March 21, 2013 / SEMPO Updates

As coincidences go, this is a good one. I’m sitting in the bar close to my office where I’m often found with colleagues, clients or friends (frequently all three) after work. I’m rattling a few notes into my iPad while waiting for a friend to arrive and chatting to the barman at the same time. I mention to him that I happen to be president of a trade association and that I’m working on a post for the launch of our new blog.

“Well if you’re looking for inspiration you certainly came to the right place” he says. “You do know the first trade association in America was founded in this very bar don’t you?”

Pauses for the “knock me down with a feather” moment…

And sure enough it’s true. Back in 1768 twenty New York merchants got together in what is now known as Fraunces Tavern, in lower Manhattan. Together they formed the New York Chamber of Commerce to protect and promote the business interests of merchants in New York City. Erie Canal, the Atlantic cable and New York City Transit Authority are just a few of the key initiatives which sprang from the minds of New York luminaries in the group, such as  J Pierpont Morgan and John Jacob Astor.

That may be the American forerunner but a huge number of these types of groups have formed since then. Trade associations, or industry trade groups as they can also be called, come to together for various reasons. Usually founded by businesses that operate in a specific industry, activities tend to include PR, advertising, education and lobbying, to name a few.  But generally, the main focus is based around collaboration between companies, standardization within industries and professional business recognition of a specific trade.

Back in 2002 when the nascent search marketing sector was still wobbling around trying to find its legs, there really wasn’t an organization that it could easily slot into. And so, the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO) was founded to fill the gap. The intention, of course, was to do “all the above” increasing recognition of the skills involved and managing the reputation of an online marketing sector seemingly prone to giving itself a black eye!

Now, as we head towards the upcoming tenth anniversary of the association being founded, along with my colleagues on the board of directors, we can reflect on past achievements and ambitions, but my greater focus has to be on the future. Not just the future of SEMPO, or the future of search. Indeed, regardless of the disciplines we have learned individually as practitioners, it is the future of marketing itself we all need to be aware of.

For almost a decade, digital marketing seemed to be centered on search (or maybe that should be Google!). Search is such a powerful way for marketers to connect with both their existing and potential customers. But potent as it is, digital marketers are patently aware that it’s not a panacea.

The way we as people consume media is changing. We have literally become transient media consumers as we move from place-to-place and skip from device to device. And the web is no longer just a huge collection of HTML pages linked together being crawled by search engines. It has become so much more. It is a network of networks of people who are constantly connected to each other, communicating, creating and sharing.

They’re no longer stuck in front of keyboards and monitors in homes and offices – they’re on the move. This truly is the age of connected marketing. In fact, connected marketing may be a much more realistic and descriptive term than social media.

Modern consumers are forming communities and peer-groups to pool their power, resulting in a dramatic revolution of how businesses interact with their customers.  Decision makers no longer act independently of each other but are all the more connected to other consumers, to other channel members and often to brands. In turn, brands and companies are now vying for central positions inside consumer networks.

Perhaps the biggest change where search is concerned is this shift toward information-seeking on social networking sites. The knowledge possessed by your friends and people you know acts as a supplement to the web’s huge amount of other, often less verifiable information. This knowledge can provide extremely qualified answers to specific queries through a process that could be defined as information-seeking via a chain of trust. Consumers are increasingly engaged with each other through collaborative research, product review and price comparison.

Much of the received wisdom in marketing circles is undergoing reconsideration. The nature of consumer and business markets is going through major change. And SEMPO will need to adjust and align with the natural progression, growth and rapidly advancing technology in the field of digital marketing.

For sure, the core concept of search is what glues the SEMPO community together. But as our membership develops a broader range of marketing skills, SEMPO needs to appeal to a wider audience.

Fortunately, I have a genuine dream-team of industry professionals sitting on the board of directors with me. Each one an expert in their given field. And each one bringing sound business acumen to the table.

I’m very confident that, with the help of this group of brilliant minds, SEMPO as an organization can capitalize on the great work done by our predecessors and move organically and successfully to a whole new level of support and service for its current and future members.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the future of marketing, SEMPO and… heck, whatever’s on your mind about the industry!

Mike Grehan: President SEMPO
Publisher:  Search Engine Watch | ClickZ
Producer:  SES Conference & Expo

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