Cracking Customer Keywords

Each year you spend mountains of millions of dollars to help build brand equity and lift unaided awareness, purchase intent and loyalty. So how does your target audience pay you back for reaching out to them with such carefully crafted creative?

They completely ignore you in some instances. In other, less extreme cases, they simply adopt their own language for your products or services. You can address this situation in one of three ways: first, you can ignore the fact that people could care less about your lingo; second, you could join them and cash in, or, third, you can spend more money trying to change them.

Which one of these choices would you think is the most effective when it comes to search engine marketing? Part of an integrated campaign in search or elsewhere in the internet advertising universe is learning to meet a target audience on its own terms.

Here’s how the game is played in search.

Package THESE goods
When is a "laptop" computer a "laptop" computer and when is it a "notebook" computer?

When you are trying to sell computers it’s a notebook because our litigious and hopelessly entitled society has determined that nomenclature for products determines their use, and manufacturers are responsible for people sterilizing themselves by holding computers on their laps.

Therefore, PC retailers are reticent to use the term "laptop," but customers searching for electronic commerce on the web still use the scary manhood killer term "laptop" when searching for products. The retailer can’t use the term "laptop," but the rest of the world can and does.

So what is a marketer to do when faced with the question of addressing the public in terms that conflict with its own interests?

When to run and hide
You can’t hide from the searcher, but if you have to run, run cheaply.

In other words, you can add scope to how you define your brand or product for the ultimate benefit of connecting people to your desired action. The term "cheap," for example can be added to almost any product search term. That new, super-trendy Hotel in Malibu, California can’t possibly be defined as cheap to anyone but the Olsen twins, but it might just work for brand x.

The problem? Most brands are reticent to associate themselves with keyword searches that might not reflect the highest quality that is associated with the brand. "We don’t make cheap products," goes the mantra.

The consuming public simply wants to pay as little as possible for its goods and services.
In February, 2007 there were over 470,000 searches for the word "hotel" on Yahoo. In the same time period, there were over 560,000 searches for "hotel" combined with "cheap" or "discount."

All of these searches could not have been looking for an hourly rate motel.

The "cheap" scenario is a prime example of using a keyword that may not jive with how you want to position your brand. The best way to understand using "cheap" terms lies in understanding user intent.

When a searcher uses the phrase "cheap hotel," he is simply looking for the "lowest price hotel." Incidentally, there were only 336 searches for "lowest price hotel" on Yahoo in February, 2007.

Go ahead, jump on the bandwagon
Coming to terms with the conflict between your nomenclature and the language of search is one of the most difficult exercises for a brand marketer to endure. Here are some examples:

  • You may think you have "state of the art automotive lubricant," but all the searching public wants is a "can of oil."
  • You have spent billions on developing the latest "environmentally friendly emissions vehicle," but the best way to help your audience locate your product is by facilitating the connecting with the term "green car." 
  • Your "state of the art oral hygiene maintenance facility" really means "pain free dentist" to the searcher.

Unless you begin to address the searcher on his own terms, he will never find you.

If the world decides to refer to your product using decidedly negative terms, adopting their phraseology may not be the best play for your brand. However, you can always address the terms with content on your site. Very few financial services firms want to provide "bad credit loans" but many do serve the "sub-prime lending" category. Just because the user has chosen to simplify your approach, that doesn’t mean the content on the site has to change completely, it need only answer the search query.

The FedEx example
I like your brand, you like your brand, and we all love your enticing creative, but if you can’t beat them, you better think about joining them.

The grandest case of a marketer accepting the harsh reality of their own situation can be found in the world’s biggest mover of goods. Say Federal Express five times fast and see what happens. FedEx became the company moniker because it wasn’t offensive, it was easier to say and it had a nice ring to it.

On the other hand, an entire industry has invested in changing its stars by removing the term "laptop" from its keyword lexicon. Every piece of creative in a catalog, print publication and on the recordable, programmable digital idiot box has the new term "notebook" placed inside it.

But today, searches for the term "laptop" meets or exceeds the number of searches for "notebook" each month.

So if you can’t communicate on their level or your own level, changing the public’s mind about how to search is an option, but it is not easy or inexpensive.

A searcher’s motivation might be questionable. The results achieved when reaching out to the searching public on their own terms are not. They can be taught, as the old saying goes, but at great cost.

From your perspective, you have to decide which approach is best for you and execute.

iMedia Search Editor Kevin M. Ryan is Chief Executive Officer at Kinetic Results.

 

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