Rob Hughes JD Williams

Rob Hughes JD Williams

A dozen plus speakers from across the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands and Poland offered their insights on search at the second annual Benchmark search conference, held yesterday.

Over 200 in-house marketers and comms professionals attended the conference at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester where they were entertained and informed by a number of insightful and often humorous presentations spanning search analytics, behaviour and engagement.

Speakers from major brands including Google, Vodafone and Microsoft rubbed alongside speakers from more niche players ranging from to Cancer Research and uSwitch to JD Williams, the Telegraph Media Group and search agency Click Consult.

Microsoft’s James Murray ran through a variety of both Microsoft and third party search initiatives that he felt demanded delegates’ attention including the arguably key – to a search conference – forecast that by 2020, over 50% of all searches will be conducted by voice or image and that currently, over 70% of millennials use voice search regularly.

This development, combined with rapidly emerging innovations being released by Microsoft along with Facebook, Google and others, is already impacting the search world as it re-engineers itself away from the hitherto one to three-word text search to an altogether different environment offering far greater sophistication and precision but also greater personalisation, if done properly.

“The tipping point for mobile has been reached,” stated Nick Wilsden of Vodafone, adding that any company which is not anchoring its strategy on one of ‘mobile first’ is storing up commercial problems for itself.

Rob Hughes, head of earned media for JD Williams – a subsidiary of the 140-year-old mail order quoted company N Brown – has worked for a dozen plus years in digital and search, the bulk of them spent in agencies. He joined N Brown a year or so ago and a key early task was to build trust and stronger engagement around the SEO function within the group, whose 30 plus brands now derive over 60% of their revenue from digital engagement and fulfilment.

Hughes still retains some external agency support for specialist services but his focus has been to build investment in the teams at N Brown where he feels the greatest returns are to be had.

30.06.15 ©

Alan Reeves Click Consult

His views on in-house expertise versus external agencies were explored in more detail by Alan Reeves, director of search at the digital agency Click Consult.

Reeves cited some independent research which showed that for most commercial functions within companies, specifically built around marketing delivery, the optimum results were to be gained by investing internally. These primarily revolved around strategy and technical but when it came to outreach, the independent expertise offered by external agencies, could deliver better returns.

Ban Van Den Beldam, who runs the State of Digital based in The Hague, suggested that the huge developments in technology and delivery should never be taken in isolation and that in fact, the most capable digital operators work to the premise that all consumers are individuals with individual preferences and circumstances. “It is not purely technical skills which are required but also the consistent use of ‘softer skills’ such as empathy, context and trust.”

He cited Facebook as a particularly canny developer of ‘personalised’ engagement.

Facebook’s release last year of their personalised videos for Facebookers of their photos in a timeline, proved to be a major success for devotees of the networking site, although, research suggested the greatest beneficiaries had been those who shared their videos: very few videos were actually shared by those who received or saw these videos. Essentially Facebook had made its readers feel special and good about themselves, as if their lives really did have some importance and interest…

Bas Van Den Beld

Bas Van Den Beld

Another successful company making its customers feel good about themselves and fostering yet further trust in its brand was Carlsberg, he added, and played a Carlsberg commercial to the delegates. The ad made men feel it had been made especially with them in mind while girlfriends laughed and said “that’s their fella”. All part of Carlsberg’s continual quest to remind its huge global following that its beer and associated lifestyle is dependable and enjoyable.

Shane Cahill of Google made the statement that “we no longer go online, we live online” and added that the power of the audience is more awesome than ever.

The data that Google is able to glean can be put to remarkable use when combined with a company’s own research, he suggested, and reeled off some astounding results extracted from Google searches and subsequent actions.

Forty per cent plus of all baby purchases are made by households with no children; only 31% of people searching for paid online adult games are conducted by males aged between 21 and 35 and almost half of all home improvement searches and purchase are conducted by women. Combine external research anchored in hard facts rather than perceptions and you have seismic opportunities to reboot your company’s commercial horizons, he ventured. And find huge new audiences.