The Benefits Of Serendipity

So much of search marketing is about creating the right combination of factors to get consumers’ attention: Hours spent planning keyword campaigns and branded search terms might lead a customer to your doorstep. But don’t discount the happy accident.

Every now and then, consumers happen upon a brand by accident. Either they were searching for something else, accidentally clicked on an ad or search result, or just noticed something interesting on Facebook or Instagram. Such serendipitous discovery can mean additional business, and with more consumers spending more time exploring the Internet aimlessly, it may be wise to plan for it.

Search — like all marketing — does not exist in a vacuum. Consumers use many different types of media at different times (and sometimes at the same time), and each one is a new way to get discovered. In a blog post about its annual “State of Search” report, Forrester analyst Collin Colbourn noted serendipitous discovery, through channels such as Facebook and TV, will continue to eat away at search’s impact in getting consumers to learn about products and brands in places where they hadn’t overtly been looking for it.



Indeed, Instagram last year began testing a mechanism that let brands tag products in in-feed images. The feature, according to an Instagram executive, was in response to user comments looking to identify products in photos. The pilot, which ran through the holiday season, was a way for the social network to get ahead of serendipitous discovery, Vishal Shah, Instagram director of product management, told AdExchanger.

In marketing terms, of course, getting people to know about your brand is simply “brand awareness.” But it’s still a key factor in getting consumers to choose one product over another. Last November, WE Communications and YouGov published a study demonstrating that “unintentional discoveries” could influence brand perceptions positively, provided they were surrounded by the right content.

When planning for serendipitous discovery, it’s important to have a comprehensive content strategy. It’s important that all content, whether intentional or serendipitous, reinforce positive brand attributes in consumers’ minds. Rather than simply putting out content that’s informative, therefore, brands should be looking for ways to drive some sort of emotional connection.

“Before a potential customer intentionally searches to make a purchase decision, their minds are already influenced by unintentional search,” wrote Emma Richards, vice president regional technology lead and business development for Asia Pacific, on WE Worldwide’s blog. “These are the moments when they come across an interesting article or piece of content that creates an emotional connection with the brand.”

Elsewhere, marketers should also note the importance of visual search and image recognition when it comes to serendipitous discovery, particularly on social networks. Smart hashtag planning and overall broader thinking about when and how a product can be discovered can be the difference between making a connection and leaving consumers cold, writes David Aponovich, senior director of digital experience at Acquia, on CMSwire.

“The rise of alternative search and discovery options doesn’t spell the end of the digital experience as we know it,” he says. “But it does mean that brand marketers need to expand their approach and make room for the ways today’s consumers interact with their surroundings.”

With as many as 60% of mobile banner ad clicks attributable to consumer mistakes (and more than two-thirds of those users feeling annoyed when they make such an error), it’s in your best interest to put your best self forward, and create a positive unintended consequence.
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