From time to time I’ve alluded to a little known, little used, concept by which marketers use search activity and trends to study customer behavior and marketing effectiveness. Consider that with the majority of U.S. adults online and studies suggesting 80-90% of those online use search, you have a tremendous, real time focus group of your customers.
Assume for a moment that you manage online marketing for Pepsi. You own the keyword “pepsi” and can monitor that over time. If you maintain a consistent bid and position, the increases/decreases in activity reveal consumer engagement. As search impressions increase (greater than the rate at which the population is going online), more customers are curious about Pepsi.
You already use search as an analytics tool in that you are studying the message, promotion, or offer that appeals most to your customers; you do test copy and landing pages to determine which is most effective don’t you? Have you considered sharing that insight with traditional marketers? To which terms do your customers respond? Is free shipping more valuable than coupons? At what value is a rebate ignored relative to a free gift?
We can teach catalogers, mass advertising folks, and print marketers much more than their limited focus groups as we can instantly poll most of our customers.
Think about Pepsi again where you, as do your competitors, bid on the keywords “soda,” “pop” (let’s not make this an argument over soda vs. pop!), and “soft drink”
These are your generic keywords, terms that are not associated with your brand or image, and they reveal much more about customer engagement and searches for these generic terms provide a benchmark against which you can evaluate your brands.
As searches for Pepsi increase relative to searches for these generic terms, ask yourself what has happened to motivate your audience to search for Pepsi. Is it positive or negative? What more can you learn if clicks on your brand from these generic terms suddenly increase or decrease?
What if Pepsi launches a new TV campaign on December 6th and searches for “Pepsi” skyrocket, searches for “soft drink” fall, and searches for “soda” climb, slightly. I’d argue your TV spot alludes to soda, does not mention soft drinks, and your brand is successfully communicated through the commercial. Go a step further and consider what searchers do after the search. Perhaps the click rate on your copy from the “Pepsi” keyword falls while the click rate on “soda” goes up with the searches. What caused people to search for Pepsi but act on something else? Did one of your competitors change their ad copy to respond better to your TV spot? Was the ad ineffective only communicating the brand and not enticing customers to act? And what of the bright spot in the results? I’d imagine the copy on “soda” resonated with that audiences that saw the ad.
The questions and insights are too numerous to pose here so let me go in a different direction. Using search to understand customer behavior requires a rigid foundation in your search program. Put yourself in the shoes of an analyst or recall Mrs. Stover’s statistics class from college; you need benchmarks, consistency, a level playing field, you can not evaluate trends and patterns unless all things are equal (or as much as possible):
- Ensure that all keywords are managed through one campaign. You can’t understand searcher behavior for your brand if you don’t have visibility to all searches.
- This doesn’t mean you can’t have different objectives for your terms; some can promote your brand and bid for position while others drive demand through an aggressive performance based bid strategies. If those objectives are managed through separate campaigns, you lose visibility to your audience overall.
- Build the tail! I’m putting myself out there by saying this but every search program should have thousands of keywords. If you don’t, you’re missing something. You have to be comprehensive and consider EVERYTHING someone might search for related to your brand.
- If you don’t have “pop” in your search campaign and the Midwest finally wins the war prompting everyone in America to refer to their soft drink as Pop, you wouldn’t know it.
- Categorize your keywords using the lowest common denominator for your brand. If you sell cars, your lowest common denominator is each type of car. If you sell flowers, that lowest common denominator is each type of flower or bouquet. This is difficult for marketers to do since we’re trained to think in campaigns (and traditional marketers will expect to see results as such); in reality, the only way to manage keywords effectively is consistently. Campaigns are simply the messages you want to promote, the common denominator across your company is that which everyone will understand.
- Have you seen the new Jeep commercials?
They are outstanding; though, DaimlerChrysler missed out in that a search for “Jeep bug commercial” or “Jeep gorilla commercial” reveals nothing.
- You should not have a category of keywords for the Bug commercial since that is a campaign, a short term message associated with only the Jeep Wrangler. If you group keyword as such all you can tell is what happened with the bug commercial.
- Very least you should have Jeep keywords, Liberty, Grand Cherokee, Compass, etc. but keep in mind that DaimlerChrysler owns Dodge, Chrysler, Mopar. A single program managing all brands and products gives the DaimlerChrysler search marketer tremendous insight about the auto industry, the different brands, and relative performance of each as campaigns, such as this one, are released.
- Have you seen the new Jeep commercials?
- Group similar terms to increase your sample size and generalize your questions. With thousands of terms you aren’t going to ask how “soda” tracks relative to “pop”. That sample is far too small and too many factors could contribute to changes in searcher behavior on one keyword. Group all keywords as follows:
- Brand terms (Pepsi and Sprite or Jeep and Neon)
- Generic terms (soda and softdrink or SUV, car, and transportation)
- Product terms (Notice my brand terms are not Jeep Wrangler, PT Cruiser, or Jeep Liberty, Diet Pepsi, Mountain Dew, and Pepsi Lime)
- Campaign terms (keep keywords like Pepsi Smash, DJ Division, Dance-a-tron, Premier Event, and Live Your Own Adventure separate as they are unique to a campaign and promotion)
With a standardized, consistent structure you can ask questions about brand strength, product awareness, marketing effectiveness, purchase intent, engagement, and even loyalty based on searcher behavior and trends for these groups of terms. Comparison of groups against one another highlight changes in customer awareness, interest, and intent. Find an opportunity for a simple test of this concept, the next TV spot or catalog going out, and let me know how it goes.