Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Search Insider: Search For Market Research And Consumer Insights

Search For Market Research And Consumer Insights

SEARCH MARKETING IS THE LINEAL descendant of direct mail marketing. While it is faster and cheaper than its snail mail progenitor, like all forms of direct marketing the most important ingredient of success is testing.

Whereas in real estate the three most important things are "location, location, location," in direct marketing, the three most important things are known to be "testing, testing, testing."

In the day of snail mail, the marketer was operating with scant data. Responses came in over 30 days, at best. Correlation lacked modern computing power. However, the pioneers of direct marketing, especially Lester Wunderman (author of a worthwhile autobiography titled "Being Direct"), evolved a successful marketing category that was as every bit as revolutionary in its day as the Internet is in ours. This success was built on an ingrained culture of testing and retesting, evolving the most effective lists and offers.

Modern search marketing has many advantages over its forebear. It is virtually immediate, almost infinitely scalable (given sufficient keyword discovery), and totally measurable. When optimized by systematic testing, it is the highest ROI marketing vehicle yet devised.

But even the best search marketers underutilize the power of search. This is because they fail to mine the great volume of data that search provides and to understand what that data reveals about the customer and his/her perception of the product or brand.

Unlike the old direct mail marketers who had too little current data about the user, today's online marketer has too much. Like the proverbial man trying to drink from a fire hose, the challenge is not to drown in data. But when keyword discovery is applied to the actual search terms that have led a user to a site, enormous insights can be gleaned. The users are literally telling us what keywords and attributes they associate with the brand; what they do and don't recall from brand advertising; and what is the nature of their purchase intent. Searchers can be segmented and targeted by multiple criteria, and new ad groups (with associated ad creative and landing pages) can be built out accordingly.

Search now has such enormous volume and ubiquity, that it is a reliable proxy for purposes of market research. Small search campaigns can test many aspects of a marketing campaign at low cost. Learnings from search can inform media selection and creative choices. Search belongs in the mix along with surveys, panel data and focus groups for those seeking to understand and shape brand perception.

But search is far less expensive than these other alternatives. Unlike surveys, panels and focus groups, search tests usually make money rather than cost money. Even more important, search testing reveals actual user behavior -- rather than intent or sentiment, as stated to an interviewer or survey team -- and hence is inherently more reliable.

As the economy faces difficulties, there is pressure on all media budgets to work harder. Search, uniquely among the media, can provide added value when utilized to gather research and test campaign elements. It's time for search marketers to capitalize on that added value and to exploit the full value of search.

Bob Heyman is Chief Search Officer at Mediasmith. He serves on the Search Marketing Committee of the American Association of Advertising Agencies and the B to B Marketing Committee of the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization. He is co-author of "Net Results" (New Riders) and "The Auction-App" (McGraw-Hill), with a a new book coming out in January, "Digital Engagement," (the American Management Association.)

Search Insider for Wednesday, November 12, 2008:

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