I recently sat down with Downstream’s outspoken Chief Operating Officer Justin Hind, to learn about what is going on in Search and more.
Tell us about your current role and responsibilities
My role is really simple, I work with Steve Knowles our founder and CEO to help grow the company. I work with clients to help them navigate how Search, a performance medium fits with their overall marketing strategy in how they can create more value out of a well structured and defined strategy.
We don’t actually think of ourselves as a Search agency, even though that is what we do. We see ourselves as a Digital Performance Agency and we work with clients in a broader context to understand their brand, consumers, economics, site performance etc.
Coming from a creative agency background, the other part of my role is to expand our thinking beyond transactional Search to how we integrate it into an “integrated” marketing strategy both internally at Downstream with our Account Management Teams and with clients.
Oh and of course there is the operational side of my role. That is quite varied from overview of client engagement models, financial performance, team leadership, training and recruitment.
Why is Search so important in today’s marketing strategies?
Search is important on a number of fronts:
1. Search is important because it is the fastest growing consumer driven media on the planet.
2. Search is the undisputable most effective medium in terms of scale, cost & ROI.
3. Increasingly Search is the easiest point of connection a consumer has to a brand. A Consumer see’s some form of advertising, PR, media, story etc and the next & most immediate reaction is to Search for the company or the category.
4. Search for me is like Direct Marketing on drugs. The data, insights and performance metrics we get every 12 hours allow us to optimize a campaign effectively and ensure a client is actually getting the return’s they require.
5. I have a very strongly held belief that as all media (TV, Display, Print etc) will move to some form of auction mechanic based on rational insights & data. The same processes we use to manage a Search program and how a client understands return from Search will transfer to all other media.
Combine this with the fact that the majority of media is increasingly becoming digitized (think TIVO, IP TV etc) and you can see where the disciplines of Search transfer at a rapid rate. Commissions, group deals, meeting contract spend levels will become illogical and redundant and for most smart clients, this will be their preferred mode of marketing investment.
Hard question – I need my crystal ball. Overall I think we need a very health & competitive Search industry. We need great choice for consumers, we need greater innovation and more importantly we need increased competitiveness for advertisers. So I think the fact that Yahoo & Microsoft have joined forces to exploit their inherent advantages as a great thing.
We understand it’s Bing’s goal is to just get a minor increase in overall market share, which as far as we’ve seen through our data here at Downstream they are well on their way to doing so. Google still command 90% plus of impression share and hence this roughly approximates to a similar share of Search advertising dollars.
In the future it would be great to see another real Search engine grow and provide a greater level of consumer choice and competition. This probably won’t occur until clients can understand the REAL value Search provides over digital display, until clients get transparent reports on REAL value creation across all mediums and they react accordingly with rational budgets and investments in Search.
This isn’t going to occur until we get to double digit percentage budget allocations. We need average Search investments to go from 5-7% to 15%-20%. When that happens we will see the tech companies, media companies and the investor community respond accordingly.
I also think we are going to see a greater level of interplay between Search and Performance Display. The two will become more closely aligned philosophically, planned together and hopefully executed and reported to clients in a transparent manner.
At the moment in the majority of cases media agencies are using Performance Display to spray cookies, claim conversions on BS post view metrics and support larger CPM based deals where they earn a myriad of commissions, prompt payment discounts, group rebates etc.
It is immoral in my view and has to end.
In 2008, Downstream took out AdNews Specialist Agency of the Year and B&T Emerging Agency of the Year. What does the future look like for Downstream?
Downstream is a high growth company with lofty goals and aspirations. It was great we won two different agency of the year awards in 2008, but it meant nothing more to us than that we were a serious contender, with the right model, the right proposition with the right vision.
In line with our vision of being Australia’s leading digital performance agency, we’ve been busy working on launching a performance display offering that uses the same advanced mathematics & modeling from Efficient Frontier, that runs Search investments today applied to the Performance Display Market.
We’ve been working closely with Efficient Frontier in Sunnyvale, California to build out the Performance Display technology and understand the customization requirements for the Australian media markets and ad exchanges.
We are also working on launching a Performance Creative offering that uses dynamic conversion based data to build and deploy conversion based websites, landing pages and digital display ad inventory.
Very exciting times here – we are focused on shaking the shit out of the status quo and driving real change. The current landscape is just not good enough.
You hold a Bachelors degree in Economics from University of Queensland. What does economics have to do with advertising?
For me it has everything to do with Advertising. Clients only invest ad dollars for a commercial outcome, believing it is anything else is being clearly misguided. Understand investment, impact and return either short term or long term is the goal of advertising.
Clients do it to sell product, short and sweet. You do that through engaging an audience meaningfully, changing your brand metrics and dimensions that give a brand an advantage, through higher levels of reach, recall and consideration.
For me Economics is the science and rational thinking behind it all. It is understanding cause and effect, the wider competitive market, the health of the economy and the disciplines that bring you to an insight and the right answer.
