Today, I'll continue the thread around marketing lessons learned from Google. And I'll look to broaden the scope in upcoming columns to include business principles and other miscellany. I also pledge to heed the words of Max Kalehoff, who commented on my last column, urging me to "keep it real" and share what Google has taught me/us NOT to do. In the meantime, please keep your input coming.
1. Brands can be answers. Last year, Eric Schmidt proclaimed that the Internet is a "cesspool" and "brands are how you sort (it) out." And Marrisa Mayer has said that "ads are answers, too." The bottom line is that on Google, ads don't feel like ads. They, to quote Brian Morrissey, "act like content."
To be successful on and off Google, marketers must position their brands as answers to their target customer's problems. The same way its sponsored link on Google can be an answer to the query "Vegan Restaurant Chicago," Lake Side Cafe should/does own the entire "vegan Chicago" category by extending its brand to foster the full line of vegan lifestyle needs, from community advocacy to "life surfing" classes.
2. Your USP is critical. On Google, marketers have 95 characters to stand out from the crowd and capture a click. There's no better way/reason to distill your entire brand to one unique sales proposition than to position yourself favorably against your competitors -- and, in turn, boost your click rate and quality score -- on Google.
This lesson has legs well beyond Google though. These days, everyone is looking to capture the lighting-in-a-bottle that is positive word-of-mouth viral marketing. The only way to activate WOM is to have a USP so simple and powerful that it can be passed along from person to person -- like pre-schoolers playing "telephone" -- without the message getting lost in translation.
If you think back to all the good slogans that have been created over the years -- like "Milk: It Does a Body Good" or "Change We Can Believe In" -- what makes them work is that they're both timely and timeless. When it comes to capturing a click on a SERP or creating an enduring brand legacy, a little inspiration goes a long way.
3. Your competition is broader than you think. Speaking of standing out from your competitors, it's always eye-opening to show a traditional marketer who they're competing against for their core brand and category terms on Google. I was once in front of a group of brand managers at a global Fortune 500 CPG who were shocked to see that their channel "partners" -- retailers that sold this company's products -- were buying their brand terms. Offline, these folks may be partners but, on Google, they're competing for the same keywords -- and driving up the cost-per-click -- like any other competitor.
Google has famously been called a "frenemy" by Martin Sorrell. From a brand's point of view, in this brave new world of free information -- and universal access to that information -- the frenemy label can be applied to any "answer" your target customers may turn to other than yours in their quest to solve a problem.
4. You can learn a lot from a query. I've writtenextensively about all the various ways to use search data beyond SEM. In fact, I'll be presenting on this topic along with my colleagues from Resolution Media, Google, and comScore, at the upcoming OMMA Global conference in New York on Sept. 21. In that session, we'll see a case study on how Pier 1 Imports tapped the treasure trove of consumer data that is Google to modify its marketing mix and successfully stimulate sales.
Whether it's defining your target audience or deciding what markets to support, Google data trumps the old Sterling Cooper way of producing advertising -- e.g., focus groups, going with the creative director's gut feel or, as in last week's episode of "Mad Men," gaining insight from a "higher" source.
5. Sex sells. There's no doubt that Google's been a boon for the "adult" industry -- although "experts" claim Bing "outperforms" Google in porn and my recent "research" (oy vey, my hands are getting tired from all these finger quotes!) has certainly proven Bing is serious about its porn.
Nonetheless, Google, by virtue of its sheer volume and market share, has created unthinkable distribution for the various purveyors of porn, who used to rely on unmarked brown packages to get their product in the hands of their customers. Studies have shown that in some countries over 6% of all Google queries are sexually explicit. Sometimes this has unfortunate consequences for the Google ecosystem. But these folks wouldn't be advertising if people weren't buying -- it just goes to show you that sex indeed sells.
Of course, we didn't really need Google to teach us this lesson, as sex has been selling in advertising for years -- I remember reading case studies in college about subliminal messages in ads like graphic images in ice cubes. Although, as Don Draper reminds us in season two of "Mad Men," "You feeling something. That's what sells. Not them. Not sex."
Stay tuned for my next column, when I cover five more marketing lessons from Google:
1. Altruism sells.
2. Show off your assets.
3. The more shelf-space, the better.
4. Make your company a great story (courtesy of reader David Chu).
5. Don't rely on SEM alone (courtesy of reader Amy Oliver).