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The Integration Of Online Behavior
I’m taking a breather from the Where is Search Going series, mainly because I’ve fallen behind in lining up the next interviews. But rest assured, there’s lots of good stuff coming!
Today, however, a column by George Michie from the Rimm-Kaufmann Group caught my eye. In it, George dissects some of the different search behaviors that could drive metrics like ad click through rates and conversion rates. He posits that there may be different search profiles that drive these different behaviors. Based on what we’ve seen at Enquiro, that’s almost certainly true. But the fact is, the strategy we use for searching is not static. We’ll employ different strategies depending on our intent, which will also impact how we scan the results. I’m not going to rehash the volumes of research we’ve done on that. My intention today is to make a different point, namely, that we humans have torn down the walls between our online and offline worlds. The web is fully and functionally integrated into our lives. Unfortunately, the same is not true for corporate org charts.
Four drivers of human behavior
In looking at human behavior where it intersects with technology, I realized some time ago that technology doesn’t change behavior—technology enables behavior to change. The difference is important to understand. Humans, for all their complexity, are driven by some pretty universal and simple motives. The Darwinists in the crowd have reduced these to four fundamental strategies: survival, reproduction, kin selection and reciprocal altruism. Pretty much everything we do in our lives falls into one of these four buckets.
Harvard professor Nitin Nohria also sliced all human behavior into four buckets, but came up with four different labels: acquiring, bonding, learning and defending. Same pie, just sliced in a different way. The fact is, these things are universal in humans. They’ve been around forever, and they’re found in every single culture. Consider these the base operating system of human behavior. I’m going to stick to Nohria’s labels, as I think they’re a little more intuitive when it comes to understanding human behavior.
So, we have humans driven by four objectives. Now, let’s layer technology on top of that. Technology won’t change the fact that we will still drive towards these four goals. But it might change the way we do that. Let’s take the need to bond, for example. There is nothing in that fundamental need that has changed in the last 20 years. But the way we do it is significantly different. For many of our relationships, bonding is much more about Facebook today than it is face-to-face. And yes, there is a reason why pornography is always one of the first businesses to exploit a new technology. Boys will always be boys, but our peepholes may change from generation to generation.
New ways to achieve timeless goals
Technology enables (but doesn’t drive) behavioral change by allowing us to do the things we’ve always wanted to do, but in new ways. And, if that change is a significant improvement over what we had previously, we’ll rush to adopt. In this way, technology facilitates massive behavioral change by allowing us to adopt new ways of doing very human things. The more human the need and the more elegant the technical solution, the faster the change will happen.
Why is this important to marketers? Simply because we humans don’t hold new technology in some separate mental department when we think about living our lives. We will take the fastest and shortest path to those goals. We pursue objectives efficiently. That’s important because the entire online world offers a huge increase in efficiency in just about everything: bonding, learning, acquiring and yes, even defending. So, without really thinking about it, we’ve quickly assimilated the efficiencies of online into our world. That’s why Google is now a verb.
In looking at buying behavior, we’ve seen seamless integration of online resources into the decision process. We bounce back and forth between the online and offline world without a second thought. A discussion leads to a web search. A website visit leads to phone call. And, increasingly, word of mouth slips back and forth from water cooler talk and inter-cubicle gossip to Twitter enabled crowd-sourcing. In our minds, there is no online and offline, there are simply the best paths to follow to get where we want to go, and we’re agnostic about the technology used to get there.
This seamless integration translates into the search behaviors that Michie was observing. Again, there will be personal styles that will dictate what some of that behavior looks like, but there is also intent. We don’t really think too much about how we search, we just do it. A “Trademark Tracy” (to use Michie’s labels) who uses branded terms in one instance may suddenly turn into a “Modern Mary” who uses longer queries in another instance. Yes, there will be personal biases, but the fact is, we don’t launch searches with conscious effort, we launch them instinctively and subconsciously. And intent will impact what post-click behavior looks like, including conversion rates.
Integrated consumers and disconnected org charts
If, on the prospect side, we have this fully integrated online/offline model, how do we as marketers mirror that within our own marketing strategies? Well, the fact is, we don’t. Our marketing strategies are sliced up into more pieces than the average jigsaw puzzle. Each client touch point has it’s own fiefdom. Online and offline usually live at opposite ends of the org chart, and even within these individual domains, each tactic lives apart from the rest. There is more integration in the offline world, simply because the history is longer and has allowed for more integrated thinking. But in the online world, it’s very rare for search to sit at the same table as display, email, social or other online channels. It’s almost as if, as marketers, we expect prospects to use different parts of their brains for each of these things. But, as I’ve said, all these channels are impacted by the same fundamental behavioral drives.
It’s somewhat ironic to me. As digital marketers, even the most sophisticated amongst us are torn between dozens of different platforms and channels. We feel driven to have a strategy for each. But if we just stopped long enough to flip the lens around, we’d actually find that if we study inherent human behaviors, things become a lot more focused. We just have to look at four basic drives and understand how that might apply to consideration of our product or service.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.