Search has historically been seen as a direct response vehicle and the notion that search is a branding medium has traditionally been met with considerable skepticism by search marketers, albeit somewhat less recently. In an effort to be provocative in moderating the “branding and search” panel at SMX West last month, I said, “Search is much more a branding medium than anything else.”
When I asked how many people agreed in the audience, only a few hands went up. James Lamberti of comScore then presented evidence to argue that search was in fact a powerful branding medium because of its reach, how it’s used by consumers in early stages of purchase behavior, the brand and generic category keywords used in queries, and so on.
Yet if one could persuasively argue that search wasn’t truly a branding medium before, it will become one in a much more obvious way in the very near future. Witness Barry’s post on Yahoo’s effort to put branded Honda advertising at the top of search results. Here’s the ad as it appears on Yahoo:
And here’s a video that plays over the search results when clicked:
The other interesting angle here is that TV drives the search behavior (through a prompt to “Shop Honda”) then provides for a full range of user responses and actions depending on that particular consumer’s place in the so-called purchase cycle: find offers, locate a dealer, request a quote (lead-gen).
Through Yahoo search, Honda can track the efficacy of the TV campaign (via query volume) and all the other actions the user takes, right down to the point of sale potentially. There is also a range of pricing/ad models that may be possible here: CPM, CPC, and even CPA, depending on the user action, within the same ad unit.
Google is also bringing display ads in the form of video into search. The video ads on Google will be like video in Universal Search, activated by the users and potentially “behind” a plus box.
These ads show the future of search marketing for big brands, as the engines acclimate users to seeing graphical and video ads in search results. Universal or blended search is paving the way. As Google’s Marissa Mayer said when Universal Search launched:
Well we don’t have anything to announce on that today. I do think this opens the door for the introduction of richer media into the search results page. We are now going to understand how users interact with that. And as Alan always likes to say search is about finding the best answer, not just the best URL or the best textual snippet.
For us ads are answers as well. Searching ads is just as hard as searching the Web, as searching images. And so I was hoping that we could bring some of these same advances in terms of the richness of media to ads.
Brands and agencies will welcome these ad offerings, consumers will likely respond to them if they’re not too intrusive, and ad networks should fear them because they will be far more effective for brands in the long run.