Yes, Virginia, There Is SEM Brand Lift, Part 2

Last week, I covered the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s (IAB’s) latest research on search engine marketing’s (SEM’s) effect on branding. It indicates pay-per-click (PPC) search listings can play an important role not only as a direct marketing vehicle but also as a branding medium.

Since the beginning of paid search listings advertising, marketers have acknowledged whatever brand lift search listings provide is essentially free. Preclick branding within search results occurs on an impression basis, and that’s free to marketers who pay by the click. Data on the brand value of listings were scarce and considered suspect (the source was the search engines). That’s no longer the case. Evidence of SERPs’ brand lift is finally tangible and undeniable.

To recap, the study found search listings (especially top position) had a significant upward lift on branding metrics, particularly in regard to unaided awareness. Respondents didn’t seem to consider sponsored listings as advertising, even though the listings were clearly marked as such. SERPs displayed the kind of lift one would expect to see with advertorial or PR. Contextual text banners (such as those served by Google’s AdSense, Overture’s Content Match, and Kanoodle’s ContextTarget) also provided lift in branding metrics.

Leveraging the Branding Lift

What should brand marketers do with this data, which proves search listings offer significant brand lift?

Some brand marketers are already involved with search; they should expand their programs. Those new to the medium should enter and buy listings to enhance their on- and offline branding campaigns.

For some of the largest brands, inventory levels for most search words directly attributed to their brands are quite low. Even Coke and Pepsi only see monthly searches in the 100,000 range for their brands and nearly none for generic terms such as “cola” and “thirst quencher.” Even if CTRs reach 10 percent, search spending and the total impressions only represent a drop in brand marketers’ buckets.

One way to expand a campaign is to associate brands with the problems they solve or attributes they wish to portray (“grass stain,” “sexy car,” “healthy meal,” “clear cellular,” “fast meal,” etc.). The upside of this strategy is the brander lifts unaided awareness at the precise time searchers are open to a message regarding a solution to their problem. The downside: Not much inventory is available for purchase.

Brand marketers eager to capitalize on search listings’ ability to lift brand awareness do have an alternative to low-volume keywords. Many major brands sponsor sports or entertainment. Sports and entertainment keywords are extremely high volume. In some cases, the CPCs for keywords associated with sports, sports personalities, TV shows, movie characters, or actors are reasonable compared to average CPCs.

If the brand has relevant content on its site (or can generate it inexpensively), the promotion sponsorship keywords (PSKs) are a powerful branding opportunity, particularly when coupled with the Branding Effectiveness Index (BEI). Brand marketers should look at PSKs the same way they do the promotions. The PSKs extend the promotion’s or sponsorship’s value and multiply the brand’s visibility in relation to the original promotion, sports event, person, or entertainment.

How to Use PSKs

Some examples of what marketers should do with their PSKs:

  • Coke should buy “American Idol,” the judges’ names, and all the stars’ names, as well as the NASCAR personalities’ names.

  • Hewlett-Packard should buy “Shrek” terms, as well as Magic Johnson (it works with his foundation).
  • Buick should buy Tiger Woods and other related golf terms.
  • Callaway, PING, and Nike should all buy the names of the pro golfers who use their equipment.
  • McDonald’s should buy “Neopets,” “Tony Hawk,” “LPGA,” Olympic keywords, and World Cup terms.
  • Nike should buy “Serena Williams,” “Michael Jordan,” and all Olympic-related terms, including major athletes’ names.

When buying personalities as keywords, be sure to watch for PR events that could create negative brand association (think Martha Stewart for Kmart; Kobe Bryant for McDonald’s; or Whoopi Goldberg for Slim-Fast). Clearly, there’s an opportunity for brand marketers to leverage the power of SEM through a variety of means.

Brand marketers aren’t the only ones bidding on their own brand keywords. Both the channel and the competition may also bid on brand names in Google and Overture (although the engines’ rules differ). Some product brands are heavily bid upon by retailers. Pampers, iPod, ThinkPad, QuickBooks, and CoolPix are all sold by retailers with online presences. Corvette, F-150, and Chris-Craft are bid on by sales channels for those brands. Brand owners must decide if they want to bid on these keywords, regardless of whether they have an online store themselves.

Retailers and direct marketers also recognize branding’s power, even when it’s not their PPC campaign’s primary purpose. The IAB study may provide those marketers with the internal ammunition to raise bid prices to reflect branding value. Marketers with returning customers or customers that buy through a multitude of channels might realize the cross-media effect of paid search text listings justifies a higher bid than they previously allocated, resulting in a further escalation of bid prices across the board.

Next: brand keywords’ power and the brand multiplication effect.

Meet Kevin at Search Engine Strategies in San Jose. Also, join us at ClickZ’s upcoming AdForum.

Vote for your favorite product or campaign from July 20 through close of business August 2.

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