Center for Media Design Project Managers Michelle Prieb and Jen Milks spoke at Mediapost’s Search Insider Summit Saturday, April 17.  The presentation, Reinventing Search: Through the Eyes of Next-Generation Consumers, explored the outputs of ideation sessions conducted with Ball State students to rethink  how they “want to find stuff”.

The students’ vision for a new search experience is highly personalized, communicative, very social and seamlessly cross-platform. View the presentation and our summary of the research outputs below and enjoy!

Search Insider Summit
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One predominant emergent themes from our ideation sessions was that students want a personalized search experience. They want search (and thereby marketers) to really get to know them as individuals, rather than as data or statistics.

These next-gen consumers want search to know them holistically within the context of their lives including their location and the times when they tend to search. They also want search to learn from what they do online to understand trends and patterns in their lives, so search knows their routines.

This desire for hyper-personalization provides an opportunity for marketers to understand their audiences in ways that go beyond determining intent and profiling.

Open Communication with Search

Our next gen consumers express the desire for search to be less like typing keywords into a text bar and more like having a conversation with a friend who knows them very well. They want to give and receive feedback via ratings and preferences so search can learn to tailor results and refine the search process for them.

Our students want to reserve the option for search to be targeted when they need something specific or exploratory when they’d like to “be adventurous” and receive results that are a little more open-ended (yet within the bounds of their likes and dislikes). They’d also like recommendations from search that are based on everything search knows about them from their online history, social networks (friends, interests and status updates) and context.

This dialogue with search creates very unique opportunities for marketers to make connections with users that are meaningful based on the personalized experience.

Extending search into the social arena

Echoing the predictions of Summiteers, students want search to draw from their current social networks to provide richer, more contextual results. With the motto “we all get better the more we share,” next-gen students recognize the value of tapping into diverse communities for trusted word-of-mouth recommendations from grounded experts rather than paid or optimized results.

As they hope to garner insight from this rich and varied search pool, they affirm the need contribute to the free-flowing tide of information. The real-time instantaneous access and global reach of social networks uniquely extends the search experience with an improved (perceived) authenticity.

Accessibility and Design:
Robustly cross-platform search designed for users

Our students discussed the importance of instant and constant access to their search process. To facilitate effective and social dialogue, search must be seamlessly cross-platform and it must be optimized for all devices. They see cloud computing as the way that this can be accomplished.

Students want to see augmented reality incorporated into the search process, regardless of device (but again, designed for optimal cross-platform experiences). Students also want search to be designed to interact with them in the way they interact with people – they want visual, voice, tactile, physiological and emotive interaction with search. Essentially, next-gen consumers want search (and marketers) to read their minds.

Indexing Life
: The categorization of everything

This new search experience mimics human behavior and therefore requires developing a new Dewey Decimal System for life. Moreover, indexing all of human behavior necessitates an openness to sharing information to a higher degree than ever before, which ultimately incites abounding privacy implications. Next-gen consumers express a willingness to negotiate the exchange of information, but the option to control their own privacy settings remains paramount.

Characterization of Search

In a move away from the current disconnect they feel between themselves as users and results as pushed advertising content, students want a relationship with search and answers. They describe next-gen search as an intuitive soulmate, a loyal sidekick, a benevolent servant and prognosticating sage.

Moving Forward:
Considerations for search in the near future

Our students recognize that what they created during this ideation process is rather complex and incorporates a multitude of capabilities and technologies that they’ve seen applied in some form or another, all wrapped up into one integrated process. Accordingly, they note a number of considerations for marketers and technologists as we move towards this integration.

First, they express concern for the infrastructure that currently supports search and how it might need to change as we move towards more robust cross-platform functionality and hyper-personalization. Furthermore, they see a need for this infrastructure to move towards sustainability so as to exist in harmony with the environment.

Secondly, our next-gen consumers recognize that preparing for the transition to a seamless search experience will require a lot of work. Most of the capabilities they desire are scattered throughout the industry, siloed on singular platforms, embedded within applications or limited to textual input. There is a great deal of quantitative research to be done within current user databases and qualitative work needed to assess user perceptions and attitudes related to these functions.

As our students created their vision for search, they demanded that it be enjoyable and easy to use. This necessitates user experience and usability research to understand how search can learn from users and optimize their search process for every device.