The number of methods for marketers to reach their audiences has expanded exponentially in the past decade. Social media ads (such as Facebook or YouTube) have exploded, email and marketing automation tools have become more sophisticated and analytics have helped us understand more about our audiences than ever before.
And yet, in many ways, marketing to audiences has never been more difficult. Ratings for traditional television programs are on the decline while the growth of ad blockers and spam filters have helped audiences to limit digital interactions.
So how do brands demonstrate value in a world where the old rules for reaching them no longer apply?
The answer may lie not so much in the “traditional” methods of reaching audiences; namely, running a bunch of advertisements in a way to make yourself as loud as possible in your efforts to sell to your audience. Instead, it may reside with an underappreciated – but growing – phenomenon: Making your brand easier than ever to find.
More than ever before audiences are explorers, seeking out information, companies and products. It’s fundamentally changing how many of them interact with brands – and, in the process, it’s creating exciting new opportunities for marketers.
A broader role for “search” in marketing
For a long time, “search” in marketing had a defined, narrow role.
In most cases, it referred to “search engine optimization” (SEO) – a highly-technical and specialized tactic aimed at trying to get web pages to rank higher in search rankings (such as Google’s). In other cases it meant “search engine marketing” (SEM), paid advertising campaigns using search engines.
Now, thanks to the advance of technology, the ability to “search” has expanded well beyond the narrow notion of a search engine.
Now, search is everywhere. Looking for paper towels? Punch it into Amazon. Want a new app to help you exercise? Use the search function in the App Store or Google Play. Want directions to the nearest gas station? You can search using the Apple maps app. Looking for information on how to create a more secure password for your Facebook account? It’s just a search away.
Even video game maker Nintendo Switch now allows its audience to search for video games directly (as well as find suggestions on new ones) through the Nintendo Online Store.
Not only that, the technology has changed. People have smartphones that they can use to search for anything at any time, video game devices (like the Nintendo Switch) they can play anywhere.
Plus now, with the rise of voice devices, people can search at any time – even, for example, when their hands are covered in flour in the kitchen.
This is more than just a trend, though. It’s fundamentally altering the relationship between audiences and brands.
Creating to be found: Re-casting the relationship between audiences and brands
The “searching” phenomenon – the trend towards audiences actively seeking out brands – represents new opportunities for marketers.
Think of it this way: The vast majority of audiences used to be settlers. They would arrive in one place then continue to interact with the same brands, year after year after year. Traditional advertising, such as newspaper ads, digital display ads and social media ads, worked well in reaching these audiences.
Now, thanks to the change in technology, more and more audiences are explorers. They can go and test out new brands, find new information they weren’t previously exposed to and explore pieces of technology they’ve never used before.
The world of marketing will, of course, always involve a mix of both: It’s difficult to imagine a world where hard sell tactics such as advertising will no longer be relevant.
But it’s also tough to ignore the trend towards audiences actively seeking out brands.
So the question then becomes: What does this all mean for marketers?
What the explorer phenomenon means for marketers
“Selling” to audiences, through actively pushing products, services or information at them through advertisements, is one thing. But getting people to actively search for your brand – that’s where the magic happens.
What brand doesn’t want an audience that’s going out of their way to find out information or products that they offer?
It also makes “creating to be found” a key new tactic that brands haven’t previously considered before.
That could mean something as simple as optimizing a mobile application so it is appearing more readily in the App Store. Or it could mean designing whole campaigns aimed at ensuring your brand is the one that audiences want to find.
Whatever that means for the future will be up to savvy marketers to decide. But there’s little doubt that audiences’ growing desire – and ability – to search represents new opportunities for brands to reach their audience.
What will yours find?