Originally published in MediaPost.
If a potential customer knocked on your door to purchase a product or service, would you answer? It’s often the marketer’s job to disrupt prospects from their daily life with an ad that will win them over with an enticing value proposition. Search engine marketing (SEM), on the other hand, is one of the few marketing channels where a prospective customer comes to you — a traveling salesman’s dream come true.
While all marketing channels have their place in promoting an end-to-end customer experience, SEM is a critical component to any marketing program since it’s often the starting point of the customer journey as well as the basket that catches prospects from higher-funnel marketing efforts.
It would be a shame to invest in awareness-generating tactics only to hang a closed sign when a potential customer is ready to purchase. Often a customer’s last touch point prior to conversion, SEM fulfills customer needs by providing a direct route to purchase at the exact time customers raise their hand.
Imagine that Susie, an active runner, sees a billboard on her way to work promoting FastTrack Shoes. On her lunch break, Susie reads a running blog and sees a display banner advertisement promoting FastTrack Shoes’ newest shoe line and is reminded of the billboard she saw earlier that day.
Now inspired to replace her current shoes, Susie types in “buy running shoes” into the Google toolbar. Conveniently, the first listing Susie sees is a FastTrack Shoes advertisement. Susie excitedly clicks on the SEM advertisement and is sent directly to FastTrack Shoes’ website, where she quickly purchases the shoes she has been eyeing.
Now, imagine the same scenario, but this time FastTrack Shoes is not running SEM advertising, so when Susie searches for “buy running shoes” she is met with an advertisement from its closest competitor, SunRun Shoes. FastTrack Shoes’ awareness-generating advertisement efforts mean very little if they are not present at the time Susie is ready to convert; SunRun Shoes steals away the sale.
Targeting prospects in SEM has never been easier, using the constantly increasing ad targeting options Google and Microsoft offer. Not only can advertisers select ads based on a user’s age, gender, and household income, but they can also take advantage of the search engines’ arsenal of relevant audience-targeting capabilities based on internet activity.
For extremely targeted advertising, businesses can even upload hashed customer data to build a lookalike model to focus advertising dollars on users similar to their current customer base.
SEM is a full-funnel marketing channel that’s ripe for the picking. Don’t close shop during key stages in the research and consideration process — or let a competitor go home with a bushel full of your customers after you’ve sown the seeds and nurtured them with prior upper and mid-funnel marketing investment.