What is search's role in direct marketing campaigns?
The marketing role of search is to capture prospective customers who actively seek information in three generally applicable groups: brand, product and category information. Prospective consumers are searching for information at various stages of their conversion process. Each marketer approaches these categories differently. Many ignore a specific group because of notions about search and how it should be used. These marketers miss out on huge opportunities because the rules by which search is utilized are set by the marketplace.
A prospective customer uses search in several ways. Many begin searching for product information on a general level, typing words like “cell phone” or “jewelry” into a search engine to locate products they may want to purchase. These words describe a category of products and have a great amount of searches associated with them, often called “head” terms. Most prospective customers don't convert on head terms; they move to more specific terms.
In the case of someone looking to purchase a cell phone, this progression might lead to terms representing a particular type. These product-level terms narrow the prospective customer's consideration set and provide a price, features and benefits comparison. The final step in most search and purchase experiences is the search for the chosen product's brand. A consumer would search for Verizon Wireless for cell phones or Cartier for jewelry. The prospective customer purchase at this point is usually associated with the branded keyword, sometimes giving disproportionate weight to such names.
Should marketers spend their time and energy on branded terms, because of their place in the conversion process? Should they ignore the head terms and the product terms because the majority of conversions take place on the branded terms? The answer is no. Most marketers have figured out that a portfolio approach, which takes the high-cost head terms and low-cost brand terms and balances the keywords to arrive at a desirable success metric, is best. Many search marketers simply absorb the higher cost of head terms and reach consumers at every stage of the process.
Some marketers have avoided this approach and assign a cost to the brand, product and head terms, separately. This effectively reduces the sum a direct marketer would spend on all but the most efficient terms. Marketers should always opt for a portfolio approach, rather than restricting their campaigns to only one phase of the conversion process.
Andrew Lovasz is search marketing director for Moxie Interactive. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.