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Understanding Your Customers’ Language

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Talk to any search marketer and he’ll tell you keyword research is the foundation of any campaign. And to a point, that’s correct. There is something so much more important than basic keyword analysis, however, than the words people put into a query box on a search engine: intent.

In fact, understanding intent is at the heart of all marketing. Because, in a way, all marketing is actually keyword-driven. I live eat and breath search. Yet when I’m asked (and I’m asked very frequently) what keyword-driven marketing is, my answer isn’t always related to search.

In a recent video interview, I was asked to explain the concept in more detail and started with a direct marketing analogy. When you receive a piece of mail, what prompts you to open the envelope? Keywords. And what is it that makes you pick up the phone or prompt any call to action? Keywords.

Keywords are intended to create a direct response. In much the same way, potential new customers on the Web are prompted to do the same thing. Each click on a link is prompted by keywords, and each click is a micro conversion leading to the intended macro conversion.

It’s not just about going to a search engine and using a keyword analysis tool, either. Knowing which words were searched on how many times gives little clue to intent. All marketers are familiar with psychographics. And keyword-driven marketing is very much about getting inside the end user’s head.

User intent is all about interests, attitudes, and opinions. To that you can add values, beliefs, lifestyles, and behaviors. There are many more variables, but suffice to say in search it’s about each consumer’s mental dictionary and vocabulary.

By collecting granular keyword intelligence from every part of the marketing mix, you can create a framework to build on. You can use that intelligence to create powerful marketing messages. Just knowing what keywords people searched on tells us nothing about actual intent and whether those keywords converted.

For the second edition of my search marketing book some eight years ago, I was fortunate enough to interview professor Andrei Broder. Currently chief scientist of Yahoo’s advertising technology group, Broder is well-known for a paper he wrote way back explaining the taxonomy of Web search. Personally, I find this to be as relevant now, if not more so, as it was back then.

The paper explains how search engines can gather data on user intent. And it breaks information retrieval on the Web into three categories: navigational, informational, and transactional.

  • Navigational is when the intent is to get to a particular Web site.
  • Informational is when the intent is to acquire some knowledge assumed to be present on one or more Web sites.
  • Transactional is when the user intends to get involved in some sort of Web-mediated activity.

These are pretty broad brush strokes, and there’s no certitude that intent can be inferred from every query. There can always be an alternative intent to every query. But it absolutely provides the bedrock for building your keyword intelligence database.

And by applying the knowledge of what has worked in other media and in the past, alongside the keyword matrix, marketers can make smarter campaign decisions.

As marketers we all face similar challenges: How do we best reach our customers? How do we ensure that all aspects of our marketing mix are optimized? By adopting the keyword-driven marketing approach we can create compelling, consistent messaging that resonates with our customers.

Understanding the language of consumers helps to create a two-way dialogue based on this simple concept: keyword = customer.

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Acronym Asia Focus – ClickZ Live, Singapore

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A lot of business was done. A lot of fun was had. Acronym’s mini Asia tour as sponsors of ClickZ Live took in Hong Kong, Bangkok and finished in Singapore. And what a convenient place to have the final Asia event, as Singapore is Acronym’s second home. It also provided a great opportunity for me to sit down with David Shen, who runs our Asia business, and discuss the various subtleties and differences of search marketing in Asia compared to the US market.

As for the final conference in the series, it was a fabulous turnout of leading brands and agencies from the region. One standout session was presented by Jason Oke, Regional Managing Director, Red Fuse Communications / WPP Team Colgate-Palmolive. “At least you’re not toothpaste” is a sort of standing joke within WPP, as Jason explained. And then he went on to explain that they had made an amazing discovery: In social media, toothpaste is actually a popular subject.

It’s a common thing to imagine that ordinary consumer packaged goods (CPG), such as toothpaste and shampoo, are hardly likely to stand out in social media terms in the same way as luxury goods, rock stars and sports stars might. And yet, as Oke went on to say, when they did a social media audit to listen and find out if toothpaste and shampoo were getting attention, there was a whole lot of activity going on. In particular, the number of images with a “Colgate smile” tag.

I was blown away when he also casually announced that Colgate is actually the #1 brand in the universe, beating even Coca Cola. Which probably explains why WPP tapped into ALL of its divisions and resources to form Red Fuse Communications, an agency dedicated specifically to this one client, Colgate/Palmolive.

