Increasingly marketers have come to view search as more than just a direct marketing vehicle. In 2007, expect this view to continue gaining momentum, bringing with it several changes, including the emergence of significant efforts to integrate search into the marketing mix.
Local breakout… and tie-in
The year 2007 will be the breakout year for local search. For one thing, the three biggest search engines—Google, MSN, and Yahoo!—now provide marketers with scalable local targeting of search ads. Although Google has been doing this for two years, the stakes are raised now that MSN and Yahoo! offer similar functionality. This provides critical mass, providing more incentive for marketers to seek ways to gain efficiency by adding geo-targeting to improve conversion rates.
Any marketer whose products are sold locally can benefit from local search strategies. In fact, it’s ironic that so many larger retailers that have built businesses store by store have taken so long to embrace search as a vehicle for connecting with consumers locally. Do a search for a national store brand and a specific city, and you might find a local white-page listing or a map link on the major search engines, but you’re highly unlikely to find a sponsored listing highlighting local retail options.
Silos within companies have slowed integration in the past. Online marketers are typically tasked solely with and evaluated upon the volume of online sales vs. the cost of online spend. So it comes as no surprise that few online store-locator applications are optimized for natural search. There are also few major multichannel brands making the effort to target local searchers. Yet a growing body of research and simple observations of one’s own behavior show that online research (supported by online marketing spend) frequently leads consumers to an offline purchase (for which the online channel receives no credit).
So with local search achieving critical mass and untargeted keyword bids becoming increasingly competitive, look for retailers, franchisers, and even manufacturers with local distribution to seek ways to create a more seamless and integrated online-to-offline experience for searching consumers in the coming year.
Mobile and other factors driving integration
Mobile search marketing will begin to gain steam and further the concept of channel integration in 2007. While some mobile marketing opportunities use links to mobile-compatible Websites, most mobile marketing involves a phone number and therefore requires a contact center. Some marketers have been tying their Websites and contact centers together with dynamic, trackable 800-numbers that relate transactions back to the advertising source, be it a specific search keyword, an affiliate link, or a banner ad. For these marketers, the transition to mobile should be an easy next step.
As we move into 2007, mobile search marketing is where local search was a year or two ago: lots of buzz but not much honey. Some marketers tested early to gauge local search’s potential and gained information as early adopters that they have been able to scale as the local opportunity has grown. Aggressive marketers should do the same with mobile search in 2007. Those that test in 2007 will likely find cost-effective opportunities and position themselves for long-term success as the channel gains greater traction and more widespread adoption among consumers in the future.
In 2006 we witnessed Google’s initial “betas” in such offline media as print, television, and radio, laying the groundwork for Google to bring its performance-pricing model to more-traditional advertising channels. The question that begs an answer here is who will adapt most quickly to these developments.
Traditional agencies may be threatened by the introduction of performance-marketing models, metrics, and accountability into these channels. On the other hand, Google’s closest partners to date have been search marketers that have grown up with the performance-pricing model. They are well equipped to manage performance media but often have little direct experience with traditional media buying. This may result in a rush to the center, but the winning marketers will find ways to leverage the various strengths of all their agency partners.
Marketers seeking to capitalize on new search opportunities in 2007 and beyond should allocate resources for proactive testing and adoption of emerging search channels. They should also directly address organizational silos that create discontinuities in the searching consumer’s online-to-offline experience. As new horizons open up, those who proactively take these steps will be positioned to leap ahead, further their own experience, and grab a growing share of the expanding online market.
Cam Balzer is vice president of strategic planning at Performics, the Chicago-based performance marketing division of DoubleClick, and a monthly contributor to CHIEF MARKETER. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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