Considering the challenges banner ads and rich media ads face in catching the viewer's attention and getting a click-through, search advertising has made itself the most powerful killer app to come along since e-mail. The problem is that search only provides part of the answer to a marketer's dreams. It successfully brings prospective buyers to the front door, but then what?
Search is just one step in the sale. It can come at various points in the process - early on, triggered by an ad, for example, which creates curiosity, or later, with a self-motivated prospect that is actively evaluating options. Regardless of what psychological frame of mind the prospect is in, search cannot and does not do the sales job. Search can only successfully bring people to your door. They knock, the door opens, and then the rest of the process ensues. The problem is that after they click, when the door opens, there is often nobody there to greet them.
Usually our inquisitive searcher is met by a traditional Web site, complete with calcified, brochure-style Web thinking. Rarely is the experience designed to persuasively sell, find out what the prospect is looking for, take the prospect on the next step of the journey, and continue the sales process. Therefore, the process stops. You have spent lots of money guiding a potential buyer into a brick wall.
Of course, the presumption is that the prospect is sufficiently motivated to spend the time and effort to figure out your conventional site. The home page presents every choice someone would want to make. Next step? The consumer has to figure out what to investigate, what to click on first, what questions to ask, and what products to research and consider.
Time is valuable, and no one wants to work at deciphering a marketing piece. If customers have to figure out what to look at first, or find the most effective route through a site, they will probably go to another site or use another resource to get the information they need, because that's too much work. When it comes to marketing, the onus is on the brand to set the stage for prospects, engage them, and walk them through the pitch.
Before the Internet, advertisers had been trained to have low expectations. They saw advertising as a complex tapestry of frequency and exposure, where no single tactic, medium, or exposure could do the job. Now we have a medium that not only captures attention and directs it to the front door, but when the door opens, provides customers with a comprehensive, personalized presentation of the value proposition.
Marketers can tailor the pitch in real time according to what they know about the prospect - building the value proposition level by level, just like a good salesperson. In the broadband world, this can be an experience with the emotional impact of TV. Once opened, the Internet door can engage prospects and walk them through the entire sale - communicating more in one session than it used to in months of advertising.
The other side of search happens after someone clicks on a Google paid listing or a rich media banner. That ad leverages the Internet to provide the prospect with a more comprehensive, compelling, and personally relevant presentation of the value proposition than any other medium. Search can replicate your best pitch people and set them loose; there isn't a CEO out there who wouldn't prefer an army of great salespeople to loads of traditional advertising. While the search listing or ad is the invitation to a conversation, it also is the conversation.
Tony Quin is founder and CEO of IQ Interactive. (firstname.lastname@example.org)