Search and discovery.. and the future

There are only two ways that new customers find you — search and discovery. All forms of marketing to attract new business will address one or the other.

You search when you know what you want or have a problem and are looking for a solution. These start as questions – “how do I”, “what is”, “who is”, etc. You search for a specific product that you want to buy. You also search for a solution provider – pest control, someone to paint your house, a lawyer, etc.

Discovery is all about serendipity. You don’t go looking, it comes to you. The waiter who suggests a new cocktail. The point-of-purchase display at the supermarket checkout for the sun tan lotion that you might try on your upcoming vacation. The advert in the magazine for a new type of razor. The restaurant review in your local newspaper. The holiday posts about a hotel in some tropical country from one of your friends on Facebook.

Search, then

Historically, when you needed a plumber or a new advertising agency, you went to the Yellow Pages. Even in the early days of the internet, directories such as Yahoo were the primary search destination – not much more than an online version of their offline equivalent.

If you wanted subject matter expertise, you went to an encyclopaedia, a book store or the library. Quite often, search was a physical activity. You went to the mall or drove all over town looking for something specific. But you still searched.

Search, now

Today when we are looking for a solution to a problem, we primarily go to a search engine (usually Google). Search Engines perform most of the heavy lifting for today’s searching consumer.

If we are looking for more information about a product, then we will probably go straight to Amazon. If we are looking for a particular service, then we may also use a niche service like Checkatrade (UK), Yelp or Tripadvisor.

Social networks like Facebook are trying to offer better search capability, but they still fall short of the standard that we have come to expect from existing alternatives.

Search, the future

Over the coming years, search will become more fragmented. Google will be one of many sources of information and the starting point will be your mobile phone.

You only need to look at the upcoming changes to Apple’s iOS to see where this is going.

Apple has a search technology on their devices called Spotlight (Microsoft and Google have similar functionality). Currently, when you search on Spotlight you get results from Google or another search engine combined with areas such as apps, content from your emails, files, etc.

In iOS9, Apple will implement “deep linking”. This means that the content within an app can be indexed by Spotlight and the impact will be significant.

If you are searching for a recipe for “paella” on iOS9 (the next version) and have a recipe app on your phone (e.g. Jamie Oliver, AllRecipes, Epicurean, etc) – then you will get an combined and aggregated list of results from all these apps and perhaps a search too. You don’t need to open the app. You don’t need to go to a search engine. You get the full list. If you see one you like, then you tap on it and it then loads the app.

Let’s take this to a local search. This time, you ask Siri for a good Thai restaurant near you. Currently, Siri will use Apple Maps (or Google Maps) for the results. In a few months, this search could return results from Yelp, TripAdvisor, etc without ever going to Google.

I predict that over the next 12 months, there will be a significant shift from search engines to apps when searching on a mobile device.

Discovery, then

Discovery was owned by newspapers, magazines and television in the past. We read editorials and reviews, saw adverts and the occasional product placement.

Word of mouth was still important, but it was slower and confined to a smaller group of friends or acquaintances.

Discovery, now

Traditional media such as newspapers, magazines and television are still responsible for a lot of discovery but their impact is diminishing. We read fewer newspapers and magazines and who watches advertising on tv these days (TiVo, Streaming, etc)?

A growing percentage of discovery is via social media today. People like to share what they like and what they dislike with their friends. They read about a new product (discovery v1) and then they share it with all their friends and family on Facebook (discovery v2). They go on holiday and share photos of the hotel on Instragram, Facebook, and Twitter. This then reaches people far beyond their own social circles who then like or share and on and on. Discovery in today’s world is word of mouth on steroids – fueled by content and experiences.

Dicovery, the future

As with search, the future of discovery will be in mobile and in particular, with context. As your phone (Siri, Cortana, GoogleNow) gets to know more about you, then your phone will start to make recommendations. These recommendations will be based on your preferences and combined with context such as time of day, location, your calendar, etc.

For example, you are waking through London at midday in between meetings. Siri will remind you that you have an hour before your next meeting and that you haven’t yet eaten. She/he knows that you like “mexican” and so recommends a new burrito place that has been getting some great reviews and is only around the corner from where you are now.

As you walk past a camera store, Siri will mention that a new camera that has just been released and that you recently read reviews about online is in stock and at a price that is competitive with online sites. You go in to take a look.


We discuss a lot about marketing funnels, buying cycles and inbound vs outbound marketing but I don’t think that we consider these two basic needs nearly enough. They’ve been a part of commerce for all of civilisation but how we meet these needs is undergoing another change and in a very exciting way.

Search as we know it, will change significantly in the next 12 months with discovery (with the help of artificial intelligence) following shortly thereafter. It’s a very exciting time.

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