Searching for hearts and minds

Warren%20CowanHow combining useful content and targeted search campaigns can be a cost-effective driver behind the branding effort. By Warren Cowan.

At a time when budgets are being hastily trimmed in areas that have supported the branding effort, interest in cost-effective mediums such as search is gaining momentum. Most specifically, businesses are interested in how search can be used to drive the branding process and preserve brand equity.

Almost every marketer knows that search engine marketing can be a sales driver, and that its request-driven nature is possibly the best way to harvest brand traffic and consumer demand. But whether search can be utilised to achieve the same kind of brand goal that TV, radio and event sponsorship deliver – seed planting – is slightly less obvious.

After all, how do you use a request-driven medium to plant that seed in the first place when it is not even being sought? And how do you change attitudes to your brand when people aren’t showing any curiosity about how you may suit them? In other words, how do you use a powerful request-driven medium like search to do the important things people aren’t requesting – and get consumers to spend time with your brand, allowing you to win their hearts and minds?
The answer to many issues of branding is carefully understanding the phrases that people use in their searches – a technique known as keyword analysis.

A different kind of analysis
When I say keyword analysis, I’m not talking about the traditional, commercial type which tells you how many people were searching for the phone you sell, the routes you fly, the cities in which you trade or how many people searched for your brand name. I’m talking about the kind of keyword analysis that tells you about the issues that are important enough to drive your customers online to search, and which align with your brand values.

It’s taking the search engines’ data on search behaviour and using it as the world’s largest focus group to find out what you need to be talking to customers about, besides selling, to win their hearts and minds.

Here’s an example. While working with a leading pet food manufacturer looking to convert more pet owners to the brand, we found keyword analysis turned up high volumes of searches covering subjects as diverse – and sometimes bizarre – as pet naming, pet insurance, breed information and even how to clean pet urine stains out of upholstery.

The brand covered none of these areas in a business sense; they simply sold pet food. However, the high volume of searches highlighted that there are many concerned pet owners interested in the health and wellbeing of their pets, values which correlated highly with the ethos of the brand.

In a sense, who better to provide pet health-related advice to these pet owners than the brand in question? The ability not just to cater for, but actively reach out and help a community en masse, was there to be discovered and leveraged. All that was needed was the right content development and search engine marketing focus.

GoogleCost implications
A further point is that traffic in such cases is far cheaper than the more commercial-oriented shopping related traffic, and allows target consumers to be touched by the brand for a few pence at a time.

With these targeting efforts come new ways of measuring the success of search. After all, attempting to measure the impact of search marketing on brand development, using methods like cost of acquisition or return on advertising spend, often proves fruitless and disappointing.

But by tracking the actions of users, you can take a bigger picture and gain genuine insight into what your search activity has created in terms of goodwill, purchase influence, attitudinal impact and time spent with the brand. All you need to do is track activities such as time spent on site and repeat visits made, downloads of leaflets, sign-ups for newsletters, form fill-outs, forum contributions and token or voucher downloads or print-outs.

For example, we measured the success of search for a particular baby and child products company by “how many parents we have helped today”. This was based on the knowledge that parents who feel they can trust a brand to help them through parenthood will turn to the brand at the supermarket shelves, or when they buy online. A metric was built by a combination of onsite actions and interactions of visitors, and was delivered through a paid and organic search campaign, which stood up to numerous boardroom acid tests in terms of proving its worth.

Look to search
So to conclude/ if you’re looking for a cost-effective and branding-capable medium, search may be just the factor you’ve been missing.

The key to search and branding is to understand that search engine marketing can’t make more people search for your brand, but it can help build your brand. People don’t just go to search engines to shop; they go to search engines to find solutions for their lives. If your brand can help people live their lives better, it will stand an altogether better chance at that final point-of-sale decision.

So, research those things that keep your audience up at night and drive them to Google. Develop a strong content proposition around those issues within your websites. Understand the words that people will use to hunt that information down and use search engine marketing to get out there and let people know you can help. It’s likely you’ll find the results pleasantly surprising.

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