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Why there is still hope in search marketing for food and drinks brands

By Rick Lamb, Head of Digital Operations

Latitude Digital Marketing

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The Drum Network article

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December 14, 2016 | 6 min read

Search marketing isn’t like the rest of marketing. You can’t take a PPC ad home to show your mum for a star t (although mine wasn’t exactly blown away by the credit card inserts I began my career buying in her Sunday supplement). It sits a t the more prosaic, less creative end of the scale, but has earned a solid share of the marketing purse through its effectiveness and the strong foundation of data and insight.

Food and drink supplement - Latitude

Yet there’s an area where search, particularly paid search, has been on an uphill struggle. FMCGs are gold-standard accounts for creatives, requiring all the clout of the biggest and best TV and press buying shops and attracting some of the brightest and most renowned brand marketers client-side. They all know search is a growing thing, a great consumer barometer they’re told, and are conscious it must have a part to play in their media mix. But where?

For practical household items, there’s a job to be done around need states as there always has been. Cleaning products want to be the authority on stain removal, so the Vanish Tip Exchange, driven by se arch behavioural insights, speaks directly to customers with a pressing textile disaster.

But what about food and drink? Everyone knows what to do if they’re hungry and thirsty, and recipes have been penned across all sorts of formats by some powerful sites and chefs. But unless you’re after a restaurant or bar, it’s one of the few things you wouldn’t pick up your mobile for.

So, search as a marketing channel for food and drink has historically had limited utility and if used at all, been a hygiene factor, capturing interest generated by other media, and difficult to defend as a branding channel. Even Google has realised its best way into the massive spends of all the names in your treat cupboard is through YouTube, not search.

That’s not to say it’s a closed book. We’re only halfway through this piece and it would be rather defeatist to end here. And in fact, one of the best uses of search I’ve seen from a creative standpoint was food – Snickers to be precise. Extending the ‘You’re Not You When You’re Hungry’ campaign to paid search ads against commonly misspelt terms was brilliant, and clever search marketers with a broader view are capable of bringing the channel into an integrated strategy in this way.

Future food searches

The future looks a whole lot more interesting and exciting in a different way for brand marketers. According to Mintel, nearly half of Brits are current online grocery shoppers, with 11% doing all their grocery shopping online. This creates a whole new ecosystem for brands to stand out in following years of honing their on-shelf presence – a challenge to try to stand out on the virtual shelf, a black hole into which shoppers disappear, sales occur and nobody is any wiser. Yet help is at hand. Paid Search opportunities abound. And not where you might think. Google has been a gateway for desktop users, the starting point for the internet, but mobile and tablet devices, where apps are as accessible as browsers, mean behaviour is changing.

55% of shopping journeys online in the US begin with Amazon, according to recent research from BloomReach, with a further 16% going straight to other retailers. Users are still searching, just not in the first instance on se arch engines as we know them.

Amazon has long since discovered that if you keep prices low, people will keep coming. If people keep coming, there is revenue to be made from them. If you make revenue from visitors, you can use it to keep your prices low and get more visitors.

Amazon Marketing Services, which resembles an early-stage Adwords, allows brands who sell on Amazon to promote their products against searches on Amazon; to move to the front of the best shelf on the best aisle; paid search promoting your products at the point of purchase, just like Google only better. If Google pushes customers into the shop, this is placing your product in the hand of someone by the till.

Fresh thinking

If you think about the progress Amazon is making in the grocery space, with Amazon Fresh challenging delivery times and Amazon Dash circumventing the need to even look for the product you want by repeat ordering, brands and grocers alike would be negligent not to have this at the top of their agendas.

Grocers are already taking their own steps. Asda and Tesco are two retailers working with Hooklogic, which provides the infrastructure to promote products on a paid-per-interaction basis. You can promote your new cereal to the top of the category – the online equivalent of building a stand in the middle of the aisle.

It’s a reinvention of shopper marketing, and a whole new source of insight of the influence of promoting products on sales within that digital store. With clever strategies, the impact of brand advertising could also be tracked based on increased interest in or sales of a product. As the ecosystem develops, there’s even hope for other areas of online media that a full digital path to purchase for FMCG could be tracked. You still can’t take it home to show your mum, but she would be impressed if you told her.

This article was originally published in The Drum Network Does...Food and Drink supplement on 8 December.

Rick Lamb is head of operations at creative agency Latitude.

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