The first challenge facing marketers is reaching their potential customers to be able to sell to them. In the analog world marketers achieved this through advertising – on mass media, on retail shelves, on the road, pretty much everywhere consumers congregated. The only problem with this was that enormous numbers of people were inflicted with advertising messages whether or not they were the intended recipients of the advertising. In addition to bad advertising, this is also a contributory cause to the general dislike that advertising evokes among consumers.
Analog advertising, because it is beamed whether or not the consumer is in the market for the product, requires high frequency to register in the consumer’s consciousness. The underlying principle is that such high frequency leads to creating a memory in the consumer’s mind, so that when the need for the product arises, the consumer remembers the product and brand.
So what, a cynic may ask, isn’t that what digital advertising does with even more annoying frequency. Yes, it does and that is the reason it fails too! More on this later.
Discovery vs Advertising
If advertising does not work, then what? Ask yourself, “what does somebody do when they are looking for something?” In the analog world they would ask friends, neighbours or the friendly neighbourhood grocer. In the digital world they would head straight to a search engine, which in India is nearly always Google (See Chart 1)
Obviously, when a product is present in in the search results consumers see the product and are encouraged to interact with it, whether online or offline.
Thus, the counter to analog advertising in the online world is, Discovery.
There are two advantages to discovery, both arising from the fact that the product is being seen in the context where the consumer is looking for the product. The first is that the consumer is willing to invest more time in knowing about the product because he/she has some need for it; the second is that, since the consumer initiated the search, the end result is likely to lead to a transaction, if not immediately at least in the near future. Owing to these, the consumer response is more favourable to the product than advertising.
Consider a family that is redoing their apartment. Obviously, everybody in the family is involved and everybody has an opinion. All members of the family are searching and expressing opinions and likes and dislikes. In these searches different family members use different search terms depending on their preferences – the home-maker may be looking at ease of maintenance, the person paying the bill will be looking at economics, the children may be looking for contemporary style, etc. Products and brands that are tuned to the possibility of a multitude of such phenomena will optimize their websites with these in mind and win customers.
Or consider even something as mundane as fabric wash detergents. It is easy to dismiss such a category as something where behavior happens in automatic mode – children learn from their parents or the maids decide the brand, etc. With a changing society such assumptions may be facile, since the environment in which such decisions are made are different – with more people migrating to different cities for work and living on their own, search is the in loco parentis for existential decisions of toiletries to use in running a household.
From a marketing perspective, this is the greatest benefit of digital marketing, not only because of its favourable outcomes, but also it comes pretty much ‘free’.
Different Paths to Discovery
A Google Search Results Page offers many different kinds of results. Many of these are free and depend on how a website is coded. Others are based on payments to Google, based on an advertising programme called ‘Adwords’. How the results appear are based on some complex methods and algorithms that Google runs based on its vast repository of data on search habits of its users.
The different ways that Google displays search results are shown in the graphic below.
The first principle in digital marketing is thus to embrace ‘Discovery’ and use the many search options to the fullest extent possible. With the plethora of opportunities to appear on a results page the choices of what actions to take to be present in the search page become important. For example, when a person is searching to learn more about a product, organic search may be more relevant, but when a person is searching to buy a product at midnight a shopping listing might be more relevant. Google provides these opportunities for marketers, but it is upto the marketer to learn and use them appropriately.
A common refrain of analog marketers is that search does not reach the same large audience that mass media advertising does, and therefore, is not as effective.
Such thinking is pre-historic. Consider simply that audience size does not automatically translate into relevant audience. On the other hand, search reaches its audience with near pin-point accuracy. And, with over 3.5 billion searches on an average in a day, a marketer is guaranteed a large enough volume of searchers for his/her product. It is the marketer’s skill that makes the difference in successfully mining this search audience.
Finding the needle in the haystack is not the only advantage of digital marketing. Given that most of those searching on the Internet are doing with a specific intent, it is more than likely that the search will lead to a transaction, either online or offline. Thus, not only is the targeting accurate, but the probability of gaining a customer is also high. And, at any time of the day or night or from anywhere in the world, to boot!