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How discovery differs from search – and offers opportunities for brands


By Lisa Lacy, n/a

July 25, 2017 | 8 min read

While search and discovery sound similar – and they are – they are also two distinct concepts in marketing.

The first is more established – and more familiar: a consumer uses a search engine like Google, YouTube or Amazon and the platform in question uses indexes of data to retrieve answers.

That’s according to Duane Forrester, vice president of industry insights at Yext, who noted discovery, on the other hand, pulls in context.

“Search works well when I have a specific keyword and it matches something specific and I get that result back – that’s a well-trodden path,” Forrester said. “Discovery is more about… as an entity, I am trying to put my products and services in front of you as a part of your journey and you may not be aware [you’re] looking for A, B or C during your journey. Discovery becomes our next frontier, if you will.”

In other words, discovery exists on two levels: One is the customer and what he or she does not know he or she wants; the other is the business and the discovery of insights from data and its interactions with customers.

According to Forrester, Amazon is a good example. Let’s say a customer is using Amazon to search for a keyboard-shaped waffle iron. Then, along the way, Amazon is good at showcasing related or relevant items like, say, a Star Wars waffle iron.

“It opens that concept of what else I might be interested in,” Forrester said.

And with last week’s launch of Amazon Spark, the personalized feed of content from consumers with similar interests, Amazon seems keen on fueling discovery in new ways.

‘We are building a future discovery engine’

Echoing Forrester, Yolanda Lam, head of agency partnerships at Pinterest, said Pinterest thinks the future of search is visual and it has over 100bn pins created by consumers in discovery mode, which “really helps people discover things when they are specifically looking for things and they don’t know what they’re looking for”.

Pinterest users are exposed to ideas in their home feeds after picking topics they like – such as food and drink, home décor, quotes and recipes.

“The home feed is where ideas surface,” Lam said. “Those types of ideas are based on behaviors on Pinterest and what they’ve clicked on. It’s a personalized magazine almost.”

In fact, Lam said Pinterest users want to discover ideas that are super personal to them and then buy them, shop for them or make them.

“The discovery aspect is super personal,” Lam said. “We oftentimes talk about ourselves as not a social network. You don’t go to Pinterest to broadcast or communicate, you go [for] discovery. We are building a future discovery engine to use every day. It’s super personal to [users]. [They are] not sharing what they love to do, it’s for themselves. That’s pretty unique.”

And Pinterest, too, is building out discovery with capabilities like visual search tool Lens in which consumers capture images in the real world and can find related products on the platform.

Not surprisingly, Lam said brands can also take advantage of Pinterest to boost discovery by investing in ads to surface ideas to an intent-driven audience, as well as by investing in their organic presence.

“We tell our brands that [it doesn’t] require a lot of content on the organic side to get discovered. Pins and ads are additive,” Lam said. “We have a new format coming out in August on the advertising side – autoplay video. We haven’t had that format yet [and it will be] exclusively available to businesses in August.”

‘Foursquare's consumer apps… were built to create a type of serendipity’

Another platform pushing discovery is Foursquare, which has apps like the Foursquare City Guide, which Steven Rosenblatt, president at Foursquare, said was “built to create a type of serendipity in leading people to new places” because in part it understands user habits and preferences. Foursquare also allows marketers to tap into contextual targeting with ad creative “to inspire these types of moments”, he added.

“For example, Foursquare worked with Timberland to curate top-rated and trending nightlife, dining, travel, cultural and outdoor places that would speak to their target audience,” Rosenblatt said. “By using location as content, Foursquare enhanced the Timberland experience to give consumers personalized, nearby places to visit and building the brand's connection to consumers and encouraging discovery.”

Arby's Limited-Time Pizza Sliders

Another example comes from a restaurant like Arby’s capitalizing on a consumer using a mobile device to search for a nearby location. In addition to a map and reviews, there’s also likely a clickable menu – and this is where Arby’s could highlight a new menu item like its limited-time pizza sliders, Forrester said.

“I never would have thought of pizza in relation to Arby’s and maybe that’s exactly what I want – I have a little pizza sandwich I can hold in my hand,” he added. “It’s taking a consumer in. They were probably interested in [it] anyhow, but it has gone from interested in a sandwich to can’t wait to try the new object – and get in there. It’s an excitement moment that bridges into the future. I know they have a turkey sandwich, but that’s not exciting [and this] continues to perpetuate me coming back.”

And, per Forrester, the pathways exist today for a brand like Arby’s to let consumers know when a promotion like pizza sliders will end so there is no latency in discovery and they are encouraged to come in today.

Forrester said this type of discovery is more prevalent with food than other products because there’s more of an emotional gradient with pizza than, say, dog bowls. But the same is true is of events, so venues with a national presence could also tap into this type of mobile discovery for nearby locations.

Another example is a hotel brand like Marriott boosting discovery of amenities like golf courses that consumers can use without booking rooms. But in order to do that, the brand has to have clearly defined personas not just of its target consumers, but also those customers on the fringes. That, in turn, helps structure messaging.

“Businesses should be encouraged to figure out more about what the customer is doing around any topic – like [painting] their house,” Forrester said. “That’s a golden opportunity for Home Depot to talk about building a deck, [installing a] spa, [putting in new] landscaping, [getting a] hummingbird feeder – all these kinds of things in outdoor living. [The consumer is] already…in the right mindset – they want to get out there and do some work, so [Home Depot] should get on that and then double down on that. It requires a lot of tracking resources, which is not an easy thing to do, but success on the web is not easy either.”

And, according to Forrester, discovery could offer opportunities for small businesses in particular.

“Small businesses are often much closer to customers and will have a good feeling about what moves the needle. It’s straightforward and then it’s easy to pivot. It’s harder for a big company – there are more people, more sign off…it’s a situation where I think everybody has a fairly good opportunity and it’s a really level playing field,” Forrester said. “My [inclination] is it doesn’t matter what kind of business you are, try using these systems and see what you can use to your benefit.”

That includes soliciting reviews, which Forrester said drive behavior for most consumers.

“I’ve lost track how many times [I’ve looked at] Amazon reviews and seen a different product by name and then researched that product and I sometimes buy the competing product,” Forrester said. “But when I started the journey, I had no ideas.”

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