While the term “guru” has been adopted by many an opportunist in a variety of industries, perhaps nowhere did it take such an inflated hold as in the early to middle years of the search segment of our industry.
There was a time when the guru strode rampant across stages, board rooms, book tours and billable rate cards everywhere, reliant on the greater industry’s (and most marketers’) reverence and fear of touching search and getting their hands dirty.
We all looked to the gurus — even though we could never quite discern the blend of academic or theoretical expertise and practitioner chops these people had. It didn’t matter.
The industry just needed gurus to be the ultimate wizards — someone to have our backs on the science behind it all. Don’t get me wrong: some of my best friends are gurus.
But, as this was always a self-ascribed term geared toward career propulsion, I will say, in many ways, the guru has had his day. Still, I have a certain anthropological fascination with the guru — I like to check in with him every couple years.
What Allowed The Guru To Thrive?
As we can infer from the above, we tend to allow the anointment of the guru to happen because we need it to happen. When we are still somewhat in the dark, or when at least some of what we do exists in the shadows, there is nothing like the all-knowing guide to create a sense that all can be accomplished.
It took some time for the world of search engine marketing to grow up — to emerge as an arena where there was a true marketplace, a tangible infrastructure, tools sets, and a suite of known complementary methods to execute and perform there.
I think it is this early and persistent mystique around SEO that created a fear in marketers — a fear that fueled the belief that they must always outsource to experts. The guru cadre has relied passively and actively on the rest of the industry being daunted by the mystery and fearful of touching the science themselves.
Marketers and agencies gradually evolved out of those years. With more gumption, they began to organize real practices, departments, companies and other entities around search. The guru, in fact, often served as a consultant for this organizational change.
While the guru still had a place on the stage or within the occasional pop-in visit, this whole segment was now more operationalized, and there was less of a divide between the knows and the know-nots.
And the search guru was more of a complement to a base level of in-house or partner-agency expertise — rather than a cottage industry unto itself.
What’s Next For The Guru?
It seems to me that, right before our eyes, just as the industry is maturing to find the correct context for search, so is the guru evolving and re-defining himself as the industry marches on.
We see this in a few trend lines:
- More and more of these folks have expanded their scope to address performance media and marketing, rather than search as a single practice in isolation. To stay in the game, on the circuit or in the consideration set, along with the industry as a whole, they operate within a more integrated framework and sensibility.
- We see less pure consulting in this arena — and more hands-on, hands-a-bit-dirty consulting. I like to call this practical strategy. This may mean that they have boned up on their own practitioner skills — or it may mean that they have aligned with or hired an execution team. But, it’s come down out of the clouds.
- It’s fairly typical for those formerly known as gurus — now known as strategic practitioners or the like — to be asked to guide vendor or third-party selection on the tool set. It’s no longer enough to understand, diagnose and suggest remedies and approaches for search. Robust tools are needed for campaign management, asset optimization, measurement and analysis — and, most likely, tools that work in a cross-media, cross-platform environment. Guiding a marketer or agency on the selection and on-boarding of these tools is frequently an assignment unto itself.
What Is Next For Us All?
So what does the coming-down-to-earth of the guru mean for the rest of us? We’ve just got to get and stay real, when it comes to the place of search in what we do.
Do not fear search. Make room for it and organize for it; operate from a media egalitarian or integrated mindset; and don’t waste time aggrandizing the guru who used to profess to possess the secret search knowledge.
Those days are gone. We don’t need gurus; in this intricate, tech-driven media environment, we need player coaches, all. You can be one too.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.