In a world saturated with social media, where hashtags and brand conversations are lauded as the be-all and end-all of marketing strategy, I would like to make a modest proposal. Let’s move the conversation from hashtags to search keywords. The root of my argument lies in the very essence of marketing – creating an awareness that creates a memory so that at the moment of purchase, consumers are slightly more likely to choose one product over another.
Social media has been touted as the golden child of modern marketing. And yet, it’s a strange realm where we delude ourselves into thinking consumers eagerly want to engage in a dialogue about a brand of toilet paper or a fizzy drink. We marvel at the grandiloquence of a trending hashtag while neglecting the most obvious measure of brand awareness – how many people are searching for a category or product issue that might be solved by your brand?
Furthermore, as we’re seeing organic social media reach decline – in a syndrome we’re calling “the reachpocalypse”, simply posting social media content on various owned channels is increasingly ineffective.
Take the case of a large supermarket chain I advised. On two key dates, December 23rd and the Wednesday before Good Friday, traffic to their websites and digital platforms exploded, outpacing any other day of the year by a factor of five or six. Why? People were looking up an unbranded “supermarket opening hours”, and because they had those answers saimply displayed in a machine-readable form, they were rewarded with a lot of downstream search traffic. This type of user behaviour is not a passing fad. It’s a golden opportunity for brands to present themselves to consumers at genuinely high-reach, useful moments.
Or consider the case of a global lubricants brand. Their analysis revealed an astonishing 70 million searches for variations on the question: “How do I change my motor oil?” All of the top questions were unbranded, as were all of the top-ranking answers. None were comprehensive. Mostly amateur content with low production values or generic “list-style” content. Here was a gaping hole where a brand could step in and own the topic, own the answer.
Let’s take this thinking further. Could it be applied to politics, banking or other categories?
In the political sphere, an understanding of search keyword trends could guide communication strategies. Keyword phrases such as “How to vote” or “What are my rights as a voter?” are ripe opportunities for a political party to provide valuable information and simultaneously build their brand credibility.
Banks, too, can benefit from this approach. As customers increasingly manage their finances online, phrases such as “How to transfer money online” or “What is an ETF” provide banks a chance to engage their audience, promote their services, and enhance their reputation as trusted advisors.
In healthcare, terms like “symptoms of…” or “how to treat…” could provide an opportunity for hospitals or pharmaceutical companies to connect with individuals seeking health information. In the world of fashion, keywords such as “latest fashion trends” or “how to style…” are golden opportunities for clothing brands.
Even academia could gain from keyword-based engagement. Searches for “how to apply for a scholarship” or “best universities for…” offer institutions an opportunity to connect with potential students and bolster their reputation.
There are SO MANY questions being asked, and yet so few brands actively participating in answering these questions, in intercepting category awareness and driving utility. It’s an obvious, high ROI way of getting people onto your website. Further, in many circumstances, it is much cheaper than SEM keyword purchases.
Drawing from the principles laid out by Byron Sharp, search-based brand engagement is a form of mental availability. A well-executed search strategy can help a brand raise their mental availability and their access at the top of a search response provides greater physical availability.
As brands, we ought to invest time not in creating fleeting, low-reach influencer or social media content, but in delivering value to consumers in moments that matter. The gold rush of social media has blinded us to the simple reality – consumers are actively seeking information. By focusing on search keywords and offering relevant, comprehensive answers, we can capture category interest and build a formidable presence in our respective domains.
Data on searches for leading category brands support this view. A keen understanding of these dynamics is a powerful tool, opening up a world of untapped opportunities beyond the ephemeral world of social media content.
So, let’s shift our gaze from the shimmer of hashtags to the solid promise of search keywords. It’s high time we embraced a marketing strategy that’s not just about shouting into the void but about answering the questions that matter. After all, isn’t that the essence of providing value?