Thursday, July 03, 2008

Gasta News: Brand Piggybacking

It's time to stop complaining about people piggy-backing on your search terms. Use it as an opportunity to hit back, be smarter, more nimble and win, just like Gasta.

Why the hell is someone able to advertise on Google using my brand name? Don't I own my brand name, and my product names? The simple answer is no, you don't, especially when it comes to using them in search. For the delusional lawyers that think they do, can I please laugh at you? It's gone. Shattered. You can have your brand terms copyrighted, trademarked and employ a whole team of leaders for their defense, but owning? That control state exists only in lawyers' minds. Yes, you may OWN them, but the reality is you just can't sue everybody, not anymore. Like copyrighted material that makes it onto video sites, it's a losing battle.

So, what you really need to do is look at this as an opportunity, not an obstacle.

The way that Google works, and I'm sure as hell going to get flack if I get this wrong, is that if the name is in the competitive set and it is relevant to the purchase, category, product or topic, you can buy it.

Now, what you cannot do, or are not supposed to do as a competitor to the brand, is use that brand name in the copy of that ad. You can use it in the title due to dynamic replacement, but you are not supposed to -- or it is greatly frowned upon if you do -- use it in the copy of the ad. But the reality? Eh, a lot more murky. There are just way too many advertisers buying terms, and it's that democratization that is fueling a lot of the growth.

Look, if a company is buying your product name, or your brand name, then you are doing something right. Are they riding the coattails of your brand equity? You bet your lazy corporate lemming butt they are. And they will ride it and ride it until you wise-up on how to defend it.

There are a number of companies that insist on not buying their brand names with the belief that "I am already ranked at the top of the organic results, so I don't need to." And that is true for many clients. But not buying your brand name in addition is ludicrous.

Here are three main reasons why you want to do this:

1. Combination punching
Enough research out there has shown us that the combination of having an organic link and a paid listing increases response by somewhere around 25 percent. Now, you could argue that the organic link is free and that paying for an additional 25 percent is not worth it. Wrong! Your competitors are unlikely to be over in the section of organic listings. They are hitting you in the ad space. Occupy that space so they don't own you. 2. The message
It's the one real way that you can exert control -- your message. The copy that is picked up thorough organic listings is much less easily controlled. It is the crawlers that determine it, and your homepage has to be specifically designed for that purpose to make it better. It is also relatively static and does not change over time. That would require new copy on the homepage, new tweaking and a whole new crawl by Google. When will that happen? Who knows. But you can control exactly what copy appears in a paid listing and about your brand. Adapt that copy to what is going on in your company right now. What is relevant today? Do you want everyone to end up on the one page that gets the highest organic listings? Are you sure? Have you just been hit with some bad PR? Thwart it right there and then lead the user directly to your response. Have: "Rumors untrue, company not being acquired" in the search copy.

There are a hell of a lot more people who search on terms than click on ads. Just because they didn't click doesn't mean you can't seed that meme. Press releases are a thing of the past -- a top-down linear cascade that no longer has relevance to today's consumer. Your brand names are your first line of defense in the PR war, so use them wisely.

3. Navigation
Search is not as much about searching and finding anymore as it is about navigation. People use search engines as "navigation engines" to get to where they are going. You look at the most popular queries in search engines -- the real top searches, not the ones that are edited. They are littered with URLs and brand names. It has just become easier to use search engines to type in URLs and company names than worry you'll end up at some domain park by typing one wrong letter. Spellcheck means you'll almost always get to where you want in the next click.

One of my most amusing ad buys at was buying the word Yahoo for purchase on Google that led to -- a wonderful triad. When running marketing at Ask, we had some significant challenges. It was never about beating Google. We were Google's largest distributor of ad listings in the world. It was a very symbiotic relationship. Frienemies, if you will. It was about getting people to think of us when they think of "search." Just by being there, we spur top-of-mind awareness for our brand. We were just not in people's consideration set. Look, the reason why Google seems lax is because competition in our business moves our whole industry forward, not just those companies that have been sitting on their brand equity like luddites. It was easy in offline -- just throw a bunch of lawyers at them. But online doesn't just mean those companies in your immediate competitive set, it means thousands of smaller shops that can now afford to advertise.

It's time you stopped complaining about people piggy-backing on your terms and started to look at it as an opportunity to hit back. "But they're driving up my costs for those words, and it's unfair!" Since when is life or business fair? Like sucker fish on sharks, start to look at that relationship as symbiotic. Use them and what they say to your advantage. Stop sticking your heads in the sand, get out there, think of how you can leverage and thwart those efforts -- and attack. Be smarter, more nimble.... and win. Or you can just throw lawyers at the problem, stick your head in the sand and watch them rip business away from you.

By Sean Cummings (nod to Imedia)