The search for visibility

Consumers are using search engines as the starting point when researching buying decisions. Brands must ensure they can be easily found and their message is preserved. By Joe Fernandez

The way a brand communicates with its audience has never been more important as campaigns become increasingly integrated. Increasing focus on the digital part of the campaign means that brands have to work closely with affiliate marketers to ensure their campaigns get the maximum airtime online. However, they must be cautious on how they present themselves. The rising use of search engines as a consumer’s main point of research means brands must look for new ways of ensuring they appear high up in search results.

One of the most important ways to address this requirement is to ensure that the first text the user sees under the search result is unique and engaging. Tom Griffiths, business development manager at digital direct agency Cheeze, says: “Strong, consistent messaging can help create a ‘mental bookmark’, where the consumer associates terminology and tone with your brand. Consistent use of language and nomenclature should not only reflect the brand, but also the consumer’s expectations.”

He adds: “If you can understand sentiment you can tailor your campaigns to appeal to what consumers want and how they feel, adding powerful empathy and emotion. The opinions are out there, the skill is identifying them, understanding them and harnessing them.”

The strength of the copy also needs to be balanced by a calm tone of voice, which will persuade consumers to click the link and read the rest of the copy. Gemma Hornsby, an account marketing manager at design and marketing consultancy Michon, says: “Tone of voice is an integral part of any brand, the design acts as the hook but the words build the relationship with consumers.”

Cheap isn’t always good

However, it is important to ensure that all copy adheres to brand guidelines without adversely affecting consumer perceptions. Gary Reid, director of search performance at The Search Works, says: “For some brands the adjective ‘cheap’ may be off-brand, but also a keyword that plays an important part in the user journey. As the word can mean cheap price, poor quality or of little worth, it may be essential to use synonyms that have fewer negative connotations, such as bargain or inexpensive.”

Keyword-based search results can provide valuable insight to how users interact with brands, but in order to ensure they are worth the cost, marketers should look to analytics to ensure the terms really reflect the brand. By taking advantage of analytics tools, marketers can identify the best ways to achieve maxi-mum impact.

Understanding the message

Matt Bragg, director of solution consulting at Coremetrics, says: “Measuring which messages users have been exposed to before they search and understanding the impact of different messages on user search terms is vital. Using online analytics, marketers can identify and continue investing in the messages that drive search and affiliate traffic.”

The importance of taking a tried-and-tested approach is a message the leading digital agencies are keen to emphasise. Rosalie Kurton, UK media director at LBi, says: “The Holy Grail is not only people who click on a compelling message but also those who go on to interact with the site in the way we want them to. Sophisticated campaigns use an ongoing test and refine approach until the copy is as compelling as it can be.

“In a cluttered market, the brands that do something to stand out, especially where everyone is talking about price will resonate more strongly with the consumer.”

She adds: “In a market pressurised by economic slowdown, brands should be chasing sales, not protecting brand strap lines that may or may not be the most compelling way to resonate with the consumer.”

Ed Lamb, digital director at Digital Tullo Marshall Warren, echoes Kurton’s sentiments. He says: “Marketers who try to maintain control of content about their brand spend a huge amount of time trying to police it and ultimately fail anyway, whereas those which are adaptable and react positively to all brand mentions will ultimately create greater brand affinity.”

The pressure is on copywriters to ensure that search engines pick up the copy they produce, and the brand message is portrayed correctly in the text they use. Alastair Herbert, director at Linguabrand, says this is harder than many perceive and campaigns are not portraying the image they ought to. “Brands are losing control of communications as media fragments and stakeholders use social media to communicate directly to consumers.

“The branding world rarely addresses the most important aspect of brand sound – brand language. The verbal identity of brands, where they own relevant terminology in the minds of their audiences, is effectively the lost continent of brand communication,” he argues. Users can experience this problem themselves. When they search for a brand online, affiliate sites, offering similar offers connected to the brand, often come up in the search results. Brands are under pressure to monitor their affiliates to ensure they are portrayed in the best possible light.

