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Search Behavior = Big Marketing Dollars

Kevin M. Ryan
Search Behavior = Big Marketing Dollars Kevin M. Ryan

The relentless barrage of spam selling male enhancement wonder drugs, diet pills and any other abused prescription medication of choice is indicative of a society's dependency on the latest and greatest in health care.

To no one's surprise, a search engine is a great place for the consuming public to start digging for information on everything from Ambien to Viagra. Yet (as is often the case) there is a great deal going on besides looking for a great way to get some sleep or to keep man's best friend up at night.

A recent report -- commissioned by Yahoo! and conducted (via telephone survey) by the research firm Hall & Partners Healthcare -- sought to uncover a method behind the mad relationship between consumers, prescriptions and the search engine.

Samples and searches
The goal of this "first ever" trip into the minds of searchers in health care was developing an understanding of those seeking prescriptions and their connection with search engines. Hall and Partners surveyed 669 searchers who had sought information about allergies, depression/anxiety or high cholesterol.

Each of these categories has far-reaching implications for marketers. Searchers not only seek prescription information, but they also look for related products and information that might be closely tied to an illness or affliction.

Some of the research conclusions are startling. Nearly six in 10 respondents used a search engine to find health care information online. This translates into approximately 55 percent of the online population choosing a search site over traditional means of information gathering. Also, searchers used nearly twice as many sources of information as non searchers.

The new age of information-- your brand site is still important
Both searchers and non searchers cited "health information websites" as the number one resource for information at 63 percent and 28 percent, respectively.

The biggest drop-off in information seeking came in "brand/drug websites" and "pharmaceutical websites." Thirty percent of searchers went to brand sites, while only nine percent of non-searchers connected with brands.

The least-used connection point categories were "ads seen online" and "blogs & chat boards." These two categories also showed a large disparity between searchers and non searchers. Fourteen percent of searchers cited online advertising as an information resource, while six percent thought blogs were of value. Only one percent of non searchers headed for blog information.

Your brand site is still one of the strongest ways to engage the searcher. Every inch of data points to opportunity in reaching out to searchers for health information. An aggressive search presence is a great way to pull consumers in who are actively seeking information about your brand.

Why do they search?
In the old days, you trusted your doctor or pharmacist to help you make prescription decisions. Today, it seems the search engine is a much more reliable place to start.

Sixty-three percent of those surveyed cited "gets me information a lot faster than waiting to speak with my doctor" as the reason for using a search site. Fifty-three percent said that search "helps me confirm that I am getting the best possible care for my condition."

Other top reasons included -- or were closely related to -- a strong desire to maintain privacy. Searchers were either uncomfortable with talking about their conditions or felt that search engines help them maintain control of their lives.

The sundry commoditizations of the health care industry, along with countless lawsuits in the pharmaceutical world, have clearly taken their toll on the trust relationship between doctor and patient. The data presented in this research should serve as a cautionary tale for brands in considering engagement points for their brand.

Engaged empowerment and disempowerment
Do you ever wonder why you always know more than the guy trying to sell you something?

While the information presented in the Yahoo-sponsored survey allows for a greater category specific understanding of how we might attempt to engage the consuming public, there are lessons to be learned for almost every considered purchase category.

We live in the age of consumer control and empowered buying behavior that yanks away some preconceived influence that we as marketers have enjoyed to in the past. Years of lousy customer service and the subsequent absence of experts in almost every consumer product field have led to demand for information far ahead of any purchase decision.

The scope of which-purchases-count-as-considered-purchases is expanding right before our eyes.

In short, consumers are choosing to take the purchase back, and the first point of attack in the battle plan appears to be search engines.

The message is quite simple: be there or get left behind.

Kevin Ryan is the chief executive officer of Kinetic Results. .


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