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GUEST COMMENT The CMO guide to share of search

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A few years ago, Les Binet, Head of Effectiveness at adam&eveDDB, presented an analysis on the potential for share of organic searches to predict market share. In his conclusions, there were some crucial findings for brands.

First, share of search (SoS) – across all three categories tested – was indeed a reliable proxy for share of market; second, SoS can act as an early warning system because it precedes the data it proxies; third, all forms of advertising impact share of search; and fourth, organic search was a good tracker of brand saliency and consideration.

Finally, it was proposed – and later endorsed by the likes of Mark Ritson – that SoS could act as a new metric to determine brand strength.

Since Binet’s assessment, brands may have given SoS more focus, but it remains undervalued and under-exploited for its various uses, which now go beyond that which Binet originally outlined. Here’s why that is about to change.

The retail markets have evolved

Firstly, the market conditions are suitably different. We’re now in a period in which the dust has settled after the lockdown pivot to e-commerce, and the new normal that has been established is a rebalanced mix between online and the High Street. This is coupled with a return to more balanced omnichannel marketing, albeit with a stronger e-commerce focus.

This has subsequently led to a change in the competitive set for many retail categories. And newer (online born) businesses that have enjoyed growth during lockdown are now dabbling in brand marketing to take that growth further.

Meanwhile, the more traditional retailers have shifted their focus to incorporate more online shopping as they follow new consumer trends, as much as face off with the new competition.

The tools have changed too. SoS has always been based on Google Trends’ monthly data, but newer tools give more immediate insights that allow brands to compare themselves against each other, and to analyse and benchmark that detail over time.

What does this mean for advertisers?

With these market conditions more clearly defined, now is the time for brands to understand their position and exposure within it.

This is where the latest share of search tools become hugely valuable. Not only can they help document brand strength and track saliency – they can also be used to identify competition at both a brand and product level; and understand the immediate impact of current marketing investments.

For example, MediaVision’s in-house data team has developed a share of search tool that tracks over 4,000 brand searches across a range of categories, including property, fashion, finance and entertainment. This will reveal to advertisers week-by-week brand search insights and trends, and – crucially – give them access to competitor performance and industry benchmarks.

A new type of marketing intelligence

The way consumers now search, discover and buy products means competition has become more nuanced. Share of search data reveals how brands tend to have a different competitive set for almost every product they sell. H&M may own search for women’s sports leggings, for example, but for cotton t-shirts it’s behind Uniqlo. Currently, there is no other data to give a brand this sort of intelligence.

Meanwhile, to fully understand the impact of different marketing investments, it has usually taken a slow-to-produce econometric study, or a survey of claimed consumer behaviour – both of which require looking backwards in time. Given the rapid way the market now operates, and the subsequent need for brand agility, having more frequent signals to show the search impact of marketing investments is highly desirable.

Although useful for any brand, this point may prick the ears of the newer, online-born businesses in particular. Many, if not all, of these businesses started out by using performance marketing – but as they have grown, they have needed to turn to brand building strategies to maintain growth. This is evident by the steep rise of online-born businesses using TV for the first time.

However, making the leap to long-term brand marketing – and having to wait to quantify its more nebulous impacts compared to performance marketing – has not necessarily been easy for them.

For this reason, I’d expect share of search to become a valuable new metric that gives the more immediate brand assessment they’re probably used to.

Brand vs product

Any brand keen to develop their use of share of search should note it requires a siloed, rather than holistic, approach. This is because there is a fundamental difference between share of brand search and share of product search.

Some people are searching because they are interested in a brand, which is about saliency, relevancy and emotion; other people are simply in the market for a particular product and Google will show that product based on distribution, technical SEO and how good its algorithms think a business is.

Gaining a good share of either type of search requires different tactics and investments, which is why a holistic approach is unwise, and why they should be differentiated to gain a true picture for a brand.

What next?

Any assumption that organic search is not as important as it used to be is mistaken. Google data shows that 60% of UK adults use the internet to search for information, and it remains the starting point for the vast majority of daily online transactions.

And with new tools, brands can effectively find out just how popular they really are online, and how their competitive set might actually differ from what they have otherwise presumed.

All brands need to do now is test it for themselves, and see if they’d do anything differently as a result. And like all good consumer insight, the odds are it’ll lead the way to new growth strategies.


Louis Venter, chief executive officer at MediaVision – the search specialists

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