Search is the beginning, middle & end of every buying journey

More than a decade ago, when I started my digital marketing career, concepts like consumer buying journey were non-existent in the agency parlance. In fact, no marketer was even asking this question to their agency. Perhaps digital was not considered strategic enough.

But travel e-commerce players (like MMT, Yatra etc.) changed it all forever, when they showcased the true power of the digital world to all marketing folks. From that point, it truly opened a perennial chapter of gold rush in the advertising business.

Arguably, if there was one company who was in the middle of this (never ending) gold rush, it was Google. Google’s success in the online business compelled a lot of people to try their hand at creating disruptive online products, but most of them ended up failing miserably.

Today, optimising customer buying journey is the most critical aspect of any digital strategy. Search continues to dominate every buying journey across categories.

Buying Journey – The Beginning

Over the years, humans appetite for information search has touched gigantic proportions. Mobile only added more fuel to this insane pace of growth. (see below image)

mobile vs desktop internet users - last 5 years
mobile vs desktop internet users

The journey which took desktop 20 years, mobile not just covered it in just 7 years but outpaced desktop in no time at all. And the result was quite apparent from there onwards. It triggered a never seen before surge in human appetite for information “search”. So much so that it became the penultimate lifeline in online discovery.

 

eCommerce buying journey in mobile

By 2013, more than 48% of online audience were discovering products through search only in the automobile (42%), home and garden (41%), apparel & beauty (38%).  Mobile only accelerated this phenomenon further.

Over the years, Mobile (or rather Mobility) has not just amplified the overall searches across categories but also altered user’s path to discover new products & services.

consumer journey by devices
Source : Forbes

Over 75% of product discovery starts on a smartphone or tablets, whereas only 25% is happening on PCs. This phenomenon has forced the brand teams to re-look at their entire marketing funnel and create a mobile first strategic approach.

Buying Journey – The Middle

Usually, the discovery cycle for any product category is longer, take for example the automobile category.

Source : Google Insights

In automobile, any purchase consideration cycle can go up to 120+ days. And the reason is quite obvious, there are multiple layers to any purchase consideration and it can get extremely complex if the category is highly competitive:

  • Type of vehicle to purchase ( Sedan vs Hatchback vs Crossover vs SUV etc.)
  • Variant A vs Variant B (Petrol vs Diesel vs CNG )
  • Brands A vs Brand B ( Honda vs Hyundai )
  • Car Dealer A vs Car Dealer B ( Outskirts vs Suburb )
  • Color Preference ( Metallic vs Non Metallic )
  • Finance Company A vs Finance Company B

When beginning a new purchase journey, most consumers consider an average of 3 to 4 brands, if they are not already loyal to one in particular. During this stage it becomes vitally important for marketers to increase their brand visibility while consumers are developing their considerations sets.

The search allows the consumer to deep dive into various parameters that can assist them in decision making by comparing multiple complex options at ease.

Buying Journey – The End

Customer Care Search Trends on Google
10 Years Customer Care Search Trends on Google ( Source : Google Trends)

Last 10 years Google search trends shows how customer care related queries have sky rocketed.

This shows that search does not stop at purchase, in fact it is a great tool for brands to engage with customers on ongoing basis by helping them find solutions to their problems. A lot of brands miss out on this opportunity to connect with their customers in the post sales phase.

 

With RHS gone, search marketing has changed forever

google-adwords-right-hand-side-ads

With right hand side ads disappearing in search, google is clearly telling brands to focus on mobile in their paid search marketing strategy.

Adwords will soon display four ads above organic search results, no ads to the right of search results, and three additional ads below search results, according to The SEM Post.

At the same time, the company says it may show an additional ad — four, not three — above the search results for what it calls “highly commercial queries”.  Google has also confirmed that this change is global and that it applies to all languages supported on Google Search. It’s expected this change will be rolled out to all Google Search users by February 22nd.

This is certainly a major shift by the search engine giant and would force brands and agencies to re-look at their search marketing strategies.

Here are some of the early observations based on the news stories trickling in:

Desktop Search Marketing going Native

The removal of ads in the right sidebar of the results means Google’s desktop search results pages will look a lot more like mobile search results pages, which are displayed in a single column for obvious reasons. Google is clearly moving in the direction of native search advertising where the line between paid and organic would actually disappear.

Also Read : On Google, Teens can’t tell the difference between sponsored links & organic listing

Making Search Marketing More Premium

Search Marketing Changes impacting Google YOY Ad Revenue
Search Marketing Changes impacting Google YOY Ad Revenue

Google’s share of revenue per search ad has slid recently. For years, Google ran up to eight paid ads on the right side in desktop mode. While the total varies for each search, there will now probably be fewer paid spots for each result — and, therefore, a scramble by advertisers to bid more in Google’s auction.

What falls under highly commercial queries in search marketing?

According to Search Engine Land, This would involve searches like “hotels in Mumbai” or “car insurance” and the like. There are also two exceptions to the right-side change:

  1. PLA boxes will be the only time ads will continue to show on the right side of the desktop search results page.
  2. Ads in Knowledge Panel

Poor score in search marketing might get penalised

Although the update is limited to desktop search results pages, so your brand’s desktop traffic may get affected. However, ads that appear beneath the third or fourth position may see a decline in click-through rates immediately. This means that google PPC campaign would require a lot more optimisation than ever before. This would also force the site owners to improve the overall content quality on their landing page to improve their search score and build more deeper relevance for the search engine.

