The Role of Search in Advertising

by Jeff Quipp November 7th, 2007 

Do you intuitively understand the strengths and weaknesses of search as it relates to all other media? I mean, most of us get that paid search has distinct pros and cons, as does organic search, but what about search in general relative to other media?

For example … why would search not be the ideal tool to create awareness of a brand new revolutionary type of laser drill for the home handyman? In the remainder of this post, I'll explore the role of search in advertising, as it has implications for such questions.

Laser Drill

At the highest level, there are 2 types of media; Creative and Directive.

Creative Media:
Creative types of media are intrusive, meaning the advertising is not user initiated (expected maybe, but not user initiated). Common types of creative media would be:
a) newspaper
b) radio
c) television
d) billboards
e) vehicle wraps
f) etc.
This type of media has many purposes that for the most part revolve around awareness building, brand or product positioning, or branding. eg.s:

Creative media is excellent for instigating impulse purchases near the point of sale (eg. katsup, souvenirs, umbrellas, etc.). For 'considered purchases' (a purchase that requires more time and research to make the ultimate decision) however, directive media is often required in conjunction with creative media. For 'emergency purchases' (such as plumbers, tow trucks, etc.), creative media typically performs less than ideal, since the information is often more fleeting, and is not provided typically in the form of an ongoing reference guide.

At the end of the day, typically creative media reaches potential clients much earlier in the buying process (see chart below for the 5 Stages) than directive media. Specifically, creative media will touch to varying degrees on the following stages of the purchase process:

Stage – Creative Media Strength
1) Need Identification – Very Strong
2) Information Search – Weak
3) Evaluation of Alternatives – Weak/Moderate
4) Purchase Decision – Moderate/Strong*
5) Purchase Evaluation – Weak

* due to branding and positioning.

5 Stage Purchase Process:
5 Step Purchase Process

Directive Media:
Directive types of media on the other hand are most useful only once someone has already recognized they have a need (made possible by creative media) … not for creating needs or awareness. Accordingly, directive media is user initiated … potential clients have actually prequalified themselves as being interested in what they searched for, so they're typically much further along in the purchase process. After all, how can potential clients search for a new product (eg. a laser drill) if they don't know it exists.

So how is directive media useful then? In summary, directive media becomes a valuable tool during the following stages of the purchase process:

Stage – Directive Media Strength
1) Need Identification – Weak
2) Information Search – Strong
3) Evaluation of Alternatives – Strong
4) Purchase Decision – Strong
5) Purchase Evaluation – Weak

Search engines are only successful because the real value lies with the website. A web site is capable of providing an incredible amount of information in any number of formats, unlike any other media. That said, search engines and directive media, are the tools available to be referenced 24/7 … just when potential clients are looking for something!

The Synergies:
Understanding the distinctions between creative and directive media is crucial. As I alluded to in my previous posting If Youre Going To Advertise Offline Make Sure Youre Well Represented on Search Engines! … its true. Search has the ability to improve the effectiveness of every other type of marketing campaign, and equally important is the concept that all other media have the ability to positively impact results from search.

The Future:
Going forward, a hybrid of both types of media will evolve. One example of such a media is interactive television, where if you see a television star wearing some particularly attractive clothing, you merely click on the clothing on the screen to get details about it (colours, costs, sizes, locations, shipping options, etc.). In that situation, the media both creates the need, and directs people to the appropriate sites to research and complete the transaction.

Conclusion:
Why is all this important? Well for starters … many agencies (I will not generalize) have no idea about search or directive forms of media. Directive media isn't sexy, and often doesn't command the same rates as agency creative work. Accordingly, a large percentage of company's advertising via creative media have campaigns that are far underperforming due to lack of representation on search. And … at the end of the day isn't our job to help clients capture the proverbial "lowest hanging fruit"?

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2 Responses to “The Role of Search in Advertising”

  1. [...] Directive Media: Search on the other hand is a form of directive media, meaning the ads/results are user initiated. Think about it … you only search for something when you know it exists. By definition this means that if something is revolutionary, most can't search for it because they don't yet know it exists. I wrote a more in depth post about the differences at "The Role of Search in Advertising". [...]