How to Lose an SEM Account

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Last week, a colleague at a media services firm described the incredible experience of winning a paid search marketing account away from, yes, a search engine marketing agency. The incumbent was one of the first formal search agencies, with a strong reputation. Like most SEMs, its proprietary technology could slice and dice data beyond most normal human expectations. So what went wrong?

Simply put, no one paid attention to the data that came out. My colleague relayed how after winning the search account, she was in awe of the incumbent's "absolutely gorgeous" reports. She was also stunned that an SEM with such sophisticated reporting technology could completely fail its client. "All the data was there," she said. "They simply needed to surface meaning."

There is a belief in the search industry that if one builds the über bid management and tracking tools, the job is done. Set your rules (or portfolio expectations) and voilà, instant happy client.

Unfortunately, client service does not stop at beautiful reports. As with any other marketing effort, only a critical human eye can both surface deep data and associate meaning from even the most comprehensive automated report.

This reminded me of a panel I participated in at SES San Jose 2005: "Ad Management: Do Humans Matter?"

Well, of course, humans matter. The shiny tool is only as good as the humans who use it, just as the carpenter with the best hammer will not always build the best cabinet.

While technology is key to our business (and often secures the higher multiple when it comes exit time), we have found ourselves in a dangerous game. Instead of focusing on the ability to churn out as much data as possible, the most meaningful data should be wielded to solve the greater marketing problem.


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