Chalk and cheese? Oil and water? Facebook users and MySpace users? Just how different are search marketers and display advertisers?

Just three years ago, these two groups of people would be completely segmented, often sitting at opposite ends of an agency office, rarely collaborating on projects and with a slight dislike of each other.

Their ways of working were very different, their basic principles were alien to each other, and the amount of free gifts received at Christmas by media planners always turned an angry eye from the search marketers, long since forgotten by the Google gift giving machine.

I even remember a new business pitch many years back where the media planner walked in and introduced themselves to the search marketer who shared his office, thinking it was the client!

A search marketer by nature is quantitative. Their world consists of spreadsheets, tiny details and a lot of testing. They are held to rigorous goals, with every click and conversion tracked to the last cent. There is little that is ambiguous in the search world.

Conversely, the display media planner is qualitative. Their world is more mad men than math men, involves broader concepts and lacks the certainty of the results it generates. Post-impression is king in this world – something that has never sat well with search marketers.

A Search & Display History Lesson

Slowly, the two worlds started to come together. Atlas and others started churning out reports stating that display + search is a 1+1=3 situation, that if run together, a magical uplift would occur.

These studies certainly had some validity, but lacked anything concrete to show why this was happening, and instead intimated that the presence of branded ads drive more people to search for brand terms. It was a tough sell to my old SEM colleagues at the time, but it had planted the seed.

Then along came Google, Yahoo and MSN to muddy the waters. Their sales teams had the ear of the SEM marketer, and went fairly unchallenged as they rolled out basic display offerings. They knew the value of the display media pie and wanted to cut as big a slice of it for themselves as possible.

Getting a search marketer to tick a box and extend a buy was a lot easier than asking a media planner to learn AdWords and start from scratch. And so, the search marketer started to get smarter and smarter about display.

I was in a full-service agency at the time running a display team, and started hearing of display ads running for display clients that my team wasn’t responsible for. My first reaction was common – I was protective of my budget and felt that these search marketers didn’t really know what they were doing with banners. But as I looked at the tools they were using, I realized they were better equipped than I was.

My group was reliant on AdRelevance and AdPlanner to tell us where to find people who might look like our prospects, but the search teams could specify exact parameters, getting far more granular then we ever could. And I was told about DoubleClick’s plans to launch an ‘exchange’ I realized the future looked very different to the present and I might just be on the wrong side of the fence.

What Does The Future Hold For Search & Display?

Today, quantitative skills are almost a pre-requisite for being in media planning. With the rise of the DSPs, the creation of ‘trading desks’ and the power of Facebook ads, the value of the qualitative media planner is diminishing quickly.

If the distance between the search marketer and the display planner was a canyon, then Facebook was the first master bridge builder – but they did it entirely by accident. They first started targeting display advertisers with a CPM offering, looking to soak up both brand and direct response budgets, getting on media plans with new formats and targeting techniques.

But as they rolled out CPC text ads, they attracted the expertise of the search marketer and almost isolated the display planner. I was caught short, losing the Facebook advertising budget for my clients to my search colleagues before I even realized it was happening!

Whilst the canyon still exists, more bridges are starting to appear, some easier than others to cross for both parties. Search Retargeting is quickly becoming the biggest traffic carrier, being reliant on the skills of both parties.

In essence, search retargeting finds those individuals who are searching on Google, Yahoo or Bing for the terms that matter to your campaign and allows you to put display ads in front of them. It can be bought on a CPM or a CPC model, and can be (and should be) optimized to the keyword level.

It is a constantly evolving program, with decisions being made daily based on exact data points. The smart search marketers are sprinting across the bridge with everything they have, realizing that there are pots of (display budget) gold on the other side.

It also lacks some of the barriers that other types of display have to the unfamiliar. Companies like ours will provide dynamic creative, inserting the keyword searched for into the unit and most importantly, as a technique, search retargeting does not require the usual raft of pixels adding to the site that a site retargeting program would require.

In my role at Chango, a search retargeting company, I meet with both search marketers and display media planners to talk about search retargeting, each seeing it as the way to steal each other’s dollars. And whilst we often will bring in members of each team to be the most successful, it seems that search marketers are often the more willing to learn and test with this type of program. It is not that they are smarter, or even more innovative, it is because many of them realize they can own this evolving media world and make themselves more relevant.

Also, as one search marketer said to me this week, their day to day job isn’t very exciting if it just involves keyword optimization and reporting, but they can now see new career opportunities for themselves and are getting to experiment with cool new tools.

The search marketer is already becoming the future media planner, but as the traffic across the bridge flows both ways, could the media planner become the future search marketer?