How agencies are using search to take advantage of moments that matter

In marketing, the moment a message is received is just as important as the message itself. Let’s say you’re trying to sell a new pair of shoes. The very best time to reach a customer is 30 seconds after they just walked into an extra deep slush puddle. In a world with perfect cartoon comic timing, this dampened schmoe might look up and spot a two-for one Payless ad on the side of a bus. But this is the real world, so he instead uses his phone to search for a nearby Payless store.

Make the most of real moments

“You reach somebody in the moment where they’re expressing a need” says Sarah Dryden, director of SEO and Social at PATH Interactive “Whether it’s knowledge, directions, instructions or just prices the only time people hit search is in a moment of need.”

That’s where smart search marketing can take over. The proverbial bus ad becomes a digital display, targeted to people searching for jeans, or denim, or pant retailers in a particular zip code. Search results from these related terms can be surrounded by smart creative, store locations, even listings of what’s currently in stock. It is advertising that doesn’t just exploit that moment of need, it offers up a solution.

The Red Roof Inn famously monitors flight cancellations, using them to guide a search campaign that ensure Red Roof Inn ads are the first thing to greet stranded travellers when they start searching for last-minute accommodations.

According to Jason Hartley, VP of US Search at 360i, the key to such a campaign is “bringing in data that helps us understand the moment more clearly as opposed to it just being time or day or something similarly static. It’s about what was actually going on in the searcher’s life.”

Create new moments

Of course there’s no need to wait for a crippling blizzard to take advantage of moment based search campaigns. Search can be used to reshape perceptions and create moments.

“Take charcoal. We used seafood to dimensionalize another product, charcoal, and create more demand.” says Jason Hartley. By “making people more aware that seafood can be barbecued, we captured that need in the summertime for seafood barbecue to get people barbecuing more often than they would. This growth is a real obvious efficiency with search. Those moments that we can [use] to create new users.”

In this example users search terms can be used to create new habits or further ingrain existing ones by suggesting connections between products.

Own the moments you can’t control

The purpose of advertising is to make brands more visible, but a smart search strategy accounts for the fact that sometimes visibility is the last thing a brand needs. In a moment of crisis, or even a routine shortage, it may be better for a brand not to appear at all.

According to Hartley even a single bad experience can damage a brand, but a search campaign can be used to keep customers away if it’s not a good time. “One thing we try to do is ingest inventory data from our partners. That lets us know when one of our clients might be out of a particular item that people are searching for. Then we can shut [the campaign] down to avoid disappointing someone.”

Hartley thinks that real-time adjustments like this are what really makes search shine. “There are moments like that, which are a little less sexy and a little less exciting, but those moments are happening all the time and a lot of times they’re under the radar. That’s where technology has helped us to rethink what’s going on below the surface. If you surface the right things, it really matters.”

Be a part of Cultural Moments

There are always “watercooler” moments. The moments that drive conversation for the day or week. Take for example, the Olympics or Elections. Custom search pages built around these global events offer marketers a chance to attach their brand to massive cultural events and conversations.

There’s no shortage of cultural moments that marketers can tap into, ranging from traditional seasonal moments like holidays or current events. With search it’s possible to get a product in front of these audiences, during a big cultural moment. Tapping into these moments means getting into an audience’s mindset. It’s no longer just about serving the right message; it’s about serving the message at the right moment.

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