Top 3 Ways the Major Brands are Whooping Your Butt on Pay-Per-Click. (And What to Do About It!)

Posted on Wednesday, July 29th, 2015 by

It’s not just about having more money to spend - there’s a qualitative difference in the way many major brands use Pay-Per-Click (PPC). The biggest difference is that they recognize PPC is actually about branding; while most mid-level marketers think of it only as a lead-generating tactic, and so they relegate it to less importance in the marketing mix.

Here are three ways big brands use PPC to enhance brand value… and how you can do it, too.

1. Consistent Presence in SERPs

If you want to know how the MBA grads in the big-brand marketing departments think, a good place to look is the Harvard Business Review. In 2013, you could have come across an article there entitled, “Do Display Ads Influence Search?” which is an in-depth online advertising study (they actually call it a “multivariate time series model” - because that’s the way business profs talk).

The authors note several previous studies showing that “exposure to a display ad increases the number of relevant search queries” by as much as 25%. That’s not what was concerning them, though. The issue is that this rush to the search window causes click-throughs to rise, and the PPC budget to be spent sooner than expected.

The unintended consequence is that, once the click budget is spent, the brand will lose presence on the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). This is important because, as the Harvard profs realized, if a brand is prominent in the results every time you search in that category, it enhances the perceived brand value, even if you don’t click on the ad. Yes, really… impressions do count. So using PPC only to get clicks is short-sighted! And, it short-changes your brand.

The Harvard authors’ recommendation to the advertiser in the study (a US commercial bank) was actually to take 36% out of its display ad budget, and add that money to the PPC search budget, in order to ensure consistent presence in the SERPs.

What You Can Do: For the average mid-level marketer, all budgets are tight. It’s not so easy to just shift a whack of dollars around. But there are other tricks you can take advantage of, to make sure your brand is present when people are searching for answers in your category. AdWords has many automated features that allow you to adjust ad spend by time of day, day-of-the-week, geographic territory, or other factors. Analyze your performance, and optimize for the times and places your audience is most likely to be searching in your category. This will give your brand stronger share-of-voice when it matters the most.

2. On-Message Content

Far too many mid-level advertisers farm out their PPC activities to “specialist” agencies that only do search marketing. This can be a mistake, because many SEM specialists have little understanding of fundamental branding principles.

By contrast, major brands that take PPC seriously usually have either an in-house PPC practice, or an agency very closely aligned with the brand’s marketing department. In either case, PPC execution is tightly guided by a sense of brand stewardship.

The upshot is that the SEM specialist, faced with a mid-summer slump in activity, searches for a brainwave. Ah, that’s it: “Black Friday in July – 50% off!” It’s the kind of text ad that gets clicks, but what does it say about the brand? And chances are, that “specialist” is using the same headline for other clients looking only for clicks. Sure, it works. But if this kind of search advertising becomes a constant refrain, it may be doing the brand more long-term harm than good.

The advertiser guided by brand value, on the other hand, sticks to ad content that is consistently on-message. This enhances the perceived value of the brand, and when it leads to clicks, they are better qualified prospects.

What You Can Do: Whoever is doing your search marketing, talk to them about the core values of your brand. Engage them in exploring the interests and concerns of your audience. Challenge them to develop phrases and messaging lines - especially headlines - that reflect those values and concerns consistently. And insist that they use them. If they can’t do this, find another agency. Preferably one that places importance on the long-term health and growth of your brand.

3. Learning From Your Audience

The great bonus of Search Engine Marketing, which is completely overlooked by many mid-level advertisers, is the opportunity to learn from the search behaviour of your audience. Think of the search box as a window you can look back through to see how your audience is trending; not to mention seeing what your competition is up to. Leaving all this valuable knowledge in the hands of an SEM “specialist,” who doesn’t see the bigger picture of your brand’s future, is a big miss.

In a post on Search Engine Land, titled, “The Importance of Search Data in Your Marketing,” Alistair Dent talks about exactly this opportunity for smaller brands to gain the same insights as enterprise-level marketers. He says, “Search has better data than any other digital channel… search queries are more informative because they provide accurate information about users and their mindsets.” In a practical sense, what this means is that the insights you gain from an intelligent analysis of PPC performance can be used to inform and improve all of your other marketing activities.

It only works, though, if you are taking an integrated approach to ensure all your marketing channels are working together, not in isolation from each other.

What You Can Do: Reporting and analysis is key here. To start with, you need to insist that whoever is doing your PPC advertising provides a strategic analysis of your search  activities on a regular basis. Monthly reporting on the standard KPIs is good, but that’s not where you find the golden nuggets of insight that can take your marketing to a new level. For that, you need a deeper analysis of the data, based on a high level strategic understanding of your brand’s online ecosystem. Ideally, that strategic insight comes from a partnership with an agency that takes stewardship of your overall brand community seriously.

A decade or so ago, search marketing offered the promise of being the great equalizer for smaller marketers trying to get a foothold amongst the established brands. Today it is starting to look like a place where the big brands are kicking butt, while the mid-level brands are sitting on their butts, counting clicks. It doesn’t have to be that way. If you change your perspective on the possibilities of search marketing for enriching and strengthening your brand community, you can learn to kick ass with the best of them.



Posted in: Branding, Integrated Marketing
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Patrick McGovern

About Patrick McGovern

Well versed in both traditional and digital brand-building strategies, Patrick is Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer at Blade Creative Branding Inc. He brings an insightful perspective to modern marketing challenges, and takes a lead role in the new media and digital marketing initiatives of the agency's clients.