Avoiding Missteps When Tapping Into Search For Branding

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Some things speak for themselves — they don’t need much substantiation to prove their value as their effect is pretty obvious. For instance, you don’t need to conduct a study to learn that people get stressed out during tax season. Instead, commonsense and simple observation tells you what you need to know. Well the same can be said about search and brand.

Why Search Affects Brand

Like many of you, I learned about the four Ps of marketing in college — Product, Price, Placement, and Promotion. I remember my professor was very focused on the Placement element: “You’ve got to be in the right place at the right time for a consumer, otherwise it’s a missed opportunity.” Fortunately, search has enhanced placement opportunities for marketers, providing them with more chances to get in front of their customers in the right place at the right time.

When consumers begin looking for products or services today, they start their process with search. From there, they may continue to refine and dig for further information to validate their thoughts, beliefs, or doubts about a brand; they may directly call for more information; or they may even complete the purchase cycle online. Regardless of the path eventually taken, marketers need to realize that each time a consumer launches a search, they are actively raising their hand in search of a solution. Naturally, brands that appear in the search results from their query have a much better shot at engaging with a consumer — and being top of mind with them — than those who do not. While research confirms it, common sense dictates that a brand can’t help but be affected by search.

It’s A Risky Business

Considering the above, marketers need to ensure their brand is in the search results. Failure to do so spells tremendous risk. After all, if you are not there to help your customers along in their decision-making process, you are essentially giving your competitors an edge. In fact, you are providing them with the opportunity to start a dialogue with your customers, and once your customers engage with another brand, it could prove very difficult to restart a conversation with them.

But beyond potentially ceding your customers to the competition, failing to be present in the top search results holds other brand implications. The iProspect Blended Search Results Study (April 2008) revealed that 39% of Internet users attribute brand equity to the companies listed in the top of the search results, considering them to be leaders in their fields. This sends an important message to marketers — if your company is not found among the top results, that absence could adversely affect brand.

The Proof Is In The Pudding – Or Maybe The Cereal

Don’t just take my word for it, consider your own behavior. Just for a moment, take-off your marketing hat, and don your consumer cap. Think about the following: if there are 10 boxes of cereal on the shelf, and your favorite brand is nowhere to be found, would you opt for another instead? Does the absence of your preferred brand affect your opinion of the others even a little? I would wager it does. Search works the same way as shelf space. Being at the top means more opportunities to entice and capture consumers. And given that all major search engines now provide blended results including other digital assets such as images, videos, and press releases, marketers have more opportunities than ever to connect with consumers via search.

There is a right way and a wrong way to tap into search to benefit your brand. Here are five of the biggest mistakes marketers make when trying to leverage search for branding purposes, and how to avoid them.

1. Stop thinking like a consumer. The easiest way to connect with customers is to speak to them in their language. Yet time and again, I see marketers doing everything but. For example, a travel agent that sells “adventures” misses the mark if most of his user base still calls the product “vacations.” If you force your user to speak your language, you miss out on exposure and — more importantly — potential customers provided by the more consumer-friendly term. In addition, if you ignore their language while your competitors pay close attention to it, you stand to lose ground and will need to play catch up. The cliché that you never get a second chance to make a first impression very much applies to search. If you lose a potential customer to a competitor, you may never get another opportunity to be top of mind with them.

2. View your brand in a silo. Marketers need to realize that their brand exists in a sea of other brands. Yet many operate as if they have blinders on, and their product is the only one in the market. This is a huge mistake, as consumers are constantly presented with different options and alternatives. Instead, marketers need to fully understand a product’s marketplace, and how competitors are presenting brand benefits and value. This knowledge will provide insight into how consumers are being swayed. It is also important to remember that being in the conversation means going beyond your product’s ingredients or origins. Potential customers may be more interested in how your product makes them look, or feel, or saves them time. If your competitors are doing a stellar job communicating this, then you need start a relationship with potential customers by saying, “I can do that too!” versus being the category trailblazer.

3. Set unrealistic expectations. Marketers often set themselves up to fail with unreachable goals. For example, it would be foolish for someone marketing DVDs to expect to be in position one in organic search in one month, with “DVD” as a keyword. Instead of setting yourself up for failure, define your goals and support them with appropriate long- and short-term strategies. In the near term, be ready to invest in paid search to complement offline and online marketing efforts to gain immediate visibility and get your message out. For the long term, a strong investment in organic search is necessary, which means allocating resources toward site adjustments and content build-out. Most importantly, remember to keep up with it. Once you start your marketing effort, competitors will follow suit in some way, so be sure you remain ahead of the pack.

4. Fail to look at what competitors are NOT doing. Marketers spend a tremendous amount of time examining what their competition is doing to ensure they cover all of the same bases. However, marketers would be wise to examine what their competitors are NOT doing, where they may uncover important opportunities to connect with customers. One of the best ways to do this is stepping beyond the ingredients or nuts and bolts of your products, and identify peripheral benefits to the end user. For example, if you are trying to market a no-rub saline solution for contacts, focus on the benefits of the product to an end user — maybe it allows them to find more time in the day to get everything they need to get done. Overall, you need to market the benefits of using your products, not just what is inside.

5. Lack mechanisms to properly track success. Far too often marketers do not have ample analytics in place to truly determine whether their efforts have been successful. You need to measure the obvious (conversions, volume of visitors, cost per visitor, clickthrough rate, CPA, revenue, ROAS, and visibility), but don’t forget other important metrics that help determine engagement with your brand (average length of visit, average number of viewed pages, and points of user attrition). Have your analytics set up to track all of these points, and then pull and track these metrics (or have your search agency do it), tying the metrics back to the user point of access. If your bounce rate is high, it may be due to the landing page not meeting goals or expectations. But don’t throw in the towel immediately — be willing to make adjustments as needed.

Step Up

So does search affect brand? Absolutely. Common sense dictates that a brand can’t help but be affected by search, as search provides marketers with more chances to get in front of their customers in the right place at the right time. Marketers who tap into search for branding purposes will reap the benefits of doing so, while those who fail to will suffer the consequences.

About the Author

Heather Pidgeon is a Client Services Director at iProspect. Part of the iProspect team since 2004, she oversees the strategic development and execution of organic search and pay-per-click advertising for clients in a number of verticals, including pharma/health, travel, and insurance.

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