Online Search Can Be Powerful for CPG Branding

A new study on several consumer packaged goods categories demonstrates the power of online search in supporting branding, as well as building traffic.

The study, conducted by comScore, Inc. in partnership with Procter & Gamble, Yahoo and the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization, analyzed search's contribution to building Web site traffic and surveyed the motivations of visitors who used search to reach sites versus those who did not.

The categories studied were baby care, personal care, home care and packaged food.

The study found that a majority of U.S. consumers visited Web sites for CPG products during the three months ending April 07--a notable fact in itself.

In addition, the results confirm that significant percentages of consumers do arrive at all of these categories' sites via search.

Nearly half (47% or 43.8 million) of the 93.7 million unique site visitors to food product sites were generated by search. In addition, searches generated 60% (15.7 million) of baby product sites' 26 million total uniques; 27% (9.8 million) of personal care products' 35.9 million uniques, and 23% (1.7 million) of household products' 7.3 million uniques.



Furthermore, surveyed about why they visited CPG sites, searchers proved to be significantly more involved in obtaining product information and had higher category engagement than non-searchers.

Nearly three-quarters (73%) of unique search-driven visitors across all of the sites, versus 58% of non-searchers, reported motivations falling into the general category of seeking product information or help (find more information about products, learn about new products, compare competitive products, find consumer and professional product reviews).

Nearly two-thirds (64%) of searchers, versus 44% of non-searchers, reported visiting sites for purposes of getting help with their purchase decisions (including getting/comparing products and finding where to buy a product locally).

Viewing companies' official Web sites was cited as a purpose by 29% of searchers and 22% of non-searchers.

Non-searchers, on the other hand, were more likely to be going to the sites to reveal special product offers/promotions: 59% cited this reason, versus 47% of searchers.

P&G Search Innovation Manager Randy Peterson says the research underscores the opportunity to leverage search for more than just direct response marketing. "Search may be one of the most effective means of reaching qualified consumers when and where they are most receptive to learning about our brands," he commented. "Ultimately, this drives off-line sales."

Branding guru Al Ries of Ries & Ries says he's surprised that household products did not have much higher numbers--that this category drew just 5% of the total 163 million unique visitors across categories, and just 2% of the 71 million total search-driven visitors across categories.

Ries notes that it would be revealing to see data on which actual products were being searched for. "My guess is that most respondents were searching for the new and different rather than the old and familiar," he says. "For example, diet pills rather than diet soda. In terms of brands, Alli rather than Aleve."

Search, Ries adds, "is not a strategy, it's a tactic. It's useful in some situations and not so useful in others. In general, a company needs to create awareness of a new category by other means--generally PR--before consumers are going to search for that particular category.

"Many companies make the mistake of thinking that the Internet is the answer to their branding problems," Ries continues. "Like every other marketing question, it all depends on the category. For example, Anheuser-Busch spent a fortune on their Bud.TV site [a big chunk of its overall $40 million on Internet marketing in 2007, according to analyst speculations in Investor's Business Daily], with little to show for it. Instead of visiting the Web site, the typical Bud drinker is down at the tavern watching the World Series."

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