Home Agencies iCrossing President On Voice Search: ‘I Don’t Even Think Google Knows How It Will Develop’

iCrossing President On Voice Search: ‘I Don’t Even Think Google Knows How It Will Develop’

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mike-parkerSince iCrossing entered the market as a search agency in 1998, digital spend has expanded to social, display and mobile, all of which are table stakes.

As a result, iCrossing expanded into a full-service agency, eventually getting acquired by Hearst in 2010. Since then, it’s snagged AOR accounts for clients like Bayer, Church and Dwight and the NBA. Media now makes up 40% of revenue.

“We have to help our clients put the customer first,” said US President Mike Parker. “The days of ‘I’ve got a product, I’m going to force you to listen’ are fading. The customer is in control of what they’re interacting with, so if you don’t understand their reality and matter within it, you’re not going to be successful.”

But search is also evolving, quickly becoming screenless thanks to voice search interfaces on Amazon Echo and Google Home.

Parker spoke with AdExchanger.

AdExchanger: Do most clients use you as a full-service agency?

MIKE PARKER: Through various acquisitions we’ve added technology services, creativity, social and so forth. We have become and continue to be more than just a search agency or a performance media agency.

Half of our relationships are broader, multidimensional relationships, and half are more [around] technology or performance media. We like when we can think holistically about the customer. Lots of clients still want to have a best-in-breed ecosystem of agencies, and we’re happy to play in that.

How are voice-activated devices changing the search ecosystem?

When you ask Google Home or Alexa for information and your interface isn’t a screen, what happens when you say, “Hey Alexa, order some more ice cream”? If you search for ice cream, you’ll get 10 different choices. If Alexa says, “Would you like me to reorder the Breyer’s you had last time?” or “Based on your preferences I think you might like X,” what about all the other brands?

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We’re working closely with Amazon and Google and our SEO and SEM teams are thinking a lot about how to stay in front of this. [When] search inquiries moved quickly to mobile, that indicated different behaviors. You’re out in the world searching for something you want immediate gratification from. Voice search can scale quite quickly also.

What are the implications for Google as players like Amazon and Pinterest enter the search game? 

Google dominated for a long time. That domination is under threat.

Today, a lot of product-based inquiry goes direct to Amazon. Optimizing our clients’ Amazon presence has already become a real thing. Google will continue to be very important and strong in the marketplace, but consumers might take different paths.

We like Pinterest where there’s an opportunity to discover a product or new uses for that product. YouTube search is an interesting channel. We ran a number of tests focused on performance video. Typically, you think of YouTube as a branding-based message. But we’ve been testing YouTube to drive performance, whether that’s site traffic or conversions off the back of somebody learning about your product on YouTube.

Being owned by Hearst, how do you leverage its data to navigate the consumer journey across platforms?

We can access Hearst data around customer behavior and content consumption. We try to step back and look holistically across all of the tactics we might be using for a client.

We’re not a sales arm of Hearst. We have to make sure that we are unbiased planners and buyers of media. We’re not here to sell you Hearst stuff or we wouldn’t be able to compete. But where a holding company is there to consolidate money and doesn’t necessarily bring value to clients, we can tap into editorial leaders, data, content creation and production studios. We’re going to continue to see a lot of people experimenting with different mixes of services, content and technology.

Has sponsored content become a bigger part of your services since being acquired by Hearst? 

Yes. It’s an important pillar of what we offer. Content is becoming a more important way to engage consumers and brands continue to increase spend. We did a program for TD Bank last year called “Rolling Renovation,” where we tapped into DIY celebrities from HGTV as part of the mix of what we were able to do for that client.

Agencies are building content studios and publishers are getting into agency services and ad tech. What do you see playing out as the lines continue to blur?

We’re all racing to the same middle. It will only accelerate. It comes back to understanding the customer and what will connect and matter to them along their journey. It’s about access to data and producing the right content and signals for customers that will engage them in the right place.

How much of your spend is programmatic? Is it becoming a bigger focus?  

Year-over-year growth of programmatic has been around 30%. It’s maybe a quarter of our non-search media spend, and it’s growing. We just hired Amanda Betsold a few weeks ago to lead the development of our programmatic team. We continue to see more interest in either testing or moving more spend into programmatic.

Are a lot of your clients taking their tech stack in house? How does that change the role you play?

Many are making their own choices around technology partners. If a client wants to choose their bid management platform or CMS, it doesn’t really change what we do. It just means we’re using their tools instead of ours. Often we’re still managing it for them. The role play is making sure we can do that effectively.

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