SearchTHIS: Packaged Goods in Search

I don’t know about you, but lately I walk out of the grocery store wondering what the heck I just purchased for $300. I am the typical shopper, influenced by creative store displays, not to mention my repertoire of recipes, or lack thereof, and cooking ability along with a burning desire to maintain a tidy kitchen.

Beef, poultry, vegetables and kosher pork-flavored tofu aside, I fill my cart with home care products like Windex and 2000 flushes (more like 587, but who’s counting), essentials like Coke and M&M’s, insta-baking products, and … other things we needn’t discuss here. These are items you and I use every day, but why on earth would you use a search engine to find them when most have a ubiquitous presence at local retailers?

I am speaking of CPGs, of course. Not Controlled Porous Glass or the EPA’s Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines, but packaged goods for consumers. A search engine may not be the place to go to find Bisquick, but with the proper ingredients search can be the perfect complement to marketing efforts for everything from bath tissue to candy that melts in your mouth.

Lowdown on the goods

Early in the new millennium when search blossomed from a technological mystery into an honest to gosh online marketing tool, advertisers in the ecommerce sector figured out quickly that search = sales. Travel sites cashed in and auto sites found a quick way to sell more gas guzzlers, but packaged goods brand owners were left out of the mix.

Once search sites finished harvesting the low-hanging, category-killer fruit, they turned to other categories to help them move along in search. “Google had grown its head count around the areas where a central focus was immediately necessary. CPG was one category that was underutilized,” reports Google’s vice president of advertising sales, Tim Armstrong. “By mid 2003, we had invested in a CPG team and by 2004 we had engagements across every major CPG brand. [CPG activity] in search is driven by the diversified offerings for these brands.”

Site providers spoke up, and brands answered. “We’ve tried to go a number of ways. Natural search is the long-term play and our bread and butter. As pay-for-placement search evolved, it became more and more of a priority,” reveals Kate Johnson, relationship marketing manager for Kimberly Clark “From there, optimizing our large scale paid search initiatives became a constant focus to make certain we are in the right place at the right time.”

Creative search experience

A diversified offering translates immediately into creating an experience for users conducting searches for complementary activities and services. Why? Searchers don’t tend to use directive search to locate every day products.

On the other hand, contextual placements may be the no-brainer search positioning for familiar or related search activities. “Contextual placements in AdSense have been more advantageous in using content to reach people,” says Armstrong. “It was really the contextual presence that enabled us to enter the space.”

Contextual advertising may have been the entry point for providers, but positioning (for terms entered into the Google search box) will allow an advertiser immediate control of how consumers perceive their brand. At the same time, positioning can deliver immediate traffic into valuable brand- or product-experience content.

Separating brand and product

Catching a sneeze in a sanitary and disposable delivery vehicle is one of the most common practices known to western man. No one has more experience in marketing to the sneezer than Kimberly Clark, owners of the Kleenex and Scott brands.

“Generally speaking, brands sites take precedence over product pages except when you can send traffic into a site which creates a value-added experience. Traffic to a brand site like Scott is very important, but we also have a value equation for our community site, Scott Common Sense,“ reports Jim Schuh one of Kimberly Clark’s relationship marketing managers. “Traffic building for these content areas is separated into brand and product because it is the right decision and it only makes sense for searchers.”

The idea at this point is to create a value-based destination rather than to collect leads or try to sell online. With a site like Scott Common Sense, the brand owner has taken an otherwise benign product interaction and turned it into a value-based destination. “CPGs have made investments around products to influence buyers in the search space,” advises Armstrong. “They are investing around the services and creating an experience for the brand. Google drives traffic into that experience.”

The process of understanding is clearly ongoing. Simply building a brand site just won’t do it, so how do seek out searchers in an efficient manner?

Packaged search activity

In 1939, Kleenex introduced its True Confessions initiative to help understand how people were using the product. According to the brand owners, people confessed 125,000 times before the campaign ended in 1942. By that time, the makers of Kleenex had a solid understanding of exactly how customers were using the tissue.

As with any marketing initiative, understanding user interaction with products or services is at the core of developing a solid plan. Search marketing is no different. While searches for packaged goods represent millions of user-initiated queries every month, many of these searches are left unanswered.

We needn’t wait years for interaction answers anymore. Some of them are right there in the search box. 

Searchers are interacting with CPG sites, as witnessed in a peculiar search phrase which emerges in the Overture search term suggestion tool. A query for terms related to “Kleenex” in Overture’s term suggestion tool reveals a phrase that was searched 95 times in September, 2004. “What year did Kleenex first introduce colored tissue,” is an odd thing to be searching for, don’t you think? Not when you consider that question number seven on the Kleenex brand site’s fun quiz asks exactly that. If the nearly 100 Type-A perfectionist minority felt the need to go out and search for the answer prior to clicking, I’d say that’s exactly the kind of interaction brand owners seek.

Next week: Why agencies should step up and how CPGs define search success.

About the Author: iMedia columnist Kevin Ryan’s current and former client roster reads like a “who’s who” in big brands; Rolex Watch, USA, State Farm Insurance, Farmers Insurance, Minolta Corporation, Samsung Electronics America, Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Panasonic Services, and the Hilton Hotels brands, to name a few. Ryan believes in sound guidance, creative thought, accountable actions and collaborative execution as applied to search, or any form of marketing. His principled approach and staunch commitment to the industry have made him one of the most sought-after personalities in online marketing. Ryan volunteers his time with the Interactive Advertising Bureau, Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization, and several regional non-profit organizations.

Meet Ryan at the Kelsey’s ILM:4 Conference, November 3-5, 2004 and Ad:Tech, NY November 8-10.