The launch last week of Google’s “time-sensitive” search engine, Caffeine, is more meaningful to your business than you might think. Its ability to deliver – and promote – real-time content within minutes of it having been written, means that the ability to control your brand image has just become harder, and resisting social media more risky than ever.
With Caffeine, Google has essentially created an international soap box which amplifies and promotes public opinion regarding products and services that consumers are searching for, at a time when they are likely to be most influenced by opinion, that is, when they are comparing brands before making a final purchase decision. No one should under-estimate the power of public opinion: according to a survey by research company Nielsen, last year, recommendations by personal acquaintances and opinions posted by consumers online are the most trusted forms of advertising.
Companies need to consider the impact of public opinion when calculating the return on investment from digital advertising and promotions.
In order to assess this – aside from knowing what consumers are currently saying about your brand online – it is essential to have a plans in place to improve consumer experience/perception, and to manage any future PR crisis immediately and effectively. Google Caffeine means that these plans have changed from a “nice-to-have” to “must-have” for effective online marketing.
With Google’s continuous drive to make search more personally relevant, that “must-have” will soon become “critical”, as social search capabilities are enhanced.
By its own admission, Google sees tremendous potential for social information to improve search, and is “just beginning to scratch the surface”.
Social search, which is already available in beta to registered Google users, filters and prioritizes results by those most closely connected to the user, which means that the impact of the recommendation and/or opinion is further heightened. Nielsen reports a whopping 90 per cent of people trusting online recommendations from people they know.
Let’s look at a potential scenario to show how this could play out.
John is looking for a mobile phone and can’t decide between iPhone or Blackberry. He enters “iPhone vs Blackberry” into Google and gets a page of results that shows both iPhone and Blackberry sponsored ads, followed by Twitter and blog comments from his close circle of friends, bullet-pointed by their avatar for ease of identification.
His eye is immediately drawn towards the avatar of Steven, a trusted friend with a similar taste in technology.
He sees that Steven is complaining about Blackberry, stating how he wishes he had opted for the iPhone instead.
John scans the other Google results to find that Steven is not alone in his view; with three or four other trusted friends holding a similar view.
Now, despite seeing a killer offer from Blackberry advertised at the top of the Google results, John’s mind is made up. iPhone it is.
Now all he has to do is Google some mobile network providers.
While John could have asked individuals about their thoughts on his dilemma, it was much quicker, easier and less intrusive to get multiple opinions from his trusted network, through Google, and more trusted than both the manufacturer websites, which he deems to be biased and complicated to compare, and a generic reviews website, where he does not know the people giving their opinion.
(While the manufacturers’ websites may have less influence in the brand consideration phase, it certainly doesn’t make the websites redundant – it simply addresses a different lifecycle stage which, in John’s case, is to compare models to find the right fit for his needs, to complete the purchase and to later refer to for support.)
Given this new world of consumer-to-consumer advertising, how do we ensure that brands are being represented in the best possible light? By placing genuine focus on customer experience, feedback and engagement, to improve consumer opinion.
The more you allow your consumers to guide (implicitly and explicitly) the evolution of your products and services, the greater sense of ownership and respect they’ll have for your brand. This respect will come through in their communication with their peers, and be picked up in social search to influence like-minded consumers considering your products, which will ultimately increase digital marketing effectiveness and positively impact sales.
• The Official Google Blog (http://googleblog.blogspot.com) January 27, 2010.
Jennie Bewes, social media & new business director
As published in The Australian Financial Review | 17 June 2010