Marcus Gault, director at brand, media and communications focused market research company Millward Brown, says marketers need to think outside of the direct response box
Search marketing has evolved since it was first used to drive traffic to ad supported portals and web sites and plays a vital role in brand building and marketing plans.
As use of search marketing grows, marketers need to consider the impact other marketing and branding activities have on it and importantly how those activities can influence search.
IAB figures show that paid for search took 57.8% of the £2 billion online adspend in 2006 – and that it grew by 52% in the second half of the year.
A project for an online content publisher conducted by Millward Brown earlier this year shows that the return generated by search can be 15% higher than that for display advertising and ore than twice that of either TV or print.
It’s easy to see why many marketers believe that successfully engaging people at this point in the process, will bring you one step closer to closing the sale. But there is more to search than converting an active shopper into a purchaser.
Marketing and brand activities play an integral role in search
For this reason you need to beware of placing search in a separate silo from the rest of the marketing mix. Search is subject to the influence of other forms of above and below the line marketing activities (including PR and advertising) that predisposes consumers to search for a brand.
They effectively pave the way for search by making the brand attractive to buyers. The better-branded and more compelling the impression, the more likely people will be to search on the specific brand name and proceed directly from the search page to the brand’s web site.
This will also make thinking about creativity and brand image when attaching your brand to words important.
In the information gathering stage, people will place a premium on links that appear to offer impartial or unbiased information from a credible source. Advertisers that use one-size-fits all direct response advertising run the risk of being rejected at this stage.
Others who present factual and useful information stand a change of being considered later on. It is in the comparison stage that benefits are clearer for well-defined brands. People are much more likely to be influenced by brand name recognition.
And the stronger the immediate feelings evoked by a brand name and the accompanying description, the more likely people will be to click on a link. At this stage, co-ordinating the brand message with other brand activities is key and will help people to remember previous feelings about the brand.
In reality few people pursue their searches in an orderly disciplined fashion, giving each link equal consideration on its merits. In this respect, online search is no different from old-fashioned methods of researching a purchase, such as looking in the Yellow pages or consulting with friends.
If you think about the point before a search is conducted, before a consumer has even thought about conducting a search, it becomes clearer that advertising often sparks the realization of need.
The better branded or more compelling the impression, the more likely people will be to search on the specific brand name and proceed directly from the search page to the brand’s web site.
So you can see why search should use other communications activities to frame the context in which people will conduct their search. Any positive publicity generated will be particularly important to customers during the initial search stages.
Think about ways to trigger those brand images (memories and perceptions) during the search process.
It could also be useful to understand which words people are likely to search on once they have seen your offline advertising and buy keywords accordingly in order to maximize the overall effectiveness of your campaign. You could do this as part of pre-testing your ad campaigns
Isolating the true ROI of search
Research is essential to isolate the true ROI of search, looking outside of click-throughs and eyeballs to see how many people would have bought the brand regardless of search results and truly identifying how search impacts on the brand.
Data from our own studies on what activates demand and what triggers final purchase of brands, also shows that search has more influence on creating demand than it does activating purchase.
So understanding how search influences your brand is as important as leveraging your other marketing activities to give search a relevant boost.
To maximize the impact of your search marketing activities, we suggest that you:
· Avoid the hard sell.
The active engagement of consumers with the search process is both a blessing and a curse. Keywords might allow you to accurately target messaging, but woe betide the brand that provides irrelevant information or an untimely sales pitch.
· Don’t presume that directing all searches to your web site will be effective.
By understanding how people search in your sector – what types of search terms they use in the exploratory phase versus the comparison phase – you can tailor your approach to provide the most relevant and appropriate links to each type of search
· Integrate search into your marketing programme
Think about using traditional communications channels to frame the context in which people will conduct their search.
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