Supersize Search For Q4 and Beyond

From relative obscurity to Internet darling, search has emerged as a powerful tool in the marketing mix. According to Piper Jaffray’s latest estimates, worldwide revenues from paid listings and paid inclusion will balloon from $1.4 billion in 2002 to nearly $7 billion by 2007.

Why? Search offers marketers the opportunity to place a message in front of a qualified audience — those actively searching for something related to a particular product or service. Search also offers marketers something nearly as important: critical mass. Each day, U.S. consumers perform some 245 million Web searches. There are 550 million searches worldwide on over 50 million unique keywords. Some 70 percent of searches are informational, but commerce-related searches are expected to grow faster, percentage-wise, in coming years than any other search sector. This is critical in Q4 as we approach the holiday season. Can you say “opportunity”?

Before we hail search as the newest path to gold, remember the lessons of the past. Each medium has its strengths. The savviest marketers understand, leverage and integrate the strengths of each to drive customer actions, purchase and repurchase. They optimize ROI (return on investment) and customer LTV (long term value). Looking to make this Q4 a smashing success? Take note.

First and foremost, integrate marketing efforts. Optimize each and every opportunity. For search, this means understanding the limitations and leveraging other media’s strengths to build on the opportunity. Search does not reveal who’s searching, where they are in the purchase process or how to continue a dialogue with them. All are critical but unanswered questions. They can often be easily addressed when search is integrated with another killer app: email. Like search, email is sizzling. According to Forrester Research, marketers will spend $6.8 billion on email services by 2006 in the United States alone.

E-mail is the best application for creating highly effective, cost efficient, interactive dialogues with customers and potential prospects throughout the purchase process. You know who the recipients are. You learn more about them with each interaction — in real-time. Very few media can deliver that edge, not even search.

How can you leverage the power of search to find qualified prospects and, with the power of email, continue the dialogue this holiday season and beyond? It’s about integration and execution. Both can be overshadowed by the hype of the medium du jour.

Until now, search primarily meant sending qualified leads or interested parties to a Web site or product page. Billions are spent in the hope of converting just a fraction of that traffic. But if you’ve invested marketing dollars in finding those qualified leads, wouldn’t you want to know who they are? To learn more about them? To establish an ongoing dialogue? Enter email. Remember, 70 percent of all searches are informational. Shoppers search in all stages of the buying cycle. Treating search as if it were pure direct response marketing is fatal. Use search, your Web site and email together to facilitate a relationship throughout the buying process.

Q4 Integration & Execution Tips & Tricks

Step 1: Establish Goals & Success Metrics Lay out your Q4 strategy with the measurements of success. This includes both tangible elements: clicks, email addresses, purchase history; and the intangibles, like brand favorability and intent to purchase.

Step 2: E-Mail Data Capture and Need Value Proposition Maximize every interaction, starting now. Think of it as a Q4 resolution. You paid good money for every click, but that’s just the beginning. I propose every landing page for a search listing should capture the prospect’s email address. Offer something that’s relevant and of value to potential customers to encourage sign-ups. You may only capture a fraction of those individuals, but the ROI can be substantial when dialogue starts and continues throughout the year. Do the math: calculated cost, estimated conversion and lifetime value of each incremental customer.

Step 3: Timely, Contextually Relevant Dialogue Once you’ve captured an email address, initiate and sustain a dialogue by refining and adapting messaging based on the individual’s needs, profile and observed behavior or actions taken. Case in point: Bob opened and clicked on the digital camera offer on October 1, 2003, but didn’t purchase. So, offer Bob a rebate and free shipping if he buys the camera before December 5.

Step 5: Analysis and Intelligence One of the most difficult aspects of operating in an integrated world is tracking the success of individual efforts. To shed light on a multi-channel buyer, use customer surveys, match back analysis and special promotional codes for reference at a retail store or toll-free number. Measure and report the intangibles: brand favorability impact; future purchase intent and customer satisfaction are all critical marketing components that are too often ignored. Neither search nor email is a pure direct response medium.

Finally, as with any service enjoying skyrocketing popularity, search and email have attracted all sorts of vendors who promise the latest and greatest way to optimize your marketing efforts. Don’t get suckered in. Santa will leave you coal. Work with knowledgeable intermediaries who understand your goals, have proven technology that can help you integrate and automate your efforts, and most important, who understand your needs and the customer experience. There’s gold in them thar hills…if you don’t forget integrated marketing essentials.

Till Next Time.
Al

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