Perspective

Eight Brand Imperatives for Search

There has been a seismic shift in the balance of marketing power in the last ten years.

There has been a seismic shift in the balance of marketing power in the last ten years. Today’s consumers are more in control than ever, with unparalled access to information and to each other, and unparalleled control to see what matters to them – and avoid what doesn’t. They curate their own journeys to purchase, creating a Consumer-to-Brand economy.

Search and performance play an outsized role in the C2B economy. Today, two-thirds of brand touchpoints are consumer-driven, including search, 3rd party sites, and social media. Command of performance-driven media and creative will give adept marketers – and their agencies – an advantage in driving growth and relevance with their customers.

Dentsu Aegis Network has emerged as a force in search and performance marketing in the consumer-driven economy. We believe this dominance was underscored when Forrester named three Dentsu Aegis agencies – 360i, iProspect and Merkle – as leaders in its Search Marketing Agencies Wave, Q4 2017.

In this piece, 360i, iProspect and Merkle each offer their top three best practices for search marketing today, given a collective 30+ years of experience on the subject developing their own distinct approaches.

Put people first

Our experts agree: today’s customers demand relevance in the moment. And advertisers demand precision in their budget placement and program performance. Marketers must put customers at the center of their performance strategy to maximize return on investment.

Marketers should be moving towards taking a people-based approach – with the understanding that optimal search targeting should focus on the individual. It’s critical to use individual-level data in order to assign each search activity a journey path, incorporating actual and inferred user intent. By customizing the user’s journey path, marketers can provide personalized experiences and prioritize ad placement and budget.

Remember, it’s about people, not platforms. When modeling consumer intent, pair smart bid technology with first-, second-, and third-party data to categorize individuals into segments ranging from unknown audiences to fully-known individuals. By putting people first, you can maximize the value of your search program. – Merkle

Traditionally search marketer strategies have started with keywords, but an important advancement is at play that has informed our strategic direction- taking an audience and consumer first approach to targeting and measurement. Instead of starting with own-able keywords get a clear understanding of the type of consumers you want to reach first, and then customize your search plans to specifically target those people. For example, marketers can glean rich audience insights by feeding first-party CRM data into bid platforms where they can study the search behavior of their current customers to influence future marketing initiatives. Most importantly, create opportunities to have personal one to one connections with your customers. By focusing on the audience, marketers can focus on creating the optimal consumer experience. – 360i

Look outside the auction to win the auction

Understanding your audience is only half of the battle. The hard part is connecting with them throughout their various stages of intent to build resonance and provide value. You have to look outside of the auction to win the auction. As search marketers, we need to capture all the intent signals our audience is triggering to make the proper connection. Paid search is so competitive, it’s not enough to look at traditional metrics or behaviors to drive strategy. Is the consumer in the discovery phase, or the transactional phase? Have they previously engaged with the client’s brand? If so, in what capacity or on what device? Are they experiencing traffic? What’s the weather around them like? These signals should be closely monitored to ensure brands are reaching consumers with relevancy to answer their search queries. If done properly, it will make the appropriate connection via tailored creative messaging to guide the conversation and drive business results. – 360i

Match the audience and intent with authentic content

Winning the auction and properly reaching your target audience means nothing if you’re not maintaining relevancy with your creative messaging. Digital conversations are two-way; we’re listening to consumer needs and responding with the exact messaging to continue the dialogue. Search marketers should be building ad copy matrixes to tailor messaging to specific consumers within certain audience segments who have provided unique intent triggers. This process must continuously be tested and refined to ensure brands keep generating quality traffic to their sites. Finally, it’s paramount to not just deliver on the consumer’s intent, but also minimize the length of their path to conversion. In the end, the whole experience should be seamless and worry-free for the consumer. – 360i

Use customizable bid technology/machine learning

Technology matters. Given that marketers have multiple KPIs that define their business success, it’s important to have a bid technology that is customizable and can optimize based on many variables.

Get granular. Look for a search tool that has the analytics and technology to intelligently model for broad data trends across your search program, while also going more granular to understand performance nuances at every level. Look for a bid tool that analyzes individual, click-level data and leverages machine learning to evaluate performance across audience, device, keyword, product type, and many more variables.

Be nimble. It’s also important for marketers to have the ability to measure and react to data quickly. By using a bid tool that makes adjustments on an hourly basis, advertisers will gain competitive advantage and drive sustainable performance. - Merkle

Develop a content-led strategy to ensure success as search continues to evolve

Everything we do as digital marketers is underpinned by content—and in today’s Expectation Economy, where consumers have more control over how and when they consume content than ever before, personalization is no longer optional, it’s mandatory. You must leverage the massive data provided by search and social signals to create robust, ongoing content that is aligned with your consumers’ wants and needs (as demonstrated by both declared and inferred intent).

Every piece of content is built to be not only sharable, but discoverable. More and more searches are taking place “outside the search box,” so it’s critical to optimize content for other consumer discovery paths such as voice search and image search. However, customizing every point of consumer interaction, from site content, offers, and even inbound telephone opportunities, provides the most relevant information possible at every step of the journey and makes it easy for the customer to take the next step along the path from interest to purchase to loyalty.

As consumer connection points continue to evolve, content and context are the foundation that delivers success in each new entry point. Marketers should work with their agencies to build and optimize content that fuels the knowledge graph on each search engine, voice search, digital assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant, and even IoT devices. By harnessing the data surrounding each interaction point, marketers can create intelligent content that scales across established and emerging touch points, delivering performance for today and future-proofing their businesses. – iProspect

Leverage channel experts and industry knowledge to deliver truly integrated media plans

Optimal search targeting should start with PII data wherever possible to focus on the individual, incorporating integrated, anonymized individual-level data that allows you to assign each search activity a journey path, incorporating actual and inferred user intent. By customizing the user’s journey path, you can provide personalized creative and landing page experiences, and prioritize ad placement and budget.

This approach to consumer intent modeling is core to the idea of people-based marketing, where you apply consumer intent modeling to known, semi-known, and unknown audiences, through a mixture of proprietary technology (like M1) with first-, second-, and third-party data, as well as intent models and audience profiles. By focusing on the individual, you deliver optimal customer experiences. - Merkle

Activate a global team for true international reach

Every country and city is unique, and the nuances of cultures around the world cannot yet be truly solved for by automated tools or algorithms. By leveraging a team of digital marketers across the globe, you can customize ad messaging, targeting, content, seasonality, and dozens of other campaign elements for each location, thereby maximizing performance and delivering consistency worldwide. A culture of collaboration is imperative to share best practices and channel/tool insights seamlessly in order to improve program performance, leverage global learnings to fuel constant testing, and deliver a consistent brand experience for large global brands. - iProspect

Optimize for a Voice-driven future

Today, a quarter of searches are done using voice instead of text, and in less than three years, more than half of all searches will be spoken rather than typed. Voice interaction is growing rapidly as individuals no longer need to learn new behaviors to use technology. Now, the technology is coming to them.

Connected home devices provide an even richer opportunity for brands, but also present challenges of how to present brand content to consumers when there are limited advertising opportunities, with the only point of interaction and output being audio. Voice has to be useful and go beyond what people are asking for to ascertain what a user really needs to know. For Alexa specifically, only 11% of skills are still used after the first few weeks because most are still novelties and there is no visual reminder of the application like on a smartphone screen.

Skills are the next evolution of apps, which will notably evolve as people become more comfortable using Voice on laptops or other devices. For voice interactions today, brands need to prioritize three things: keep it simple, valuable and memorable.

The future of search is Voice, representing an exciting new way to connect with an individual in their moment of need. - iProspect