Keynote Conversation with Ask Jeeves's Steve Berkowitz

Aug 9, 2005 - 12:43 pm 1 by

Danny introduces Steve Berkowitz and thanks him for the wonderful party last night.

Danny asks that now that you have been acquired by IAC, what is coming next? We know about the PPC ads.

Steve answers that as we invest in technology and core products, we need to bring those products above the fold. They spent the last year figuring out how to financially make that possible. The IAC acquisition allowed them to bring the Teoma results about the fold. Barry Diller asked them how to grow market share, and they said, to make the user experience better. They have the opportunity to build out the synergy between the two company's with one focus, growing market share. IAC gives them a much better reach at advertisers. So now Ask can now focus on search, and IAC on advertising. You will see a big investment in marketing and building a brand and in building a better product through innovation (zoom, binoculars, and so on). They will hire more talent (Jim told me about one that they just hired who they are very excited about). He said he doesn't think there is a better marriage for the company then IAC.

Danny says Barry Diller created a 4th channel for them in the UK. Ask is like that fourth channel in search. How do you shake up this image of the past Ask Jeeves with the butler and the Q & A service?

Steve said that has always been a challenge for them. They did there first TV ad, they grew share by 20% this past year. That is impressive in relation to others. They found the brand has great appeal. And they are working with Barry to figure out what else they can do. They know the technology is great and they will continue to be great. They are focused on core search and are trying to deliver this message. IAC backing with talent and money will make this happen.

Danny said the flag ship brand is Ask Jeeves, will the name change?

Steve said they are doing a lot of research about this. There is very little chance they will not go with Ask or Jeeves because of the brand they built already. What you will see is the brand evolution, and not a complete revolution. You really need to be careful about such a brand name change, you will see a creative solution. The name change has not been made yet.

Danny said IAC has tons of brands out there already. Ask itself has additional brands. How might this change within the Ask Jeeves group?

Steve said he can't say for sure. He thinks what you will see from the company, a renewed commitment to the brand. They had to manage across a segment of issues. The people who use the toolbar love it, so that is a big brand. They have the portal side of the business, MyWay/iWon/Excite, are a big brand and people love it as well. He believes that iWon is a promotional platform, he feels iWon can be a real piece of glue in the IAC relationship to tie together the lending trees, ticket masters and so on of IAC brands. iWon will be a real growth driver for Ask Jeeves. Then they can focus on building the "Ask - Ask Jeeves" brand globally in 2006.

Danny said you mentioned the idea of the glue of tying the pieces together, you also talked about the portals all over the place. Many of these sites have walls where you can't find your way out of. How do you see this challenge?

Steve said it doesn't mean we cant leverage this content in Ask to the consumer. He said there is no wall, Barry Diller doesn't think this way. Barry says, look at these assets and we are the company that can bring them together, but only if the consumer wants it. They bought Ask to build market share and not for the quick buck. You will see a much better integration, i.e. ticketmaster and HSN.

Danny said you mentioned earlier the toolbar and smilies. There is discussion of AdWare and SpyWare - talk about that.

Steve said they are huge with consumer privacy. Smiley Central are toolbars people download, they do not force people to download them. He said there are bad people out there, and people misuse the technology, but they built tools to block these people to prevent that sort of click-fraud. They are looking forward to the industry moving to protect the consumer. They are looking for compliances, and industry guidelines. He will defend his product against anyone, they are clean and people love them.

Danny said you released Ask Jeeves PPC program on the 15th. What is your hope for 2007?

Steve said 2007 is a long way away. Steve said Ask's focus is about building relationships directly with advertisers. He said he never sees the Google relationship dropping. He said that they need, internally, to see CTR and if customers are happy. Ask had a PPC program for a while now but this is just an enhancement. This is not about competing with Google, MSN or Yahoo. It is about building a relationship with advertisers.

Danny said next year, can you envision how things will change at Ask and Search.

Steve said for Ask it will be about focusing around the core of search. They will continue to focus on the consumer and continue to lead the industry in innovation. They will continue to build the "Ask Jeeves Search Technology" (not Teoma anymore, its beyond that now). They will find innovative ways to integrate content providers. A continued focus on MyJeeves. IAC opportunities, and iWon opportunities. In terms of search, broadband innovation will be big. The industry will continue to innovate and figure out what the consumer really wants. More innovation on the advertising side, better targeting. This industry is attracting the best and brightest work talent.

Danny said, about the talent, how do you get the best talent?

Steve said that we can all meet the financial aspect of salaries. If people truly want to have an impact, the way Ask structured the company gives the employees a real say in making a difference. And these people will FEEL that they "moved the needle" and from a career perspective, your career doesn't stop with Ask, you can move within IAC's companies. So much opportunity and great teamwork.

Danny said he will close with; you have this "celebrity owner" and he discovered lots of things he likes about Ask Jeeves.

Steve said anything Barry does, he supports. He met with Barry in May of 2003 for dinner. Barry didn't know what they did. Then by December of 2004, Barry Diller used it a lot and he found the site to be very different and unique. He saw the innovation and he saw the challenge. When he realized the product was really good, it made Barry Diller want to come in. Barry Diller loves to fight, he will not back down from a challenge. And that instilled a tremendous amount of confidence with Ask Jeeves. He doesn't like it because he owns it but rather because its a great technology.

Forum discussion at Search Engine Watch Forums.


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