Google -- along with Forbes Insights -- conducted the study after service companies, such as Accenture, IBM, FedEx, General Electronic, Siemens and UPS, came to Google asking for help to reach C-level executives at large corporations. They wanted to know if these high-level executives spend time on the Internet, and if they do, what type of content they might consume.
Stereotypes may have C-level executives delegating research to others, but the study reveals that 53% prefer to search the Web and locate information themselves. Sam Sebastian, director of local and B2B marketing, says easy-to-use tools and personal accountability may have something to do with C-level executives taking personal responsibility to research information themselves. "That might be signing and authorizing financial statements," he says. "They are taking much more personal responsibility."
And while executives are also more likely to click links from content than ads, the less intrusive the ad, the more likely they are to follow the link. For example, 86% said they occasionally or frequently click on linked words from Web articles and content, 58% click on paid search listings in search engine results, 53% click on Web site banner ads, and 37% click on pop-up or other interruptive ads from Web sites.
More than four in ten -- 41% -- of executives under age 50 say they will frequently click on paid search listings, compared with 6% of those 50 or over. A similar split occurs with Web site banner ads, with 34% of those under 50 clicking frequently, while just 2% of those age 50 or over say they do.
Executives were also asked to rate the value of different online and offline information sources. Across the board, search engines were considered more important than other options for locating information, including interacting with colleagues. Eighty-seven percent rated general search engines as very valuable, followed by guidance from colleagues at work, 77%; guidance from personal networks, 65%; links from online content, 58%; subscription search engines, 54%; and guidance from outside advisors, 53%.
Marketers looking to catch the eye of C-level executives might have a better chance with video than text if they are under age 50. Thirty-three percent of C-level executives under age 50 reveal that they view work-related videos daily on business-related Web sites, compared with 11% of those age 50-plus. This will increase as the next generation of CEOs, CFO and COOs move in.
"Today, you might not reach a bunch of CEOs and CFOs with blogs, RSS feeds or Twitter, but these online tools will be mainstream as the next crop move in during the next couple of years," Sebastian says. "We will see many enter that camp in another 24 to 36 months, and it will have a huge impact on the way companies reach these executives."
Forbes Insights, along with Google, surveyed 354 U.S. company executives with annual sales exceeding $1 billion during March and April this year. In the one-on-one interviews, 47% held C-level titles. The remaining 53% held senior-level titles, including EVP, VP and director.