New Research Validates Search For CPG Marketers

Research conducted by comScore with Procter & Gamble, Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization(SEMPO), and Yahoo continues to validate what we in the search marketing industry have felt in our gut since the beginning: Search drives sales. Not just e-commerce transactions but sales of consumer packaged goods (CPG) as well.

A majority of U.S. consumers visited Web sites for CPG product categories during the three months ending April 2007, with search driving a significant percentage of visitors in all categories, according to the study. Nearly 75 percent of searchers are motivated by product research, just over 60 percent seek help with the purchase decision, 47 percent look for promotions, and just 29 percent seek the CPG company’s Web site.

To assure validity, the study followed several CPG categories, including baby care, personal care, home care, and packaged food. Baby care products in particular have a high proportion of consumers relying on search to get to CPG category sites; 60 percent of these site visitors originate from search. My hypothesis: A baby’s arrival creates a sudden household need for information that wasn’t previously required. When people are faced with unfamiliar issues, search becomes the behavior of choice. (In fact, since becoming a father, I’ve relied on search many times for parental subject matter.)

This week, SEMPO did a deeper dive into the same data and released additional results. Both the original findings and the incremental data are extremely positive for the industry and for CPG marketers. While CPG marketers have traditionally embraced the Internet, many are often still unsure as to where search fits into the marketing mix. The results of this study should alleviate much doubt.

We all think of CPG-related searches as being very brand-specific and many searches are, but clearly not all consumers are looking for a brand alone. Instead, they research how that brand may help them solve a problem. If the search query results in a SERP (define) where neither the CPG company nor one of its retailers is listed (organically or in the paid results), there’s a significant chance the consumer will find content created by someone who may not share positive, impartial, or accurate information about the product. For reputation management, search clearly belongs in a brand manager’s strategic plan.

Lift in brand metrics is great, but increased sales marks the ultimate measure of an ad medium’s success and importance. Nothing gets the executive suite’s attention more than research that correlates sales to a media or advertising opportunity.

The study’s best news validates that search drives sales, even given the current modest levels of spending by CPG companies. The research shows that searchers (compared to those who arrive at the CPG site through other means) are more interested in gathering information that leads to a purchase decision. Specifically, 40 percent of searchers look for information to “help me make a purchase decision” while only 28 percent of other site visitors are motivated by such a desire.

It gets better: searchers spend approximately 20 percent more than nonsearchers across the four categories studied. These positive skews may simply be correlations or may be causal as a result of the search behavior. Or, they may be because searchers generally spend more — even when navigating directly to sites. In any case, the CPG marketing strategy remains the same: get in front of searchers to influence them positively toward your brand.

Clearly, searchers expect to find information that will assist them in making purchase decisions. If CPG marketers aren’t proactive, relinquishing message control to their retailers or the blogosphere, they may miss a major opportunity.

After asking for more information about brand advocacy and related post-search behavior, SEMPO’s research team uncovered some interesting trends. More than 50 percent of search site visitors describe themselves as “brand advocates” who share recommendations with friends and family. In contrast, only 38 percent of nonsearchers described themselves that way.

In a world of proliferating user-generated content showing up on Facebook and MySpace pages, as well as discussion forums, a searcher’s brand advocacy has a residual effect because brand advocates are often influencers beyond their family and offline friends. “More than 50 percent of these brand advocates [approximately 26 percent of the total searcher audience] write about their purchases online, with 90 percent writing something positive,” said Gord Hotchkiss, SEMPO chairman.

We’ve known for years that curiosity manifests itself as search behavior. An issue or question that a decade ago might have stimulated a phone call or a dinner discussion now sends the search-savvy audience to a search engine to get their questions answered. The question isn’t, “Should CPG marketers be in search?” It’s really whether can they afford not to be.

Issues to be resolved include hard versus soft dollars, whether CPGs prefer product information to be pushed out to retailer sites, and whether organic and paid listings should be co-managed between the retail and brand owner. Retailers generally aren’t exclusive to one brand, which would suggest that the brands themselves should manage and control their digital shelf space in the SERPs.

Meet NAME at SES Chicago on December 3-6.

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

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