The business was founded in Boston, US, during the late 1990s. Dentsu Aegis Network acquired iProspect in 2005. So up until three or four years into the acquisition, it was still just a search agency in the US. Then it struck us that there was a genuine global appetite – not only globally, but with big regional and local clients – for a specialist search business. We first started launching into the UK, then built our offices across Europe and the region. We later moved aggressively to Asia. China is really important for us; aside from the fact that it has a completely different search engine [than Google], if you were to round up the top 200 search engine advertisers outside of China, they would not be the same as those in the country. The biggest search advertiser in China is in fact a Chinese medical company.
We’re now building businesses in South America as well; the opportunity in Mexico, Argentina and Brazil is off the charts. Today, we’re in 40 markets around the world. For this region, Dubai is our hub; the team that’s based here is multilingual, managing business out and across the region. As demand grows, we’ll start to build satellite businesses in key regional markets, whether in Lebanon or Egypt. iProspect has a clean operating model within the Dentsu Aegis network, which means that we do all the search and digital performance activity for all of the network agencies’ clients, and that gives us immediate critical mass. However, the opportunity in this region is to use the footprint iProspect has established to also win big direct business. That’s the mandate that I’ve given to the team here.
A few years ago, we made a conscious decision that we would not be a technology company. We’re working in a world where we offer 10 to 12 services to our clients, from natural search to paid search, conversion rate optimization, display, analytics and other capabilities; to be really cutting edge, you’ve got to work with the best technology companies in each of those product areas. It wouldn’t be right to develop our own technology, we’d much rather be “tech-agnostic” and partner with the best providers. For paid search, we have big relationships with Marin and DoubleClick; Optimizely for conversion rate optimization; and BrightEdge for natural search. These are all brilliant cutting-edge West Coast companies.
There are some areas where we can develop proprietary solutions; lots of our clients are asking about how to bring everything together in line with the consumer journey – which starts with brand exposure, and ends with paid search and conversion. Rather than just optimizing search marketing at the sharp end, we are working hard to build proprietary tools and techniques using attribution modeling [which is the rule, or set of rules, that determines how credit for sales and conversions is assigned to touch points in conversion paths, according to Google] and data to understand the whole consumer journey.
Search [advertising performance] is approximately 60 to 65 percent of our global revenue; and the key to winning in search is to be brilliant in terms of local language and cultural implications, because you are harnessing consumer intent. Around the world, our staff speaks 75 different languages and, in this region, we’ve got people who can speak all dialects. When it comes to search engines in the region, Google is pretty dominant both in Arabic and other languages – and we’re Google’s number one partner globally.
Where it gets really complex is when we get in markets, such as Russia, China and Korea, where there are completely different prevalent search engines; in Russia, you’ve got Yandex, in China you have Baidu. Optimizing across all those different engines and languages for our big global clients is exactly the kind of business we’re intending to grow.
I think, as a business, we need to move away from search and use a more holistic approach. The first reason for this is that, ultimately, we’ve got this proposition of optimizing to particular performance criteria for our clients; the truth is, if you are a consumer, you are not differentiating between brand exposure and performance marketing exposure. If we are going to properly optimize across bought and owned channels to drive performance, we’ve got to optimize across that consumer journey, holistically. The second reason has to do with the need for us to become a more creative- and content-oriented business.
For us, it’s a fascinating challenge, because, for a long time, we’ve differentiated iProspect, talking about how we’re geeks, mathematicians and scientists. Now we’re saying we also need to be the artists, because a search engine wants to render the best and most relevant content to consumers. The only way that you can win in search engine optimization (SEO) is by building brilliant content, not starting with old-fashioned SEO objectives such as keyword density. You have to start with creating a narrative and then amplifying and distributing it online. Of course, there will still be robust analysis of keyword targeting and traffic opportunities; you’ve got good old-fashioned, solid SEO techniques coming together with creative content-oriented techniques. That’s ultimately the new SEO; we’re talking about digital publishing capability. The people we are hiring today across our businesses around the world are editorial staff, writers and people with much more creative sympathy.
Another area that will be big in performance marketing is the notion of attribution modeling; for a long time, agencies and clients have optimized their digital marketing activity towards the bottom of the funnel, so they’ve looked at channels such as search, affiliate and display that has been retargeted towards the consumer. And because those were the channels that seemed to be driving consumers, [clients] have been pouring money into them and, perhaps, not focusing much on activity happening further up the funnel – such as social and video activity. What clients and agencies need to start doing, is to think much more holistically about the consumer journey.
Another trend we’re excited about is the increasingly prevalent role of addressable data, and agencies’ capability of capturing, storing, sorting and warehousing cookie level data that we can use to sharpen the effectiveness of all of the bought, earned and owned channels that we are managing.
Social is such an exciting opportunity in this region. One of our fastest-growing lines of business globally is paid social advertising.
What is exciting about it is the ability to use data at a very granular level to target thousands of different segments and play around with the creative messaging that we’re serving. I am talking to the teams in the region on how we can aggressively scale that capability here and we have a joint ambition with Facebook to drive performance spend through social platforms. What is interesting about the social network is that two or three years ago, it was obsessed about keeping everything within its ecosystem, with brands using Facebook advertising to drive their fan base and engagement on their [Facebook] page. It was a tight and closed ecosystem, but it has realized the power of pure performance advertising on its platform, using its data and merging it with ours, to drive people outside of Facebook. With this, we can build something really exciting together.
Mobile is really interesting, but I don’t see it as a separate division, I see it simply as a platform over which we offer all of our products and services. So we optimize on mobile as much as we do on tablets and desktops, but I want it to be embedded in the way that everybody works.
More than 50 percent of car searches are happening on mobile, and that’s a big challenge for brands, because many of them don’t yet have mobile-optimized websites.