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June 2, 2017
SEM 3.0 People-Centric Search
The results you get on Google are served up selectively. Smart brands are pinpointing desirable customers among those searching. Paid search, like other digital modalities, is becoming more data-driven and personalized in real time.
Organic search (SEO) is the baseline digital marketing tactic for most marketing campaigns. Considered an important, if arcane, art it is typically characterized as a constant cat-and-mouse game between search practitioners and Google bots or algorithms ensuring full employment for SEO specialists and copywriters. In contrast, on the SEM side, data sharing and collaboration to precisely engage carefully defined customer cohorts with Google is becoming the norm and a key tactic to keep the ad dollars flowing.
Google uses extensive data sets with the intention of reaching and delighting each individual searcher on their own terms. Some are calling this approach “people-based search.” If you and I both search for the same term, the sites served up and the sequence of search results will be different, influenced by who you are, where you are (zip codes and IP addresses), specific device(s) used, search frequency or history and whatever else Google knows about you from using Gmail, YouTube, Google Calendar, Google Docs or Google Translate, Google Maps or other Google utilities. 
Google has access to roughly 70 percent of US credit card and debit card transactions. They can tie these cards to location tracking services to link search activity to store traffic and purchases. Because they offer a wide range of services and products, Google can track a person as he or she interacts with display ads, videos, search, social media, a site or on an app. By aggregating behavior across these touch points; Google “Attribution” (in beta) illustrates how the array of marketing tactics works together. By applying machine learning algorithms, they can weight the impact of different tactics and figure out what combination of channels, messages, and frequencies led to conversion.
Don’t freak out. Ideally, this is Google trying to understand you and give you the information you seek the way you want it or need to see it quickly. It’s their pathway toward one-to-one marketing. People-centric search informs who gets to see which keywords. It’s an additional targeting factor not a replacement for a studied keyword strategy.  
Google’s ability to build a robust record for each person enables Google to put you into salable segments, infer interests and needs, make a pretty fair guess at education, income, and social class. They make these data points available to advertisers to marry with data about you from stores you shop at, credit cards you use, rewards programs you’re in and subscriptions you take. Google can also import and use a brand’s existing customer segmentation, customer value scores, and propensity models for the purpose of targeting search results.
First party data can also be combined with 3rd party data sets like web cookies, mobile numbers, household income, the presence of children or clickstreams to further refine and discretely target paid search campaigns. Smart brands can weigh, buy and service different sets of customers differently. 
For example, two people search for “credit cards.” Competing banks use their CRM data to identify each person. Based on that data, they can decide to bid or not bid on each person. If they choose to bid, they can decide how much to insure they get their message in front of a desirable prospect. If they have income data or credit scores they can determine who gets a search ad for a gold card and who gets an offer for a Platinum card.
Using this data-rich campaign planning approach, brands can target search results to reinforce loyalists or switch pitch competitors’ customers. Similarly, brands can parse an Adwords campaign by bidding high for high-value customers or repeat buyers and by bidding low or not bidding at all for the great unwashed. Paid Adwords can be served to some and denied to others. Bidding can also be influenced and scheduled by time of day, the day of the week, time zones, geography, devices and probably several other variables to increase the likelihood of precisely hitting a target customer segment with relevant search results.
Google has pre-packaged tools to help brands use this novel targeting method. “Customer Match” allows a brand to match its customer database with Google and then devise business rules to direct search results. The goal is to get in front of the best, most likely customers with the information most likely to be useful and persuasive.
“Similar Audiences” is a tool that imports a brand’s database and then uses machine learning to find and serve up search results to people who look like those in the database. The operative idea is that “birds of a feather flock together.” Odds are that people who look like your existing customers are probably the next best prospects to become new customers. By selectively targeting search results to look-alikes you increase the probability of conversion. 
According to Nicolas Darveau-Garneau, Google’s Chief Search Evangelist, TurboTax did the “Customer Match” to re-engage their most loyal customers and saw a 19% bump in conversions. Fiat-Chrysler tried “Similar Audiences” and scored 22% more conversions and 11% more click-throughs. And Guitar Center credited “Customer Match” with a 50% higher conversion rate.
Google recently added two other tools to enable selective people-centric searching. Demographics for Search Ads (DFSA) enables age and gender targeting to zero-in on or exclude specific prospects from search ads. Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSA) presents paid search ads to highly targeted prospects across devices. The desirable customer who visited a site or searched a brand on her laptop can be re-engaged he she searches on her smartphone.   
In the old days, Google came to prominence and ultimately dominance by democratizing search and building a better mousetrap. Today, it seems they are wielding data to fuel their paid search business. It’s an idea and a toolset worth testing. Customer-centricity and precision marketing in paid search are possible win-win scenarios for savvy brands.

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Danny Flamberg, EVP Managing Director of Digital Strategy and CRM at Publicis based in New York, has been building brands and building businesses for more than 30 years.Prior to joining Publicis, he led a successful global consulting group called Booster Rocket, as Managing Partner. Before becoming a consultant, he was Vice President of Global Marketing at SAP, SVP and Managing Director at Digitas in New York and Europe and President of Relationship Marketing at Amiratti Puris Lintas and Lowe Worldwide.
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