Marketing GPS: Going Southby for the Winter, Part One

This article originally appeared in the May 2015 edition of the Marketing GPS Newsletter.

Our sixth annual Marketing GPS Workshop (in Colorado Springs on June 10, 2015) features our most cutting-edge topic. We’re titling it Google’s Eroding Audience: Shoring Up Marketing in a Post-Search World.

Early feedback is that a workshop on the “post-search world” from a search-marketing firm is unexpected, and I’m pleased that early workshop ticket sales point to a record-breaking attendance. Everyone seems to understand that while search marketing is still important to sales and audience growth, the landscape is change rapidly.

Planning for the conference in late 2014, we used research and content curation to pick a topic we thought would have significant interest this year. We had been noting the reported downtrends in Google’s search-market share and, more importantly, its shopping-related traffic.

The overall decline is admittedly small, but it’s been Google’s longest decline, spanning six months to March (the latest month for which data is available). More problematic is the shopping-traffic decline. More buyers are bypassing Google’s search and ad results, and are now going directly to review or shopping sites like Angie’s List, Yelp, Healthgrades or Amazon – perhaps Google’s most formidable rival.

Off to Texas – For Field Research

To check into this trend more thoroughly, in March we travelled to Austin to attend South by Southwest (aka SXSW or Southby), the interactive conference that draws more than 30,000 attendees from 80-plus countries to discuss technology and related sociocultural trends.

Our goal at SXSW was four-fold:

  1. poll the field’s top leaders regarding our post-search conference thesis
  2. attend as many relevant sessions as possible
  3. report on the event using several online platforms, and
  4. bring our curation of Southby back to our own Marketing GPS Workshop

We polled nearly two dozen leaders from Google, Amazon, Pinterest, Yodle and Dell, plus some top journalists, authors, consultants, academics and pundits. Between these interviews and the conference sessions, we learned a great deal about digital-marketing trends and best practices.

After the conference, we engaged hundreds of marketing colleagues on social media with dozens of blogs and posts—with more to come as we finalize our thinking in preparation for the Workshop. As a bonus, we learned of some important, unannounced industry moves that will have a significant impact on this space. In short, between using both physical presence and online social media, we accomplished more than we imagined possible in a very short time.

Besides Post-Search Marketing, 5 Important Trends

We’ll save our Google-related research results for the Workshop and a follow-up article here. In the meantime, though, we want to share with you five other important revelations we had at Southby:

  1. developing content and brand advocates are more important than ever
  2. two underutilized predictors of emerging trends: patents and Big Data
  3. digital marketing’s continuing evolution
  4. Meerkat’s launch and viral growth at SXSW
  5. neuroplasticity: social media is changing our thinking

We’ll discuss the first two topics now, and save numbers three through five for our next Marketing GPS newsletter issue.

Developing Content and Brand Advocates

Today in marketing, it’s more important than ever to tell your brand story well – and continually produce relevant content that establishes a relationship with your customers and prospects. At Southby, David Sloly debuted a five-step process from his new book, Why You Need a Business Story and How to Create It, as a way to help overcome what he called the tendency to “slip into a cold world of logic, in an attempt to persuade.”

He contrasted logic, which makes a point difficult to refute but seldom moves people to action, with a story, which is memorable, easily shareable and conveys emotion. Stories are especially important, as most buying decisions are made at an emotional level. Sloly’s process steps include the:

5 Ws (Who, What, Why, When, Where)

4 Ps (Princes, Purses, Pets, and Places)

3 Acts, to move between

2 states of emotion, and

1 Killer Headline.

Amazing stuff, but you’ll have to pick up his book for a full discussion of the five steps.

As you develop your content, also develop your “brand army” by taking a lesson from schools’ pep rallies, alumni weekends, and strong sense of community. Abby Lunardini (Virgin America), Amanda Levy (, and Terry Macko (World Wildlife Fund) discussed how using disruption (including illegally landing a plane at Dallas’ Love Field to protest airline restrictions) can turn mere brand fans into fierce brand advocates.

Broad movements are driven by focusing campaigns on singular outcomes, powerful storytelling, strong leaders that people can empathize with and follow, and meaningful messengers (like World Wildlife Fund’s board member Leonardo DiCaprio, who successfully encouraged the Thai Prime Minister to take action against the illegal ivory trade). When celebrities are unavailable, personal stories and edginess often are equally effective.

Predicting the Future: Patents and Big Data

According to Gregory Stobbs (Principal at Harness Dickey & Pierce PLC), and Dr. Michael Wu (Chief Scientist at Lithium), we now have two important tools to help identify emerging trends. The first is patents which, by themselves, are nothing new. However, when the disparate technologies patents represent collide, they leave an arc of disruptive innovations that can be traced to help glimpse the future.

While patents are centuries old, the power of the database has only relatively recently unlocked patents’ metadata (e.g., patent number, inventors, owner, abstract, technology classifications and prior art), making the information searchable for those who know where to look. Careful searches, for example, show significant activity in mesh networks, blockchains, and quantum dots. Marketers aware of these developments can author relevant content that anticipates headlines of the near future.

If you don’t want to translate patent filings, though, you can translate raw data into information and secondly into insights, which is what Big Data is doing with increasing success. This, too, is possible through the power of the database, the key change being that storing huge quantities of data is much cheaper than ever before. For decades, data collection was done to solve a particular problem, for which all data collected was relevant. However, since today’s lower storage costs afford a less-discriminating collection strategy, we can now use Big Data strategies that sift through enormous quantities of data to find uses for what had previously been considered extraneous “noise.”

While Big Data is useful for any number of purposes, the goal of some scientists and marketers is to crunch data to the level of recommending a course of action – such as empowering mapping software to provide directions.

(Join us for Part 2: More Key Southby Revelations: Digital marketing’s continuing evolution, Meerkat and neuroplasticity)

Mark is responsible for managing NSI Partners’ social media properties as well as providing support in client outreach and recruiting. Prior to joining NSI Partners, Mark received his Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Colorado Colorado Springs.

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About NSI Partners

A digital marketing company with almost two decades of experience, NSI Partners helps clients achieve robust results in search marketing, social media, and other digital marketing spaces.

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