The view from Haleakala

On the island of Maui, Haleakala is a dormant volcano that climbs 10,000 feet above sea level. When you visit Maui (I’m writing this column from the lanai of our rented condo in Kihei) you’re told, repeatedly, that you have to see sunrise from Haleakala. This is not an undertaking for the faint of heart. It means bundling up. Hawaiian breezes become significantly colder at 10,000 ft. It also means dragging yourself out of bed at an ungodly hour to drive an hour and a half up a winding mountain road in the dark. But the view, should you make the effort, is otherworldly. There is a reason why everyone tells you that this is a must. It’s one of those moments that forever jams itself in your memory. You’ll be talking about it for the rest of your life.

The point is, the best things in life take effort. They don’t come to you like a mai tai delivered on the beach. They belong to the same category as the view from Haleakala. You have to work your butt off to achieve it, but when you do, something stirs in your soul and lifts you to a higher plain. You feel, quite literally, on top of the world.

This analogy, although it feels far from the world of search, actually bears more relevance to my day job than you might realize. I once said that search marketing was like golf – easy to do but almost impossible to master. Anyone can throw together a search campaign, just as anyone can hack their way around 18 holes. But to take search to its full potential takes a huge amount of time, thought and effort. It means tearing apart every element of a campaign and building it back up from scratch, looking for the advantages that raises your performance to another level. Search at this level is not for everyone. It’s only for those willing to work this hard.

One of the non-vacation things I’m doing on this trip is finalizing the agenda for the Search Insider Summit on Captiva. The sheer complexity of search was driven home as I reviewed dozens of pitches for the available slots on the agenda. The programming committee wants to continue what we started on Captiva last year, putting together three days that challenge marketers to take search to an entirely different level. As I read through the pitches and responded with suggestions, the theme of the Summit jumped out at me: Reinvention. The next stage for search requires taking nothing for granted and being willing to reimagine everything we do.

To add to the challenge, search cannot be isolated from other marketing efforts. Its very nature is to connect and leverage every marketing element that’s in play. So, as we reinvent our search strategy, we reinvent everything: our marketing program, our sales channels, our relationship with our customers, the structure of our organizations and the fabric of our marketplaces. We really have no choice. Technology is forcing our hand in this. The world is changing quickly. We may be able to survive by going through the motions (although that’s not a sure bet) but thriving is going to take some effort – a lot of effort!

My goal for the Search Insider Summit is to create three days that causes attendees to challenge the norm and consider the possible – even the impossible. It’s not for the faint of heart or those looking for easy answers. It’s like a drive up a 10,000 foot dormant volcano at 5 in the morning to stand shivering on the edge of a crater – inconvenient as hell but something that may forever change your view of the world.

Originally published in Mediapost’s Search Insider Mar 24. 2011