When it comes to digital the keyword is still ‘integration’

Search is a vital part of online marketing but many of the best-selling keywords are reaping the benefits of offline activity, says Kevin Murphy

Agencies that are now “putting digital at the heart” of planning / buying / agency / their agenda / offering (delete as appropriate) are already well behind the game. Digital-only agencies, acutely aware of the fact that they have no offline in their agency, heart, arse or otherwise, are desperately trying to claim they are integrated just because they do search and display. It never fails to amuse me. The fact is if you do not already understand the relationship between all channels then your career in media needs serious updating.

Take search. For our clients, running television campaigns with search can uplift search traffic in excess of 50%. Yet I’ve spoken to search “specialists” who really think they work in a bubble. They are too busy congratulating their own optimisation skills to look at other media effects. Optimising skills are critical but they are not the only contributing factor.

There is much talk about how supremely cost efficient it is. Obviously it can be but this also needs further investigation. There are massive differences between costper-sale (CPS) generated by generic keywords and brand keywords. The brand term’s CPS is very low, while generic term CPS can be more expensive than other media, including offline.

Why are brand terms so successful? The majority of the time it’s because the person who clicked on them has already heard of them and decided to purchase. So efficiencies are driven by brand equity that for the most part has been built by offline and, latterly, online media outside the search environment.

Furthermore, the online industry does not have measurement fully nailed. Many measurement systems are based on “the last click wins” model. This means it is only the last click in a user’s online route to buy that gets the credit. This is very often a search brand term.

Returning to generic keywords, one almost feels sorry for the lack of credit they receive. The high CPS they are burdened with does not tell the full story either. The poor relations of brand terms, these unsung heroes fight in the trenches so the brand term “generals” get the glory. The truth is not only do they generate some direct sales, they play an integrated role with brand terms. So when brand terms aren’t mopping up the brand equity, these generics have an extra responsibility as an awareness driver.

In focus groups to analyse users’ search and aggregator behaviour in the car insurance market, a male group was asked which keywords they used. All of them said “car insurance” or “cheaper car insurance”. These keywords are among the most expensive in the UK, sometimes as high as £25 per click. However, if clients are not in that generic space, when someone types “car insurance” they miss a key chance to get onto formative shopping lists unless they have a fantastic SEO programme to compensate. Generic terms can raise awareness that converts further down the line, so it shouldn’t be dismissed merely on direct response metrics. We’ve seen countless occasions where excessive trimming of generic term investment causes a drop in sales generated by brand words.

So if integration even within one channel is critical, what about the bigger issue of offline driving online? In effect a brand term is the “response coupon” of this newly emerged media generation. If a planner still analyses the results of a DRTV campaign with old-style direct response “silo” analysis systems, they will note a steady decline in response rates.

However, modern analysis that encompasses various methods including econometrics will show the response rates are as strong as ever, it’s just that many people use brand keywords. Therefore, you must assign true CPS results to all media. It’s more work but the investment pays dividends when it comes to improving client return on investment.

In addition to TV, online results can be swelled by press, radio and outdoor. Heaven forbid, but I’ve seen situations where cutting telephone directories to move money online negatively affected the bottom line response figures. Offline activity is increasingly converted online. The relationship is symbiotic and it’s the agencies which have always sought to understand the extent of these cross-media relationships that will stay ahead of the game. There are exciting media opportunities, such as IPTV and mobile, waiting to explode into our media consciousness and I’m heartened by new measurement systems looking to replace the “last click wins” approach.

If an agency doesn’t have integrated best-practice planning and analysis ingrained into its culture (I can’t bring myself to say “at its heart”) then it will continue to bluster speculatively – trying to explain to its stakeholders where all the clients have gone.

Kevin Murphy is board planning director of Zed

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