Friday, November 7, 2008

Search Insider: What Do Search And Toilet Paper Have In Common?

What Do Search And Toilet Paper Have In Common?

SOME TIME AGO, I HEARD about an investment fund with a simple philosophy: invest in companies with small, repeat-purchase products that people grow to believe they can't live without.

What kind of product fits this description? My immediate assumption was cigarettes, but, as you may have guessed from the title, this fund's primary investment was in toilet paper companies.

There may not be much margin in such a commodity product, but nobody would consider the purchase of toilet paper to be an either/or proposition.

Products that fit this category aren't sexy; they're the products we all buy all the time. We may consider switching to a more economy brand, but we'd never consider not purchasing the item at all.

Clothing, for example. The easy association is "fashion industry" -- one that's subject to trends and disposable income. But virtually everyone wears clothing, every day -- a characteristic that should raise a flag for you. A recession or a depression or World War III may devastate couture, but people will likely still be wearing clothes.

This 'must-have' nature increasingly applies to search and the wider use of technology. Granted, more people wear clothes than search -- but not that many more. In September, U.S. Google sites received 189,000,000 unique visitors, nearly 63% of the entire population. More importantly, with increased mobile Web access and readily available WiFi, our reliance on search and connectivity will only grow. Unlike television, which can be replaced with other forms of media, "connectivity" as a holistic concept is here to stay.

Granted, there are some obvious differences between search and toilet paper, principally relating to the position of each on Maslow's hierarchy of needs. If a global disaster wipes out any form of centralized electricity distribution, we'd still be wiping our rears with something. But I think we can accept this truth: as long as there's a functioning Internet, search will be a foundational commodity.

The effects of technology integration into the fabric of our lifestyles were made starkly apparent during the presidential campaign.

As a nation, we lived and breathed this campaign online, and search had a starring role. Correlations between Google search volume and actual results were startling -- and more refined analyses of this type may ultimately replace polling.

Obama's campaign and its use of technology are being hailed as a new model for how elections are run in the U.S. The New York Times is calling it a "sea change... a result of the way that the Obama campaign sought to understand and harness the Internet (and other forms of so-called new media) to organize supporters and to reach voters who no longer rely primarily on information from newspapers and television." The Guardian calls it The First Election the Internet Won.

The shift of technology from "toy for wealthy digerati" to "staple of modern existence" explains why search is recession-proof, or at a minimum recession-resistant. Just as you wouldn't enter the toilet market without a strategy for toilet paper, connectivity should be at the heart of every communications strategy, and weave through the customer experience like a seam of coal.

The president-elect said, "That which connects us is greater than that which divides us." I don't think he was talking about technology -- but it would certainly apply.

Kaila Colbin blogs for VortexDNA, whose technology can improve relevance for search engines, ecommerce sites, or any other recommendation service.

Search Insider for Thursday, November 6, 2008:

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