In your previous role as Head of Direct and Digital with BMF, you helped the agency win Australian Direct Agency of the Year two years running. How do you apply your expertise in direct marketing into search marketing?
BMF is a great agency with brilliant people and an unrelenting vision. I count myself as being very lucky to be there during those periods and took a lot out of my experience there. They are head and shoulders above all other agencies I think – sorry, but having the owners run the business each and every day brings a clarity and sense of urgency I’ve never experienced before.
For me, Search is just the most dynamic form of direct marketing that is deployed faster and optimized quicker than any other form of marketing. Simply take all the best disciplines of Direct and apply it to Search and you’ll be an awesome Search Marketer.
For me it is about understanding consumer behaviour, a brand, consumers propensity to respond and using that data to drive insights and campaign improvements.
In Direct the rough rule of success is 70% data, 20% offer and 10% creativity. It is pretty much the same in Search, it just moves 100 times faster and you can uses advanced mathematical models and optimization to improve a clients performance. Simple!
What do you see as the biggest issues facing the marketing industry moving forward?
Skills and professionalism. I find it rare now to find people who are well rounded across all facets of digital, direct, data & CRM. It really is disappointing. The wider industry needs to invest more in people, developing their skills and leadership traits.
I see a whole bunch of people who just don’t get the basics today, about understanding business and their true role in helping clients solve challenging marketing problems.
For Search specifically it is really hard. Most people coming through see it as just words on a page, they don’t see it as a sexy digital discipline that they can craft a meaningful career out of.
At Downstream we find we engage at the highest level’s with clients, get engaged in site development strategies, have deep data insights and a very high level of trust with clients. As an agency you can’t ask for more than that.
What is the motivation behind your personal blog, Economics of Advertising?
My Blog is really just a collection of my thoughts on the industry & possible models for the future. I also believe that Economics & Advertising are highly connected, advertising is a commercial endeavor, nothing more, nothing less.
Agencies take on a huge responsibility when they work for a client. Agencies are playing with their clients brand, revenue, staff’s livelihoods, future product development. And that requires a responsible commercial view of how they invest their clients money to create the maximum value for all parties.
I love it when creativity, numbers & economics collide, so that’s really where the inspiration came from. Some of the stuff I post on upsets people because it is about driving change and making new models. My blog is where I can have a voice on the future and I love that sometimes people get moved by new thoughts and challenging the normality of the industry.
I think the industry as we know & define it today is in major trouble and we need to evolve at a rate faster than anyone is comfortable. It is the only way we can all progress and increase or relevance to clients and ultimate how they engage with their customers.
I think Twitter is one of the most valuable digital innovations in recent years. It allows brands to monitor conversations both good and bad in real time, it charts influence and association between users and their networks and the fact that it has links and index able data means it is a key driver of consumer action.
I’ve posted on what I think the future of it is, I’d love to see Twitter & Google collide. Check my blog out for more, be really interested in thoughts, debate and comment on this.
Sometimes we talk work, but try not to. Because we are both so passionate it is really hard not to. I find if I share a challenge I’ve got with Dom, she can add a huge amount of perspective and fresh thinking to my ideas. Dom has an awesome way of breaking down a problem and adding extra layers, hopefully I do the same for her.
Outside of work though we have a really full life with our other passions like running and training, we’ve also got a really great group of friends that share our passions so a lot of what we talk about outside work is more about what we are trying to achieve, what event we are going to do together. Stuff like that…
Together you are training for the New York Marathon in November. How is your training going and has your preparation for this translated into your business life?
New York is one of my ultimate goals. I’ve run loads of half marathons and only one full marathon, it was Sydney last year and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I promised myself I’d do NYC and the retire from full marathons, unfortunately I didn’t get in this year AGAIN via the lottery.
Dom & I are looking at a back door entry mechanism at the moment so fingers crossed. We have been training like we are going anyway, so positive thinking will bring a positive result I hope.
Running has taught me a lot about business, setting a goal and being prepared, being focused and unrelenting. You have to be motivated, understand your goals, put the hard yards in and know that there is no easy way to success. Running is very important to me for more than just running now.
Finally, what is your favourite ad of all time?
Wow – there are so many and creativity keeps pushing the boundaries. I don’t know if it is an all time favorite but I really loved the Chase for Bourne. It was a campaign used to engage an audience for the last Bourne Supremacy and it incorporated Google Maps, Video, Search, Social media and an Online Community. It was a great take new standards in integration.
Another favorite campaign was for Batman -The Dark Night.
The campaign was “I believe in Harvey Dent”. It was so ahead of its time using so many different grass root channels from graffitied outdoor, social media, databases etc and culminating in an awesome online experience. I won’t talk about it anymore here – Google it, discover it for yourself.
It was BIG, created a ground swell amongst fans, online communities, had advocacy, great use of data and a serious payoff for consumers that participated.