According to various Internet analytics firms, Google pulls in anywhere from 40 percent to about 80 percent of Web searches, giving it the muscle to do as it pleases online. Part of that rule-setting process includes allowing any marketer to bid on any search term, regardless of whether the word is a competitor’s company or product name. It’s no wonder then that big brand marketers are concerned about online cannibalization of their trademarks.
Robert Crigler, director of interactive marketing at Orkin, the pest control company, discussed the ramifications of this SEM challenge and suggested a couple lines of attack for brand marketers interested in fighting back.
Target Marketing: How are lesser known firms using branded companies’ prominence for their own SEM gains?
Rob Crigler: One of the things that obviously concerns [brands] is that the market can be highly fragmented; there are a lot of mom and pop [businesses]. So on a regional basis, a smaller competitor can be buying “Orkin,” for example, in Atlanta or in their regional market and be getting exposure, even though we’re the ones spending millions of dollars to essentially build our brand equity and, somewhat, the category. They can ride on top of that by taking a lower position … that is certainly visible but that basically originated around our brand.
It really becomes something where companies are competing and driving up the price of even your brand terms. When people search on “Orkin,” they’ve already figured out they have a pest problem and in some ways decided they have a preference for Orkin. And then right before that last capture-demand moment when we want to drive [prospects] to the site and sign up for service, we have companies exposing them to a message that I’d rather them not see. The same scenario applies to any brand.
TM: How can marketers defend their brands in SEM?
RC: One of the ways is by crowding the search space with “friendlies.” A friendly is someone who is either positively aligned or neutrally aligned with your site; they could just be a reseller or an information site. So [a prospect] is continuing to be exposed to your brand message and brand attributes rather than a competitive environment.
TM: Is there any difference in cannibalization between paid versus organic search?
RC: There are differences depending on where [prospects] are in the consideration cycle or their propensity to use either paid or organic. You still see organic outperforming paid, but you have a difficult time [developing an organic program]. That’s the sexy part of paid: You have to buy it to be there. Where organic is more ethereal, you have to build content and link things, organize your information architecture in a way that allows you to properly show up for terms that are most relevant for what drives your business. There’s no guarantee that you’ll be there [with organic search]. Understanding the mix, when you have both an organic and a paid listing on the page, how do you moderate your spend … all these are pretty tricky dynamics.
And it’s further complicated by lead aggregators entering the channel, where they essentially could be reselling a lead to multiple sources. Therefore, they have a higher marginal utility and can bid higher than you can if you’ve only got one shot to sell that person, but they’ve got six shots to sell that lead; it changes the dynamics of what you can do versus what they can do. It really forces you to understand the conversion dynamics of your program and maybe move away from those large head words that may drive a lot of volume but might be early in the consideration cycle and not ultimately attributable to conversion—at least not immediately.
TM: Are brand-oriented keywords to be avoided then?
RC: There’s no doubt having a brand presence is a tremendous value in search. It allows you to understand behavior at a different level. Even looking at the gross amount of search around your brand compared to a competitor can give you an overall performance indirectly of your brand weight. So, it really changes the scale at which you can address your program. Usually brand words work very well, so it can be a cost-effective thing. But there are some risks with marketers being exposed at a point in the consideration cycle that might be a fairly good time for conversion.
TM: Any other advice you can offer to brand marketers?
RC: You just have to have a robust search program. There are other opportunities that are starting to emerge that shape brand message around early consideration points in search. I’m talking about getting there early, whether or not you get the click, but actually using the vehicle as a brand opportunity—like a media, except that you can strategically place your brand message around a behavior that might be a precursor to something that relates to your brand or your company’s products and services. [Leveraging brand in SEM] is about … really quantifying your brand presence a little earlier than you might think of now, rather than focusing on head keywords. It’s a cat-and-mouse-and-dog game, with the search engine also in the mix.