Google adds forecasting to its Adwords display planner

Google AdWords Display Planner

In a Google+ post, the AdWords team announced the update to AdWords Display Planner, writing the enhancements now help “forecast how many clicks and impressions are available in your bid and budget range — based on current auction data.

The estimates rely on current auction data and show projections over time. The Display Planner will also show how much of the budget entered is likely to be spent with the placements selected.

For those who use Adwords frequently, to see this forecast data, select “Get performance forecasts for your targeting” from the Display Planner start page.

The Google Smart Goals program allows marketers to define AdWords conversions and then optimise campaigns based on that data.

In a separate blog post, Google software engineer Abishek Sethi and product manager Joan Arensman wrote,

To generate Smart Goals, we apply machine learning across thousands of websites that use Google Analytics and have opted in to share anonymised conversion data. From this information, we can distill dozens of key factors that correlate with likelihood to convert: things like session duration, pages per session, location, device and browser.

A great news for everyone in the digital media planning fraternity as this will help you plan campaigns better by providing a clearer picture of the performance you can expect.

How to become a Digital Marketing Consultant?

Twice in the last ten years, that I took a break from what they call a “stable job” mindset and opted for full time digital marketing consulting career . I had little clue about what digital marketing consultant does? 

Consulting for me was not about making money but to give myself a chance to think differently. Nevertheless, life is very difficult for any digital marketing consultant in India and there are many reasons to re-consider before you take a plunge into this rabbit hole.

Here are few suggestions from my side if you are planning to leave your cushy job for starting as a digital marketing consultant in India:

Identify your core skills

Ideally it should not be more than 2-3 skills that’ll get you some quick projects, in sales they call it as “low hanging fruits” and easy to sell services which are no brainer for any client. You can’t start your consulting in India with just strategy as your key focus. Strategy is always considered as a default skill. I doubt if there is anyone in India who pays to an independent marketing consultant for strategy. They simply don’t (exceptions might be there). 

A digital marketing consultant should always have a specialised skill at the back of his hand like Social media, SEO + SEM + Analytics, Content Writing, Programming etc. The biggest benefit of having these skills is that you can sell them like a product because the output is measurable and the scope of work can be defined much easily (which I would touch a little later in this post).

Consider this as an advice, even before you think about leaving your current job for a “not so fancy” consulting career, think about your current established credentials. What are you known for? What is market’s perception about you? What is it that people would recommend you for on your LinkedIn? Do people look at you as a subject matter expert? Is your thought leadership truly established?

Blogging is no longer optional

Continuous creation of content to establish your skills, knowledge and thought process is absolutely vital in a world which is dominated by mediocre people and companies. I’ve seen people who were absolutely brilliant in their jobs, but when they started their own marketing consulting practice, they had to re-establish their thought leadership and skills in the market.

Fortunately, you have the benefit of blogs and social media which is an awesome “free publicity” tool for anyone who wants to build their credentials in the market.

Today, clients discover you in two ways, either through the personal referrals or through social media. I agree that relationships matters in almost every type of consulting but in case of Digital Marketing, you need to build a strong knowledge portfolio for which there is no better tactic than blogging.

Focus on lowest customer 

It looks fancy to put a logo of any Fortune 500 company in your sales kit, but for most of the marketing consultants it is a pipe dream. Most importantly, it is painful and less rewarding to pick up projects for big brands as they are extremely demanding and often force you bend backwards during the project.

If you are starting new as a digital marketing consultant in India, you should always aim at small business customers first as they’ll value your work a lot more than big corporations.

Fortunately, there are plenty of aspiring startup entrepreneurs around who are looking for all kind of support, right from building the website, writing their content, preparing investor pack, managing their digital marketing and lead generation, setting up their email marketing & CRM.

You would find a great connect with the early stage startups as they are sailing in the same boat as you are.

Define your scope of your services

It all depends upon what you are trying to pitch. It is not so much of a problem if you have a tangible skill set like coding / designing / search marketing / SEO / affiliate marketing etc. But if you are a digital generalist, then it can become a huge problem for you during client meetings.

Clients often have this habit of creating an open ended project scope which would kill you once you start working on the project. It is absolutely vital to define the scope of the project till the last word. Make sure you’ve taken the client through the process of execution with clearly defined expectations, timelines and deliverables.

Pricing your marketing consulting services in India

Needless to say that Indian clients do not pay enough to marketing consultants. You really need to spend over a decade to build your quality stamp and may be eventually, put a “non negotiable” tag on yourself. The problem is that when it comes to marketing in India, everyone consider themselves “an expert” so very few people would value the services of a consultant.

Often, the term consultant is associated with “low cost services”. This is one of the major reason as to why some of the best professionals work on projects from outside India when there is plenty of work available in India.

And the worst part is the payment cycles. India is the worst possible place for an individual to start his consulting practice because payments here take forever to land in your account. Unless your work is indispensable to the client’s success or the organisation is extremely ethical, you would never be able to get your payments on time.

Lets do a quick recap on the top marketing consulting priorities:

  1. Identify your core skills
  2. Build your thought leadership through blogs
  3. Try winning small customers and startups
  4. Define your scope of services
  5. Pricing your marketing consulting services