The necessary pivot to ecommerce during the early days of the pandemic is well documented, as is our understanding of today’s new normal; what we see as a recalibrated mix of retail models that embraces both online and the High Street. What is less understood is how the competitive sets for many retail categories have changed throughout this process, and what this means for businesses. Louis Venter explains
Superficially, we note that more traditional retailers have shifted their focus to incorporate more online shopping as they face off with the pure-play e-commerce businesses.
Meanwhile, many digitally native retailers, having reached growth plateaux post-lockdown, are considering more traditional distribution models that demand a physical presence, as well as different kinds of marketing strategies that might pit them against legacy retailers. Take Gymshark, who are set to open their first physical store this summer in Regent Street.
For some businesses operating in this new retail landscape, identifying their market position, exposure and competitive set might seem obvious. However, a deeper look often reveals a more nuanced or even surprising picture – and this is because some of the tools available to the market have changed throughout all of this, offering us a refined view of what is really going on.
For starters, share of search (SoS) data, which measures brand visibility in organic search and has always been based on Google’s monthly trends insights, can now be viewed using different tools with more granularity and higher frequency.
This is giving retailers more immediate insights that allow them to compare themselves against each other, and to analyse and benchmark that detail over time.
Gaining this level of insight will not only allow brands to better map the competitive landscape, it will also allow them to better optimise their spend on search engine optimisation (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC) ads, securing better performance and incremental growth as a consequence.
It goes deeper still…
Share of search’s utility does not end there, however. Although it is still early days and remains under-exploited by many brands, SoS can also be used – as is demonstrated here by marketing consultant and author Les Binet – as a proxy to determine market share, providing some wide-ranging uses to help guide marketing strategies.
These include acting as an early warning system to understand the impact of marketing investments because SoS precedes the market share data it proxies – adjust spend in one area, such as social media ads say, and see how it impacts how consumers then use search. Usefully, this gives an indication of investment effectiveness while there’s still time to fine tune a campaign.
Organic search data is also a good way to see what consumers are actually doing – thus it helps track brand saliency and consideration – which means SoS is now becoming a ‘brand strength’ metric in its own right.
Coupled with SoS’s ability to uncover commercial blind spots and identify different competitors at brand level, and we have the starting point for building much more effective marketing campaigns through improved insight.
Brand versus product
On a practical level, however, any retailers 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 search when it comes to brand and product.
To understand this, consider how people use platforms such as Google: some people are searching because they are interested in a brand, which is about saliency, relevancy and emotion. However, other people are in the market for a particular product and Google will show that product based on distribution, SEO and how good its algorithms think a business is.
It requires different tactics and investments to gain an understanding of search behaviour, which is why taking a holistic approach – despite it perhaps costing less – is unwise.
Splitting between brand and product is also the only real way to understand which businesses are leading the market in different ways. So, while you can use SoS for brand, search data (number of searches, spikes in search etc) on product can also give valuable insight. And without this additional insight, retailers will not be in a position to find the incremental growth that makes using SoS a worthwhile strategy.
Finally, retailers should always remember that, according to Google, 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.
The market may have changed over the last few years, pulled in different directions as different forces have influenced supply and demand, but organic search still remains the most cost-efficient strategy to take market share away from a competitor. However, it’s only through deeper insight that retailers can build a top performing strategy to achieve this.
So the next step is for brands to test it out and record the results. My bet is most retailers will be surprised by some of the findings – and will want to make strategic changes as a consequence.
Louis Venter is CEO MediaVision