Cosumer Research: Searching targets

Online searchers are among the most valuable consumers to reach, as they spend more and spread the word. As search marketing becomes easier to track and measure, we can begin to see the bigger picture and how crucial it is for achieving brand objectives. By Jocelyn Bull

Jocelyn Bull
The Search Works Head of Marketing 

2007 Head of marketing, The IMW Group
2006-2007 Head of marketing, The Technology Works
2005-2006 Marketing manager, WSPS/The Search Works
2003-2005 Account consultant, Fresh
2001-2003 Business development manager, Yellow Submarine

Search engine marketing is the fastest-growing advertising medium ever and is loved by marketers for its pay-forperformance model and reassuring measurability. You only pay when it works, and you can adjust a range of variables to fine tune your ROI. Search is the perfect direct-response medium – targeting consumers who are actively looking for products and services, and who are just a few clicks away from buying.

But search, from the searcher’s point of view at least, is about more than just buying things. People search to expand their minds, to look for opinions or to see if they made the right decision. They search for brands, products and companies they know, as well as those they are not yet familiar with. We know this because we’re consumers as well as marketers. So why are we reluctant to accept that search is about branding as much as it is about direct response? 

Of the UK online population, 81% uses search engines, and I tend to think of it as rather like border control. People come to search engines as a result of all the external factors that drive people online. They go through the search process and then out again – to other sites or offline channels. Search is a point through which a huge volume of people can be reached. It is a crucial touchpoint on a disparate journey. It’s a touchpoint between brands and consumers, an opportunity to connect, influence and engage, and, as such, can be used to achieve brand as well as sales goals. Whether or not someone goes on to make a purchase, your brand has been visible to them. They’ve been involved with your company and an impact has been made.

Buying in
I’ve recently been involved in a research project that The Search Works commissioned with Yahoo! Search Marketing and ComScore that has taken a closer look at the impact of search and its role in the buying process. The research studied the characteristics of searchers versus non-searchers, and focused on the consumer electronics sector, which, as 29% of all searches are for a consumer electronics product, gives us representative insight into consumer behaviour in general.

We knew before embarking on the research that the most desirable customer for a marketer is a brand advocate. These are people who recommend products they like and who others turn to for advice. They are early adopters, brand supporters and, as our research found, they are likely to be found embracing the digital space using e-mail, search, instant messaging and social media.

Brand advocates, it turns out, are twice as likely to use a search engine than nonadvocates. When they buy, they spend 30% more than non-advocates, they tell, on average, nine people about their purchases (five more than non-advocates) and are 65% more likely to recommend what they’ve bought. Given the right opportunities, these people will promote your brand for you. Find them through search marketing and, once you’ve found them, treat them well.

The research also showed that the people who use search engines (who aren’t necessarily advocates) are still more likely to be valuable customers. Search engine users engage more deeply in the buying process than those that purchase online via other means (such as through a display ad) as they consult more resources (on average five versus two), and take longer to research (52% versus 32% spend over one week researching before a purchase). Additionally, searchers buy higher-priced products than non-searchers (on average 58% higher) and talk to more people (eight versus six) about their products after the purchase.

What%20Resources%20do%20Advocates%20use%3FThe final analysis
Perhaps the most interesting point we learned from this study was that buyers who used search engines were just as likely to purchase offline as they were online. While I realise this might not hold true across other sectors, it raises an important question – what is the true value of your search marketing? It’s very likely that the ROI for your search budget is actually much higher than you are currently calculating and that, by holding back your search activity, you could be restricting offline sales by judging success from the final click and not understanding the true ROI.

A call-tracking system, such as Diallog, will allow you to monitor those customers that begin their journey online, but pick up the phone to buy (a common practice for financial products and big-ticket-complex purchases). It is also worth considering testing ideas that allow you to measure online-originated store purchases – for example, by using customer-printed e-coupons or click-to-collect facilities.

Tracking searchers that go on to buy offline might be tricky, but measuring other forms of brand interaction can be easier. Identifying and capturing information on brand-related actions, such as brochure requests, information downloads and product reviews, for instance, can help you measure more intangible marketing goals, such as brand awareness, reputation management, positive brand perception and loyalty.

A Jupiter Research report on search marketing and branding found that, in 2006, 32% of search marketers were aiming to increase brand awareness through search, and 28% were aiming to maintain brand exposure (although only 22% were measuring the branding impact of their campaigns). This had increased, however, from only 11% of search marketers in 2004, who said that branding was an objective of search.

When search marketing was first explained to me (as an offline marketer in an online world), I was encouraged to think of it as direct marketing on the Web, which still makes a lot of sense. Search marketing, like direct marketing, is targeted, testable and acutely results-driven. But there is an art to the science as well, and that’s where brand comes into play.

I think the next year will see a much greater focus on supporting branding objectives online, through search and other digital media. We’re beginning to see the fuller picture, through better tracking, testing, measurement and creativity, and by identifying not only the value of the direct response, but the delayed, diverted and brand-driven responses as well.

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