Fellow Geordie (you’ll have to Google that 🙂 Chris reed gave an excellent presentation, too. He explained how to make your company’s LinkedIn page stand out from the rest. He provided some excellent examples of companies getting it right. As well, of course, as those making a complete ass-end of it. I wondered what he was insinuating when he asked me if I’d seen Acronym’s LinkedIn page recently… Moving on…

mikeg-knote-singaporeI presented my final keynote session in the series, “Left To Our Own Devices: A State Of Digital Address”. It was kind of a walk through the various stages of digital, mainly from a search perspective. Now, we’re constantly connected to multiple devices: phones, tablets, game consoles, connected TVs, and more.

As the Internet continues to grow exponentially and wearables become more commonplace, people are becoming even more connected to things that are connected to other things. And they randomly speak commands and queries into objects, large and small. I finished with a few thoughts on where it’s all going next.

I’ll be making the presentation available to download in our next edition.

Client, colleague and long-time friend Crispin Sheridan dazzled the audience (as usual) with a fabulous insight into multi-channel attribution modeling.

So many other great presentations, covering everything from search to social, display, email and analytics. Definitely a great finisher to this year’s live events for Acronym.

shen-viningAnd we did have a lot of fun at all three events with our “Summer Selfie” competition, which we were able to hold all the way from August to December as the weather was summer-like in each country at each event. It was simple way to win a bottle of bubbly (five winners at each event). All you had to do was don a pair of Acronym’s very cool, orange colored shades and take a selfie and Tweet it.

And the winners are…



Thanks to the Acronym team in New York and Singapore for working so well together and making these events so much fun and so successful. Looking forward to more of the same in 2015!


Acronym Sponsors & Keynotes Inaugural ClickZ Live Conference in Bangkok

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David Shen reviews “Left To Our Own Devices: A State of Digital Address” – the conference session that cranked the audience up and got things started


Acronym has had a thriving business in Asia since the launch of our Singapore office in 2006. And this year we’ve been reaching further into other regional markets. As part of our strategy, we signed up as Gold Sponsor for three of the ClickZ Live conferences in the Asia region (Hong Kong, Bangkok & Singapore). This gave us a great opportunity to meet with major international brands, and also with other vendors and agencies.


Our very own Mike Grehan presented the keynote that had the audience Tweeting factoids and one-liners throughout. Taking us way back to 1945, Grehan explained the dawning of the age of the “hypertext thinkers,” describing a classic essay by Professor Vannevar Bush called “As We May Think,” which appeared in The Atlantic Magazine almost 70 years ago. From there, he walked us through the invention of the Internet, followed by the invention of the World Wide Web, and rapidly into the launch of Google in 1998. All inspired by “hypertext thinkers.”

Shortly into the session, he was describing how search ranking was originally driven by text analysis and then, largely, by hyperlink analysis (Google being the first search engine to be very open about the importance of links in their ranking algorithm, PageRank). What made the audience really sit up was when he went on to explain that although text and link analysis are still pretty strong signals within the many ranking factors used by search engines, in fact the strongest signals are now attributed to end user data.

As Mike has previously explained, there’s far more going on under the hood at search engines that provide huge clues to intent and also to preferences in media consumption. The message for developing content around intent, was very clear.

Dave Evans - ciscoBringing it all together, Mike explained, in-depth, the differences between the Internet and the World Wide Web and how some may not realize that they are two different things. He said these days, it’s possible to spend an entire day on the Internet, using apps on various devices, without even needing to go near the World Wide Web. This segued perfectly into a very informative video presentation by Cisco’s Chief Futurist, Dave Evans, on the Internet of everything.

Perhaps nobody else in the digital marketing sector has written more about the connected consumer than Mike himself, and the video confirmed exactly what he said in the past about the impact this new “Internet of everything” will have and how it will once again transform the way that we do business and marketing.

Wrapping up the presentation, Mike gave a great story on the history of big data, which he tracked back to the 15th century. But, perhaps one of the more memorable moments to the audience was the very last slide, where Mike introduced the latest digital technology for the bathroom. We’ve heard of smart phones and smart TVs, but Mike introduced us to a smart toilet!

All round, a very informative trek from the beginning of the hypertext age, through search into content marketing and eventually the future of connected marketing. Mike is widely regarded as one the original pioneers in the industry and if you get a chance to see him speak, I certainly recommend you do.


DavidHSBased in Singapore, David leads Acronym Asia and is responsible for revenue generation, operations management, and business strategy. He identifies and develops strategic partnerships and oversees the company’s sales and marketing activities across Asia.

His Client experience includes Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, Singapore Airlines, Millennium & Copthorne Hotels, Aberdeen Asset Management, Polycom, Cisco, HP, Avaya, and Motorola.