Affiliate engagement

Scott Holmes, head of media at digital agency TBG, says: “Affiliate marketing is one area where engagement with the supplier is essential. Simple rules can ensure that you make it easy for the affiliate to work with your brand, but also ensure that you can limit any slipping of your brand rules. This pre-approved content helps ensures your brand is accurately conveyed at all times.”

However, Kurton cautions that brands should not interfere with affiliate marketing copy too much, as it could impact their ability to generate sales. “Affiliates are a brands virtual sales force and why they are so successful is because they think entrepreneurially about how to generate sales. If we put a complete block on how they approach this, they will simply stop supporting the programme,” she warns.

As with any change, brands must think about customer perception when they refresh any aspect of the way consumers view them. Here again, analytics can play a key part in helping ensure any change is as smooth as possible. Chris Cathcart, senior finance strategist at search specialist Bigmouthmedia, says: “When brands adapt their brand presence on their website or others, during promotional activities or brand refresh, it’s key for them to have robust onsite tracking tools implemented. A simple brand refresh, or promotion that moves away from the brand, can and will affect the customer path on sites – therefore changing the rate of conversion.”

Looking to the future

A further challenge which marketers face is ensuring that the copy they use is effective not just in the present, but for future brand campaigns as well. Ryan Scott, director of search at twentysix Search, explains: “The recession is a perfect example. Campaigns planned even three months ago may not have taken into account what would be top of mind for their audience today. Search is a moving target and you have to be aware of the elements that can affect it, such as future legislation and cultural change, or risk being caught out.”

It seems that marketers must both embrace the online medium and the opportunities available to them with both hands. As Stuart Aplin, an account director at Steak, points out: “While it’s one thing to ensure your own marketing communications are aligned, the best sign that consumers get your brand is when those communications are copied or parodied by the customers you’re trying to reach. With the explosion of user-generated content, and social media in general, it’s now more important than ever to track activity in blogs, forums and community sites to ensure that those carefully crafted brand messages are getting through.”

HMV and Lynchpin

Lynchpin is on a one-year contract with HMV’s marketing and web content teams monitoring and interpreting information about how HMV’s web purchases are made.

Justin Moodie, head of online for HMV, comments: “We want to better understand how our customers engage with us online, but not when on our site. Lynchpin’s tools and insight help make sense of an otherwise extremely complicated picture.” Using its technology, Lynchpin will introduce systems to enable HMV to track customer journeys across all online marketing mediums right through to the point of sale. This process will be tracked over a certain period, even over a number of days, to identify the customer’s steps in the buying procedure.

Andrew Hood, managing director of Lynchpin, explains: “Consumers look for products far and wide online. They are active on search engines, sites with banners ads and price comparison sites. With so many things going on, the problem lies with accurately assessing how customers found and bought the final product.”

How to ensure your site contains the best content

The best way to ensure that your site contains content that supports the brand’s proposition is to ensure that you get real customers’ reactions to it in the development of the site.

It is often true that clients focus their attention on the visual appearance of the site and neglect the words, leaving this job to in-house copywriters. However, user experience work with clients has made it abundantly clear that good quality content is essential in partnership with design and navigation to make a successful site. If one of these elements is lacking the website is not going to operate at its optimum level. It is especially important in industries like financial services, where an awful lot of terminology is used, to be able to provide copy that has clarity and is unambiguous.

Online presents an additional challenge. Copy has to be concise on a website, otherwise it just won’t get read, so it is even more important to identify the fewest number of words and the key short sentences that convey the brand message. Also, links and navigation have to be intuitive. Often we see ‘brand’ jargon or product names used, and users don’t know what lies behind the link.

It is very important that the right key words are also integrated into copy. Understanding what these search terms area and why they are being used is central to defining what key words to include. This precise information can only truly be gained from actual user experience sessions.

Multivariant testing (MVT) is a technology that is great at measuring the impact of changing even an individual word on a page. MVT tools, linked with user experience research, is the most powerful way of tuning content on a site to achieve the right balance between brand projection and commercial return.

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