Last week I interviewed Dev Basu, the founder of the fastest growing ad agency in Canada, “Powered By Search”. We talked with him about his company, how he started his business and what he thinks about the advertising landscape.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself, your agency and how you started your business?
My name is Dev Basu. I am CEO of “Powered by search”, but I really call myself Uber Experience Officer. My job here is to make sure that everybody who interacts with us gets the best possible experience when they work with us.
I started this company in 2009, right after I finished my undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto. I had already been in consulting for couple of years prior to launching the company. Now 8 years later, we are the fastest growing agency in Canada. We have clients all around the world including Australia, Dubai and Russia.
Your experience and agency sound impressive. What is your secret sauce to make you the fastest growing agency in Canada?
Looking at the name “Powered By Search”, it is actually a pretty nerdy thing. It came from operating on the web when I was young, I would say around 9 or 10-years-old. You probably remember seeing on forums ‘powered by’ whatever page. When we started the company I started thinking what is our DNA and the answer is to be searched. That is why we called the company “Powered By Search”. What we are really good at is understanding intent and we know that when people are Googling anything at all, they usually try to solve a problem. In many ways we think about all the keywords as problems and we think about clients that have content on the websites as solutions. So, by figuring out what the users are really after and then aligning with the appropriate content on a client website, you get sort of nice meeting point where the intent and content end up coming together and creating really good user experience. Interestingly enough, just doing that has been our DNA for the last 8 years. That secret sauce really helped us grow fast. That is why clients come aboard with us. They apply that methodology and let us call it an intent engine. Then they see that the results are not only sustainable but also predictable. I think the difference between us and other agencies is the way I pursue it because there is a lot of crystal ball thinking in the industry. Clients want to know what the latest trend is so they center overemphasize on tactics and underemphasize on strategy.
Our understanding is that intent is what people really want.
What do you think about social? Because social is also a trend and it’s growing rapidly.
I think social is growing because of consumer psychology and human behaviour. We buy from people we like and associate with people who are similar to us. In many ways the type of content consumers respond to most is because of their friends, followers, and connections. Their circles tends to have content that the consumers relate to and go on to share themselves. I look at social as a linear progression rather than a geometric progression. It is a way to amplify a really good, quality message. We also see messages that are negative or don’t add value to the world. Some examples of this include alternative facts or fake news, that can be propagated by social as well. At the end of the day, social is a tool. The key thing to keep in mind with social is to have the right message in front of the right person at the right time and the right place. If all these pieces align, there will be a great user experience on social. When it comes to social, our job is understanding who the influencers are, what the best platform is to reach them and what kind of message is the best fit. The way you approach paid search on Google AdWords is very different than the way you approach Facebook. The reason is because it is a different intent.
The consumers typing problems into Google expect to see answers in terms of advertising and get results.
On Facebook, consumers are more open to listening to something that feeds their curiosity. The way we think about social and organic reach is that by creating content and sharing it, you are only reaching a portion of your potential audience. Paid social is also a strong component. It is becoming very much a pay to play environment. I actually think this is a good thing because it means there will be more pressure on content producers. They will need to make sure that the content they are creating is truly valuable and viral. Everybody wants viral content.
To create a greater experience for your customers, do you create creative as well? Banners/ text/ Videos?
We create all sorts of content including banner creatives, landing pages, interactive quizzes, infographics, and more. We don’t do video for our clients but we work with partners who do. We have a full time video strategist on our team who works closely with our production partners. Video production is an entirely different skillset so we make sure we work with best partners.
How big is your team, and how is it structured?
Our team has grown to 30 people since we launched. We have 20 people who work on advertising, search engine optimization, user experience, creative design and development. The remaining 10 team members make up the leadership, management, accountant directors, and client facing roles.
How do you find your customers? Or how do your customers find you?
The interesting thing is that we don’t find customers much as they find us. We do some content marketing. It is our understanding that the intent is very tangible to specific problems or challenges that our clients face prior to working with us. Our clients are usually more mature in their digital marketing mixes. They have tried different combinations for a couple of years and explored different options. For a number of reasons though, they don’t see the success they were hoping to achieve. That’s when they find us. They start reading our content, looking at our slides, listening to one of our presentations, or attend similar conferences. It is usually a pretty unique problem they are trying to solve that brings them to us.
It happens when you start looking into specific niches of expertise. There are very few people worldwide who do it really well. A good example of this is enterprise local search. Let’s say you are Starbucks with a thousand locations, you need a global facing strategy. How can you get this location managed and visible within search engines? How are you going to manage views? We were developing and expertizing that right from the start in 2009. Most people in an agency were thinking about how to optimize a single business while we were thinking about how we will do this for a number of franchises. Our clients had many locations nationwide where they get visibility and acquisition online. You need to get to the core of actual location. I would say only 4 or 5 consulting agencies worldwide do this very well.
You see display network with 99% coverage of the web but most the time the type of advertising you see on display is meant to sell rather than educate. One of the reasons why Facebook does so well is because you get a seamless experience tailored to what you talk about and what your friends talk about.
I see these technological changes coming down in the future. From an advertising channel perspective, I actually see things like podcast growing. Podcast advertising will be very effective from a number of different folks. This will benefit both those placing podcast ads as well as podcasters who are looking for sponsors. A good example is Tim Ferriss. He has a podcast where he mentions somebody as a sponsor, typically the smaller company, and they sell the entire inventory. Endorsements that come through the influencers and social media channels ideally are a long form. Things like long form youtube content or long form podcast content is where I see higher tickets has been sold.
Outbrain and Taboola are great examples of new advertising channels. What else do you use outside of social?
If you are on most of the social Ad platforms, there is a spectrum. You go from really mature and well developed outlets, like Facebook, to not so developed outlets, but potentially wide in growth, like Pinterest advertising or Snapchat. Snapchat is still kind of virgin territory. I the past it’s been about brands reaching a certain frequency or impression level. Now it’s about the conversion that happen on the ad platforms.
There are a number of platforms to engage your audience. My advice is the find the right platform for your audience to meet your goals at the most efficient rate.