagree that an abundance of choice has created a poverty of attention. Our audiences are becoming harder and harder to impress because they have, rather literally, seen it all before - generally within the same day! Marketers therefore hail the second decade of the 21st century as the 'attention age', because this is now the fight, to get their attention. Cutting through the clutter no longer just means creating an impressive advertising campaign, because our consumers have seen many of these before and it is only the ingenious and the lucky that get a nation talking.

The prevailing idea has been to switch from a push mentality to a pull mentality. Rather than advertising our products everywhere we go, we instead create something attractive that pulls people in. And once it's pulled people in, it pulls those same people in closer, not only seeking to increase market share but also wallet share. Trey Pennington wrote a post in which he shared a Steve Jobs video - from 1997! - talking about the Apple brand and the need to pull their audience closer to them, than push more marketing material at them.

This is nothing new to us. Seth Godin in Permission Marketing already heralded the death of interruption marketing with his book in 2001, seeing the over saturation of advertising and marketing requiring a fat free alternative in the form of permission marketing, a pull methodology as opposed to the pushing of content from broadcasters. And thus companies built permissions assets, some which were executed well and some not so, but already email inboxes have become over saturated in this short period of time, rendering them as just another volume-based deliver of the marketers message. It's TV advertising for the inbox. Open rates are low, click rates are lower - the volume game of mass media.

Of course, it wasn't always like this, the same way in which television advertising wasn't always so crowded. Email was an effective tool and is still used effectively by companies like Amazon, but Godin would tell us these have been building their permission for a decade or more and built trust, habit, and algorithms that recommend what the consumer is likely to want based on previous activity. New marketers to the space cant pick those three of the shelf, no matter how much money they have.


The World On Demand

Search, and the subsequent tactics of Search Engine Optimization and Search Engine Marketing, were the next savior after email marketing with the logic that if media is on demand, then we'll be there when the consumer demands it. When the world is on demand, and Google or Yahoo! are the quickest way to find things, it is perhaps the most powerful mechanism for being right at the consumer's point of need with an answer.

If it's
to be
found, it's also
nowhere special.
Yet here we face similar problems as with email. Search results are crowded places and hard to compete in, except for niche phrases or brand names. If the world is on demand, which it is, then we must understand that our audiences have the world to choose from. Search is also predicated on the consumer's search terms, the consumer having to posses the desire to find a certain thing in the first place. A consumer wanting to buy a new cap is likely to go the mall and look, and/or search for the particular brand of cap that they desire. There is already existing desire. I never, for instance, search for books that haven't been recommended to me. I only buy what others have said were useful for them.Furthermore email lists must be opted into and so must search results be opted into by typing the search terms. What is missing is the recommendation to sign up and the recommendation to search for a company's offering.

In a world that is on demand, recommendations find new meaning. What the push for on demand media in the early 21st century didn't tell media creators was that on demand is also off demand. If it's free to watch, it's free to leave. It it's easy to log on, it's easy to log off. If it's quick to download, it's quick to delete. If it's everywhere to be found, it's also nowhere special. When we can sample any content or any communication that we desire, what makes us stick past the novelty and the urge to move to our next desire? It is the recommendation from a trusted source that has always carried the greatest weight of influence, and never more so than today, because recommendation no longer just introduces us to something or someone, it makes us stick that little bit longer, and even begin sharing it ourselves. If content and communication are commodities, then a recommendation separates that media from the realm of commodities, the mass world of the easily available, and grants it a unique value that it cannot possess another way, and thus it is no longer a commodity to that consumer, but an item of interest, value and trustworthiness.

It is the recommendation that get's people searching.

A Reputation for Recommendation

Recommendations, however, don't just come from social media. It's not a using social media = you will get recommendations formula. What they do come from is being social.

What does it mean to be social? It means to be accessible, to be involving, to be empowering, to be centered about people. Those aren't four words that I've picked out of the air. Each one is a nuance on what it means and takes to be social, that in turn drive recommendations.

Recommendations however are not in themselves the goal. Simon Sinek in Start With Why discusses brands who have know their why, and brands who don't. As we might predict, Apple know their why, and so they thrive (whereas they didn't in the mid 90s when they didn't know their why.) Sinek then describes Wal Mart, a company famous for valuing its customers and employees because of Sam Waltons firm belief that people should be valued equally. Unfortunately they strayed away from their why and today bear the consequences of a bad reputation.

When being social - accessible, involving, empowering and centered around people - is the 'why' and not the 'what', it's no wonder they thrive:

  • Accessible. An organization that believes in being accessible to its customers has already made sure they are where their customers are. They position themselves at the water cooler, whether digital or physical. A belief in being accessible is what separates having a Facebook page for vanity's sake (and it being a ghost town of a page at that,) and having a place where customers can get live help on whatever social channel they prefer to us, whenever they need it.
  • Involving. Henry Jenkins said it well that "circulation of media content ... depends heavily on consumers' active participation." It is because people are involved that they recommend - because they have become emotionally invested in it. Trying to get old media types to think 'participation' has so far ended in many messes because they are scared to let go of what they have always tightly guarded. What they fail to understand is the benefits of active participation. If you can involve your customers as participants, not as a trick, but because you genuinely value them, there is no end to what they will do for you - because they are doing it for themselves.
  • Empowering. Wonder why Apple is so successful when they don't do too much of the above points? It's because they go one step further. They aren't just accessible and involving, they are empowering. Empowering doesn't just mean we deliver the product or the blog post that we think will help. It means we provide a platform that people actually build their lives on top of. This is Apple's core 'why', and it's many others too. Nike, for instance, believe that anyone can do what they put their minds too, and to that end Nike make products that empower them to go and do it that bit better.
  • Centred around People. Name something that you recommend and immediately I can tell you that it's centered around people. We only recommend things that are - because, egoistically, they are centered around us individually, as one of those people. This isn't to say that we don't also enjoy being part of a community, but at the end of the day, it must matter to me as an individual.

When you think of someone who is 'social', this is what you think of. They are this type of person, and it should be the same with our companies - literally meaning our groups of people.


Tying it Together

In a world that is on demand, where attention is harder and harder to get, let alone hold, it is these personal recommendations from social experiences that cut through the noise and get to the people they were built to serve.

Making our offerings more accessible means people can access them easier, and share them faster. Making our offerings more involving gets people to invest in them and own them, placing a higher value on them. Making our offerings more empowering means we enable people to do things better, and in turn they will help others do things better with our offerings too.

And when they get those recommendations, they won't need to search for us - they'll come right to us.