Predatory Thinking for SEOs

I was fortunate enough to attend BrightonSEO a couple of weeks ago – big love to Kelvin and the team for organising another fantastic event. For me the stand out presentation of the day came from Dave Trott on Predatory Thinking.


Don’t panic, this is not Dave Trott.

Dave Trott is the Executive Creative Director for CSTTG. He trained on Madison Avenue at the end of the Mad Men era, when the three-martini lunch and golf course advertising was for dinosaurs, and the creative revolution was just starting. After 4 years, to avoid getting drafted for Vietnam, Dave came back to London. Some of the advertising he worked on included: Ernie the Milkman for Unigate; Aristonandonandonandon (quoted in a speech by Margaret Thatcher); Red Rock Cider with Leslie Nielsen; the Holsten Pils campaign featuring Griff Rhys Jones and dead Hollywood film stars; and a controversial multi-media campaign, made entirely for free, that helped get the Third World Debt discussed by the world s governments.

There are a whole bunch of round ups you can read for further info on Dave’s talk and the conference in general, but I wanted to focus this post purely on predatory thinking, and what that might look like for SEOs.

Dave talked a lot about creativity, achieving impact, standing out, targeting opinion formers – which, incidentally I concur with whole-heartedly, but the story that resonated most with me was this –

AMV.BBDO were being asked to pitch a TV campaign for Sainsbury’s. The metric for success was simple – they had to drive an additional £3 billion in revenue over a two year period.

Pretty tall order, huh?

How the hell do you go about delivering £3 billion in revenue? Get new customers? How? Ideas were being thrown around, criticised and rejected – the pressure was on. Then a planner piped up…

“I’ve been doing some calculations. We don’t need new customers at all. If we get every existing customer to spend an additional £1.85 every time they visit, then we’ll hit our revenue target.”

Instantly the messaging changed. Instead of focusing on attracting new customers the focus was brought back to existing ones – which are let’s face it, far easier to influence.  They recognised that most supermarket customers were stuck in a rut or ‘sleep shopping’ – buying the same things week in week out (and of course therefore – eating the same food week in week out).

They hooked up the chubby-tongued mockney and the ‘try something new today’ campaign was born.

They delivered the increased revenue in one year, rather than two.

Now, had they elected to go down the ‘new customer’ route – chances are they would have failed. Trying to directly influence where people shop is hard. You might be able to entice a new customer to visit you once, but if their nearest store is your competitor’s, you’re unlikely to be able to continue attracting them back. Food shopping is a chore – you want to get it over and done with as quickly as possible, which often times will mean that the store nearest you will win over.

However, customers who are already used to visiting your store week on week are much easier to influence. The biggest hurdle – i.e. getting them through the door, is already cleared. Persuasive messaging around eating more interesting food and learning about new types of food is something they’ll likely be receptive to.

What is predatory thinking?

Dave says it’s about changing a problem you can’t solve into one you can.

Wait, what? That sounds hard.

It’s actually easier to explain with examples – he shared several more stories on this theme:

Stopping children from littering…

In a small village, they had a litter problem. After school the local kids would buy sweets and crisps from the local shop, then go and hang out at the playing fields. Despite there being bins there, the kids would drop their litter. Nagging the kids about littering didn’t work so eventually the local shop owner decided to try a different approach. She wrote the name of the child who’d purchased the sweets or crisps directly on the wrapper. As the owner of the litter could be readily identified the kids realised they couldn’t drop litter without being caught so used the bins instead.

Don Revie the Football (or Soccer for our US friends) Manager who knew how to get the referee onside…

Traditionally in Football, the manager will make their players study their opponents in order to try to understand how they play, their tactics, their strengths and weaknesses etc. But Don (Leeds Manager) didn’t care too much about the opposing team – he cared more about the Referee. He reasoned that if his players could get the Ref onside they would get more decisions in their favour. So rather than study the opposition, Don made his players study the Referee instead. His players knew the Ref’s name, his wife’s name, the name of their kids – everything. In one season as a result of this tactic his team received 80% of the referee’s decisions in their favour. Pretty impressive given that during that time, their overly physical style of play earned them the nickname ‘dirty Leeds’.

Building Incubators that can be easily Maintained in Developing Countries…

An international development charity raised money to provide a incubators for premature babies in developing countries. Problem was they quickly broke and no one knew how to fix them. They knew they needed to approach the problem differently – someone noticed that every village seemingly had an old, clapped out 4×4 vehicle which against all odds still seemed to function just fine. Clearly the expertise was there on hand to fix up and maintain old 4x4s. So, they built incubators out of 4×4 parts so the people there would be able to maintain and fix the incubators themselves.

What might predatory thinking for SEOs look like?

It occurs to me, that the one problem us SEOs can’t solve, is Google.

Google are a commercial organisation, and they’ve already started to hit a few sectors pretty aggressively. Pre-internet, if you wanted to find a local plumber (or whatever) you’d probably head straight for the Yellow Pages (y’know when they were paper pages, not web pages). We all moved online and Yellow Pages did too. Dandy.

Then big G decided to launch Local (now Places); this must’ve hurt Yellow Pages, and other businesses like them right?

Google are moving into a lot of verticals – credit cards, insurance, flights – what’s next? Is Winter coming?

Well, that’s a problem we can’t solve. What should we focus on instead?

I was chatting a potential new client last week and he said this:

I see Google as a parasite that does it’s damnedest to get between my customers and my website…

Yep. That’s exactly it.

So what do you do?

I think you should focus your efforts on increasing branded traffic.

Branded traffic is the one thing (I think) Google are unlikely to start messing with.

They can kill the long tail. They can stick their own proprietary products at the top of the SERPs and kill your head terms. But if people are searching for your brand? They’ll be hard pushed to justify showing anything other than your own site right at the top of the organic listings.

How do you increase branded traffic?

You’re going to need to build a brand.

You’re going to need an integrated strategy – search, social, email, direct mail, press advertising, TV advertising, sponsorship, PR. You’re going to need to create content, build permission assets.

What do you think? Predatory thinking? Or ramblings of a mad woman? Hit up those comments and let me know.

 Image Credit: Predator