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SEO: The Brand Marketer's Blind Spot?

Allan Bisset

Those coming from a Marketing and Brand-based background often have huge problems with the concept of SEO.  If you are involved in Brand management or Brand development, you eat, sleep and breathe Brand identity, integrity and expression and that naturally should inform all the on and offline promotional activity you undertake.  Above the line ads, literature, showrooms and Brand environments all have to be “on message” and adhere to the Brand’s personality and tone of voice – and rightly so.

Genuinely Customer Driven

So when an SEO agency tells a Brand owner that they have no visibility for Keyword X, the Brand guardian will often maintain that they don’t need visibility for Keyword X because that’s not them.  It’s not the Brand’s genetics.  All of which is absolutely correct from a Brand perspective – but doesn’t change the fact that people are searching using Keyword X, not any of your approved or authorised Brand consistent statements or straplines. It’s all a question of who owns the initial Search and the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) and that concept is tricky for Brand Managers to grasp, because it means there is a space where their Brand is expressed and explored that is completely out of their control, and always will be.

Modify Your Tone but Maintain Your Brand

From the Brand-centric perspective of many companies' Brand managers, consistent messaging and Brand integrity is their job and SEO seems to run directly counter to that.  In the case of maintaining a premium Brand profile against price sensitivity for example, using key words and phrases like “cheap” or “low cost” or “discounted” sabotages all the work done to build a brand that doesn’t rely solely on price.  However, the counter-intuitive (at least from a Brand perspective) reality of online search is that it’s entirely visitor driven.  It’s a prospect expressing and exploring a need and seeking replies.

Learn to Let Go

By not even considering certain keyphrases, the Brand owner is removing or deliberately excluding himself from that initial conversation.  You’ll never hear that customer’s need expressed, so you’ll never even have an opportunity to fulfil that need.   The Brand marketer doesn’t own the search page. All the Brand guardian can do at this stage of the process is choose to participate in that initial conversation or not.  The initial search is entirely defined by the searcher. From there, search algorithms try their best to match the expressed need.  Once the search is launched, the visitor has transferred control over to the search engine, which in turn has gathered a page full of results which its algorithms have determined are potentially relevant matches.

Who Owns What?

The visitor then scans the page to pick the best candidates.   If the characteristics of a Brand resonate with that visitor’s perceived needs, that’s great.   But that’s going to happen in the head of the visitor, another space the Brand Owner has no control over! You can mention your Brand and hope that established Brand values reinforce what may be the searcher’s overall positive impression gained through many on and offline channels.

Once the prospect moves off his self-defined SERP and onto your site, then the Brand marketer has regained control of the messaging, but that still has to be presented with an understanding of the original need of the prospect.  Search activity is in the sole ownership of the searcher – and always will be.

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