People Don't Just Search When They're Looking for Something to Buy

By Aaron Goldman, VP Marketing & Strategic Partnerships

My crusade to get the marketing community to acknowledge the power of search for branding continues as I respond to Gord Hotchkiss' follow-up column to the one I discussed yeterday.

In his latest piece -- "Branding, the Mind and Search" -- Gord concedes that "the value of an unclicked search ad still needs further research" but holds firm that there is minimal branding impact to be had with search.

To prove his case, Gord compares engagement with TV ads -- widely seen as the best branding medium -- to search ads in an effort to show the difference in consumer engagement.

Gord points out that TV ads interrupt viewers and try and catch their attention. And while they don't all succeed, the ones that do -- the ads that get you to like the brand -- drive strong brand engagement. No argument from me here.

He goes on to say, "But search is different. You don’t need to like a search ad, because it doesn’t have to capture your attention. You’ve already volunteered that attention. Search is used to gather information about an upcoming purchase. You’re fully engaged. You’re focusing on it. There are no cognitive guards on duty, protecting you from unscrupulous persuasion.”

This is where Gord loses me. Search is more than a platform used “to gather information about an upcoming purchase.” As Gord himself says earlier in the article, "search is more than a channel. It’s a fundamental human activity..."

As such, search serves a much broader utility. It helps people find content when they're looking to be entertained. It helps people find information when they're doing research (on any topic -- not just buying a product). And the list goes on and on.

That said, clearly there are times when people are searching that they are not volunteering their attention to marketers. In these cases, search marketers need to draw those consumers in, engage them, and get them to like the ad -- much like TV advertisers.

With TV, marketers define their target audience and place ads on programs or networks that can best reach it. So too, with search, once marketers define their target audience they place ads against queries indicative of that bullseye consumer. In some cases this means buying the keyword "diapers" when you're trying to sell diapers. In other cases, this means buying the keyword "babysitter" when you're trying to reach moms and make them aware of your new line of diapers. Sure, the latter is not the most prevalent use of paid search, but it can be an effective tactic for brand marketers.

Another example would be buying the keyword "Hannah Montanah" because you're trying to reach kids. Or buying "NBA playoffs" to reach sports fans. In all these cases, the marketer is essentially interrupting the consumer's search to try and get their attention and engage them with the brand.

Granted, this approach can be difficult (and expensive) to execute given the challenges with maintaining a good quality score but as long as you respect the query by customizing your copy and landing page to it -- e.g. "Make sure to stock your babysitter with Pampers premium diapers." -- you'll provide a good user experience and brand enagement will follow.

The one thing Gord and I completely agree on is the need to do more research on the branding value of search. I look forward to releasing the Microsoft/comScore
study I alluded to in yesterday's rant as we move the conversation from speculation to evaluation.


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