The Gold, Silver, And Bronze Of Brand-Building Through Search
True story. The first time I ever presented any of my thinking in a public venue was at Google’s Headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. It was a panel discussion on the “Brand Lift of Search,” and the audience was comprised of senior marketing teams from Fortune-class B2B corporations. As if that weren’t intimidating enough for a first-timer, I had to speak right after Bill Barnes from Enquiro who was there presenting data that his firm uncovered on the brand impact of search. A study that had been commissioned by Google!
I was in over my head. Fortunately, I survived.
A video of the session was later made available on Google Video (remember Google Video?). I was happy when Google shut down that service in favor of YouTube; I could be seen in the video glistening with sweat and looking terrified.
But my message that day was one that I agreed with wholeheartedly, though it’s an opinion that has morphed through the years as I’ve gained more experience. I believed then that if you couldn’t immediately assign quantitative measures to search’s impact, then the alleged benefits were highly suspect. To me, at that time, the high-fiving over the brand lift from search sounded a lot like Google needing to sell off excess ad inventory. Again, that opinion has changed through experience.
Though I’m still of the opinion that search optimization efforts should be data-driven, I have seen evidence of search’s brand impact out in the wild. In some instances, we confirmed the impact via statistical modeling of before-and-after data; in others, we eyeballed that same data and assumed causation. In both scenarios, we were comfortable with the conclusions that yes, in fact, search led to positive brand outcomes.
There are also numerous studies that have concluded the same, including the Enquiro study referenced above.
With the backdrop of the Olympic games currently taking place in London, I thought it would be apropos to discuss how we have begun positioning search as a brand-building channel in Olympics vernacular. There are three key applications for search, ranked in order of importance: gold, silver, and bronze.
Gold – be “findable” for broad industry terms
Just showing up is sometimes enough. In search, when your brand organically ranks well for broad industry descriptor keywords (e.g. laptop computer, flat-screen TV, running shoes), chances are high that you will receive significant exposure as a result. It may not immediately yield a tangible ROI, but it can help to seed the notion that your organization is a credible source of authority around the topic in question.
And with Google consistently receiving high marks across numerous brand reputation and trust studies, we believe that reputation is transferable to prominent brands. Whether right or wrong, consumers trust the results they’re presented with, and even use search results pages to shortlist buying decisions.
Rank well for key industry terms, and you’ll be trusted, too.
Silver – present a differentiated message for competitor brand queries
Unfortunately, users will also search for our competitors’ brand terms. When that happens, search presents a unique opportunity to deliver a message of differentiation. What are the one or two elements that distinguish your offerings from those of your competitor? Mention those explicitly in paid search ad copy.
Generally speaking, a branded search query is often navigational in nature (“take me to that company’s website”). We broadly consider navigational queries to be conducted by those either nearing a purchase decision, or already friendly with the brand. For those who are close to making a purchase, a differentiated ad may seed a bit of doubt in the user’s mind.
Give the user pause to reconsider his path; he may give your brand a last-minute glance.
Bronze – dominating digital shelf space through a paid and organic presence
Perhaps the most obvious brand-boost option available to search marketers is in being present across both organic and paid results simultaneously. Building on the concept of trustworthiness (gold) is the expectation that leading brands are present across search. When a brand enjoys a prominent position across the natural results, bidding on those same terms doubles the impressions and brand exposure, while reinforcing that notion of trust.
It’s an easy step to take, and one that helps reinforce brand recall and affinity (Enquiro, 2008).