Great Summit – But What Will We Call It Next Time?

First published May 22, 2008 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

Less than 24 hours ago, my fellow columnists were sitting on a stage on Captiva Island, Fla., recapping the events of the three-day Search Insider Summit. It was Insider Aaron Goldman that first noticed the dilemma. “You know,” he mused, as he looked at his famous Summit Buzz Index list (more on this in Aaron’s next column), “I don’t see the word search in here.” We realized, together with the attendees, that in three days of earnest, thoughtful, engaged and even passionate discussion, we had talked about a lot of things: marketing, branding, conversations, engagement, intent, convergence, communities, mobile and local. But somehow, search remained implicitly rather than explicitly present in these conversations.

The Essentially Human Nature of Search

Perhaps we had outgrown search. But no, that wasn’t it. Search had outgrown us, or, at least, the box we kept trying to stuff it in. It went to something that I had touched on a few times over the past three days. Search isn’t a channel. Search is glue, search is ether, search is a synapse, a connection, a completion. Search is a fundamental human activity. Search isn’t a marketing tactic. It’s how we express ourselves.

Perhaps it’s the human need to categorize things. We tend to pigeonhole search and put labels on it. It’s direct response, it’s transactional, it’s pull rather than push. But search isn’t a noun, search is a verb. And it was only on the plane ride back that I started to realize how important that is.

Battelle’s Big Idea

John Battelle did a great job of poking at the import of this in his book “The Search.” But I’m not sure people realized how mind-boggling Battelle’s “database of intentions” is. It’s a vast concept, and that scares the hell out of most people. Similarly, Google’s goal to organize the world’s information can be as deep as you want to make it.

Let’s dissect this a bit so we can start to put appropriate scope to it, and you’ll realize that Google’s goal is maybe the biggest, hairiest, most audacious corporate goal in history.

There are few things humans need on a daily basis. We are biomechanical machines, so we need oxygen, water, food and sleep. We are social creatures, so we need to communicate. And we are rational beings (or at least, we come equipped with the necessary equipment for rational thought) so we need information. Given that, organizing the world’s information sounds like a good thing, right? It makes our life easier. But whoever organizes the world’s information also controls access to it. We pass at their pleasure.

A Toll on Information

Recently I had the opportunity to cycle up the Rhine Valley in Germany. Dotted along the valley are dozens of castles overlooking the river. The castles exist because the Rhine was the primary navigation route of central Europe, and robber barons realized that if they could control even a small part of the river, they could exact tolls and become fabulously wealthy. But even as bold as the baron’s were, their plans pale in comparison to Google’s goal. Imagine the ability to impose a toll on every single bit of information that we, as humans, need on a daily basis.

In a remarkably short time, Google has created a connection to the biggest repository of information ever collected, and each day, the company adds to it. Each day, our ability to access the information we need to function relies more and more on search, which means it relies on Google.  For almost any decision we make, we need information. Sometimes, the information is at hand, but when it’s not, we have to search for it. And, we will take the easiest possible route to do so. That’s why for more and more of our actions and decisions, there are corresponding searches. Search is not a channel, it’s how we act on our intentions and aspirations.

Search Centered by Default

Gerry Bavaro, another Search Insider, said it best. If you truly put your prospect at the center of your marketing strategy, it can’t help but have search at the core. It’s a given. When your prospect reaches out for the information required to make a buying decision, it’s highly likely they’ll reach out through search.

So, as we tried to put the wraps on three days of high-level thinking about search, we realized we had actually unwrapped something bigger than any of us realized. I’m not sure what you call it, but one thing’s for sure. It won’t fit in any pigeonhole.

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