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Lose the Security Blanket: The Importance of Online Visibility in Market Research

Insights August 22, 2013

Before joining team Terakeet, I enjoyed a career in the dynamic and challenging field of Market Research. Over my years in the business I worked with clients from a variety of industries including telecommunication, healthcare, technology and pharmaceuticals; but the most competitive environment that I’ve ever experienced was the world of retail, more specifically children’s clothing (hopefully the title and picture are starting to make a bit more sense at this point). When I first started working on the project, I assumed that we would be figuring out who made the cutest animal t-shirts or the sturdiest little overalls, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.


To give you a little background, the company that I worked with is well established in the retail industry and dominates the children’s clothing market for their target age group. By dominates, I mean that on average they hold close to a 20 point advantage over their nearest competitor when it comes to brand recognition and top-of-mind awareness among shoppers. The goal was to constantly track the competition in order to make sure they stayed well ahead of the pack.


At first everything was going well, they were maintaining their lead and looked poised to crush the competition once “Back to School” shopping season hit.  But suddenly someone closed the gap by 2 percent and the client immediately hit the panic button. Even though they were still clearly positioned at the top, we all understood that a 2 percent shift represented a lost opportunity to capture tens of thousands of customers and millions of dollars.


For this particular client, there was nothing more important than maximizing their share of the market. However, I find it interesting that over the course of the project we focused almost exclusively on their competition in the physical retail space and hardly ever talked about the online visibility of the brand. At the time I thought that this approach made sense, since the majority of their advertising dollars were spent on print, television and in-store promotions, but now that I have some insight into the world of search, I realize that I was wrong. I recently did some research on my former client and would bet that after seeing some of the numbers that I found, they might have a change of heart as well.


On average, there are 400,000 searches per month for terms related to children’s clothing. With the top spot in Google receiving 18 percent of click-through traffic for a given search term, this means that being the number one result for those terms earns you a chance to convert 72,000 eager online shoppers each month. By comparison, the tenth spot has a click-through rate of 1 percent, which gives you a shot at reaching 4,000 potential shoppers. As of earlier this week, my former client was ranked outside of the top ten results for a surprising number of these terms, leaving them at least 17 points behind whoever holds the number one ranking. More importantly, this means that every month, the companies sitting atop those results pages are seeing 17 times more search-related traffic. If we were so quick to react to a 2 percent change in the offline market, how could something as big as this go unnoticed?


Looking back, the answer is pretty simple:
we were working with blinders on.
This particular company was so focused on maintaining their position in the physical retail space, that while we were digging into each tiny shift in the market, their online competition was leaving them behind. It was very clear that they were much more comfortable working in the offline world and couldn’t see the potential that the Internet held for their brand. Perhaps if I had been armed with all of the data that I have now, I would have been able to convince them otherwise.


Now, I’m not trying to make the case that every company should divert every penny of their offline marketing budget to SEO. What I’m trying to illustrate is that if you choose not to take a well-rounded approach to the way in which you market and monitor your brand, you will miss out on some valuable opportunities. It’s also important for brands to step outside of their comfort zone and be prepared to take chances.


So at this point you may be thinking to yourself, what should my former client do to remedy their lackluster online presence? The easiest step they could take is to pay attention to it in the first place.


This might seem pretty obvious, but from past experience I know that there are plenty of companies out there that see search (and even the web in general) as an unknown quantity that can’t be measured, so they choose to ignore it. However, by investing in the right team for the job (hint hint), your online metrics can be tracked, processed and reported in a meaningful way that shows the all-important ROI.


Another suggestion would be to start treating online and offline customers as equals. Months of research and testing goes into determining the perfect time and place to show a television commercial, so paying for banner ads that potential shoppers may or may not see just doesn’t measure up. You have an army of brand evangelists-in-waiting online, but in order to reach them effectively someone has to take the time to understand who they are, find where they live on the web and most importantly figure out what they want.


These are only two items from the long list of actions that a brand can take to ensure they have great visibility across every possible channel; but they’re a good place to start. If I had to leave you with one last thing to think about, it would be this: It can be all too easy to simply stick with what you know (we’ve all been guilty of this at some point), but if you aren’t willing to embrace change and try new things, there’s a long line of brands that are and they’re just waiting to take your spot.


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