E-commerce Link: Convergence Culture
Brand manager? Direct marketer? PR professional? Which of these are you? If you're in marketing today, you're all of these people and more. The new marketing ecosystem is forcing marketers of all trades to look beyond their specific marketing disciplines and embrace a world of marketing without borders among disciplines. Online search is just one of the countless new phenomena that are forcing the convergence of all marketing disciplines, changing how they interact with each other and, consequently, changing how we as marketers need to interact with each other.
In reality, there are no marketing revolutions, only a slow evolution wherein advances in technology simply amplify human behavior that's already there. Technology has not really changed fundamental consumer behavior lately. Rather, it's making interactions with the world easier and more fluid. Yet marketers do need to change and adapt.
Search as a Mash-Up
So what really has changed? Is it that consumers are now interacting via personal online spaces like blogs, social networks and everything else that Web 2.0 gurus want to put claim to? Not really, unless you've forgotten letters to the editor or conversations in the local pub.
The Internet didn't create consumer interaction; it simply amplified it and brought it closer to everyone that's interested in it. But even that's not the big change.
In the old days, communications from consumers didn't go far and didn't stay around for long. Today, many of these communications are archived somewhere online. And while it's new, there's nothing earth-shattering about this either.
The fundamentally profound change is in online search. The Internet allows anyone to say just about anything about anyone. Search brings all of that together under a single roof. It provides consumers with access to just about everything everyone has to say about your brand-good and bad. Search is the glue of the Internet and personal interaction.
Managing the Collision Course of Good, Bad and Ugly
What happens when you advertise online? Run a general advertising campaign on TV or anything else that distributes your message? It generates search activity! After your message somehow touches Jane, she searches for more information.
Yet what Jane gets is not just your message; rather she receives direct access to what other consumers are saying about you, what the competition is doing and just about everything else related to your brand:
- Jane searches for your brand online and can't find you. You've just made a negative brand impression. It's a huge favor to your competitors. You've just encouraged Jane to make two additional clicks and find someone else who can deliver what you promised. That's branding.
- Jane searches for your brand and finds her way to dozens of negative reviews about your customer service. Bingo-search just converged with customer service (establishing the problem and not fixing it on time), PR (properly addressing the problem once it got public) and branding (the search result created a negative brand impression). How does that impact her purchase decision?
- Jane searches for your brand online and there you are, right on top of the search results with an attractive offer. It's just what she was looking for. You've made a profitable, measurable and accountable sale, and a positive brand impression.
How about when Jane doesn't search for your brand but rather a generic keyword describing your product or service? Jane searches for mattresses online. She finds your brand on the No. 1 spot. That's branding. The search engine just told Jane that your brand is the synonym for mattresses. Also, you've presented her with a relevant offer, just in the right time. She clicks. She buys. That's direct marketing at its best, coupled with branding.
Unfortunately, it's never that easy. In most cases, interactive marketers need to worry about getting their information/ads on top, fighting the negative feedback and fighting their competitors - all at the same time.
Getting Your Hands Dirty
The convergence of marketing disciplines is upon us. Here's how you can manage the challenge.
First, stop treating search engine marketing purely as a sales or acquisition channel. Give it a strategic position in your organization, impacting both sales and brand. Search cannot be managed simply on the basis of how much revenue it generates; the full scope of its impact needs to be understood - even the "soft" and less measurable parts.
Second, establish a cross-channel and cross-discipline SEM "board" in your company. Here's the composition: Representatives of key marketing stakeholders, like brand managers; customer service, interactive and sales channel managers; the PR department; the call center department; and anyone else who has a stake in how your organization communicates and is seen by the market.
The board should discuss individual, search-driven issues, goals and other items important to various stakeholders. Develop a list of strategic "keywords of importance" to individual departments. You'll quickly see differences in what all of these people deem important. Your direct marketers will focus on keywords that have been proven to generate revenue at an acceptable cost. The brand-focused pros might want to focus on money-losing keywords that would position the brand better.
A New, Holistic Strategy
Analyze all of your brand keywords, checking the number of searches for those keywords. Next, check the percentage of those searches that become your visitors. Simply calculate the total number of clicks on your paid search ads and the number of visitors to your site via the organic results (which you will get from your online analytics solution). The higher the percentage, the better you are doing.
Analyze search results for all strategic keywords on the list. Next, create a set of goals for each individual keyword based on input from all stakeholders. Individual goals per keyword might consist of:
- Maximize profits: Only ROI and return on ad spend (ROAS) matter. You don't care about ad position or competitors on results pages; all you want is positive return.
- Achieve total dominance or perceived leadership: You want the No. 1 position on the results page and all the positions on the first page of results covered by your sites. This would usually be a branding decision, with the brand vying for results page dominance without paying much attention to direct profits.
- Maximize traffic: You want to spread a specific message very quickly to the market-get as many visitors as possible, not caring much about the position or the ROAS.
- Be present: You just want to be there, competing with the rest, but not necessarily getting on top.
- Defend: A PR and/or customer service concern. It's all about identifying problematic search results and trying to push them down the page.
This is just a start but a start that will help you overcome the pitfalls of investing in a "siloed" search mentality.
Get With It
Everything about the corporate organization is converging: Direct marketing, PR, branding, HR and customer service are forced together. Marketers need an overarching plan that takes this into consideration, an umbrella that keeps all of our marketing disciplines dry when it starts to rain.
Jeff Molander is principal of Molander & Associates Inc., a digital marketing and media firm offering investment and budget allocation advice to marketing and financial executives. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and blogs at jeffmolander.com.
Also contributing to this column is Rok Hrastnik, the international Internet director at Studio Moderna, the largest DRTV retailer in Central and Eastern Europe. He manages e-commerce operations across 19 countries and leads a team of 80 Internet marketing experts. He can be reached at email@example.com.