Consumer engagement has experienced a monumental shift over the last decade, as the emphasis on offline directories has swung into the realm of online search engines. Offline search, for all of its limitations, was an effective way for more business owners to be found, provided you were lucky enough to be alphabetised next to the hard hitters. The convenience ended there; unless you didn’t mind carrying an encyclopaedia of products and services around. There was no way to quickly find what you needed on the run.

Ten years later, the market has transitioned into an atmosphere of detail. Potential customers now know more about your service, quality, history, client base and value before they pick up the phone. Although the printed listings of the late 90’s provided customers with a greater diversity of names and numbers, they lacked the efficiency digital customers now enjoy.

Competition no longer relies on the biggest ad space or custom typography; brands have to work harder for their customers and be aware of consumer trends.

For decades, advertising in the offline business directory was the number one return on investment activity for most businesses. It was simple, effective and it worked. Hundreds of businesses could appear on a single page and it was fair for everyone. However technology and user convenience triumphed, as search engines emerged as the number one direct response form of advertising for businesses.

In seconds, a search engine can marry what you’re seeking with a business ready to provide it to you. Unfortunately it also means that advertisers now need to understand algorithm updates and concepts like keyword psychology, search funnels and stages of the consumer buying process in order to be found and to achieve an effective ROI.

Stepping forward five years from now, advances in algorithm based audience targeting and advertising technology could mean that consumers will be able to find what they want before they even begin searching for it. Advertisers need not be caught unawares by the tide of change; working with cutting edge agencies will enable the brands of today (and tomorrow) to manage advertising across multiple digital devices; from the smartphones and tablets of now, to the technological innovations of the future. Defining “the game” has never been more important.