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Interview with Steve Levitt

Posted on Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011 by Print This Post Print This Post

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TSA: How did you find your way into online marketing?

Steve: I first became aware of search while working for a company that was trying to rank search results for music queries, but I was brand new to search when I joined The Search Agency in 2006. I had been in Sales for many years before that and had actually sold to David Hughes. When the music-related company ended, I was looking for a new job, and David invited me to come run Sales at The Search Agency. I didn’t know much about search at the beginning. I started out at square one trying to rank my own website for SEO and SEM. Running my own campaign provided the opportunity to learn the how search works from basics up.

TSA: That was in 2006. What have been the most significant changes in the space since then?

Steve: It’s much more complex. It went from being a niche industry to really being a topic in the mainstream press and media. The rate of innovation among search engines, and specifically Google, is staggering. It’s really interesting how quickly they are able to move, given the scale of their revenue and their number of products and employees. Google has really solved the innovator’s dilemma. Despite their size, they have managed to keep their products constantly refreshed, which is a very difficult thing to do for public companies that have a responsibility to Wall Street to perform.

In part as a result of the increasing speed and complexity of search, we’re watching previously independent media channels blend together. As elements of SEM bleed into SEO, and into Landing Page Optimization and Display, and vice versa, these channels are starting to take on each other’s attributes in way they previously did not. As a result, there is a greater need for a coordinated strategy across channels.

TSA: Could you tell us a little about your role/responsibilities as the SVP of Business Development & Marketing  at The Search Agency?

Steve: I am responsible for Sales and Marketing, and for overseeing the capture of revenue within the organization. I see it as Marketing’s responsibility to make companies aware of The Search Agency, and I understand Sales’ job as being to help people within those companies lead change and show them how to use our products and services to solve their online marketing challenges. We had really been relatively quiet in the marketplace, and now is the time for us to be more vocal about our products, our people, and the value we bring to our clients. We are unique in that we are one of the few remaining firms out there that’s not beholden to large holding companies. As a result, we can provide deep level services and handcrafted strategies with the global footprint of a larger agency, but while still acting and feeling like a boutique firm.

TSA: We are hosting a webinar on Google TV Ads this week. As I understand it, you are a fan of the service. Why? Why should online marketers consider going offline with Google TV Ads?

Steve: What Google is attempting to do with Google TV Ads is extremely interesting. (Google TV Ads is not to be confused with Google TV the device. There does still seem to be some confusion in the marketplace about that distinction.) Google TV Ads is a remarkable effort to democratize the purchasing of television advertising. Much like Google did with Google AdWords, they are bringing a model of transparency and efficiency to television media buying.

Google TV Ads has to be thought of from a different mindset that many traditional media buyers are used to. Traditional TV firms buy TV media in a bundle, which means that you don’t always have control over what you are buying. With Google TV Ads media buyers can really hone in on the channels, networks, shows and ad inventory that’s relevant to their target demographic. What’s interesting for us is that we look at TV from a media optimization standpoint. Now, for the first time we can buy TV ad inventory, bid on it, see how it performs and then optimize it within a day or two without having to wait the traditional amount of time to understand what’s working and what’s not. Using analytics, we can even see what impact TV is having on online traffic. I’d like to see Google TV Ads have broader distribution, but Google is becoming a very large advertising platform and they seem committed to television as an advertising channel.  I hope that continues.

TSA: I agree. It seems pretty telling that while Google relatively quickly abandoned their radio and print media buying platforms, but they have maintained a commitment to Google TV Ads despite its slow uptake.

Steve: Think about Google and their future growth opportunities. For search marketing, they already possess the majority of the market, anywhere between 60-70% depending on whom you speak with. Display represents a new and growing channel for them, but beyond search and display, what else represents a big growth opportunity for Google? TV represents the largest amount of media purchased out there today, so it’s logical that Google would be looking at it for long-term growth.

The hidden story in Google TV Ads this year in my mind has been the Motorola acquisition. Motorola has about a 13 percent share of set top boxes in the United States. There’s quite an interesting play here for Google. With Motorola they’ll have access to even more usage data from set top boxes, which could be used to help consumers view better advertisements. I should be seeing very different ads on television when I watch the same show as my father or as my son. My belief is that that’s where TV is going and Google is on the front end of that. The Motorola acquisition is a small step towards them assembling the pieces of the infrastructure necessary to establish themselves as a large player in TV advertising.

TSA: Beyond Google TV Ads, what online marketing trends, developments or new services do you find particularly exciting at the moment?

Steve: A combination of display advertising and social media is one tactic we are using to capture user awareness across all channels. This approach coincides with our thinking around Google’s ZMOT (Zero Moment of Truth) and Jim Lecinski’s eBook “Winning the Zero Moment of Truth.”We have really expanded our display advertising footprint. Specifically, we’re approaching display in terms of targeting and marketing to individuals in a very meaningful and response-oriented way. Our product teams have built an infrastructure that has allowed us to target upper funnel audiences with display advertising. This can be challenging for marketers. Many advertisers are skilled at search, but struggle to target consumers earlier in the buying cycle. I think targeted display advertising represents a great opportunity for marketers to reach out to potential costumers while they are still in the research phase of looking for a brand or product.

TSA: On a non-search note, what are some of your hobbies/interests outside of the office?

Steve: I like to golf. I take an annual father-son fishing trip with my dad every year to Alaska. I also really enjoying traveling and have had the opportunity to travel to some interesting places. I also enjoy taking the kids to all their activities and getting to spend time with my wife.

About Camille Canon

Outside of summer jobs and not-for-profit internships, The Search Agency is my first official place of employment. I recently graduated from Mount Holyoke College, where I studied Art History and German. I am an avid cook, baker, and destroyer of diets. My specialties are cream cheese brownies, biscotti cookies and lemon bars. I am also an Art enthusiast. Living in Berlin enables me to follow a young, emerging Art scene complete with “eccentric” performance pieces and temporarily converted butcher shop galleries. I also enjoy running, traveling, and handy work. Camille Canon +

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