Integral changes in the digital landscape are redefining the approach that brands take to address their two important goals: driving sales and building relationships. First, to steer their sales strategy, marketers are no longer assuming that consumers search online for their brands. Although search ads continue to be an important component in the digital marketing matrix, there is a shift in how consumers discover brands and learn about them. Second, marketers have ditched their expectations of tying the business value to social strategies, because deciphering the quantitative impact of social has never been accurate. These changes are the upshot of the growing mobile Internet usage and the rapid strides in mobile technology and its adoption.
The above scenario forced marketers and agencies to dynamically address the product search and social challenges. Social and search marketing enjoy a symbiotic relationship: social drives awareness, and search generates leads.
In early 2014, organizations took the lead in driving social with their own in-house marketing set-up, leaving paid search and social media advertising to the expertise of agencies. However, within a year, marketers realized that this arrangement did not yield the desired results: tying business value to search and social strategies continued to be elusive. Both SEMPO’s State of Search Report 2015 and 2015 CMO Survey point out that the biggest challenge that marketers face is in measuring the SEO ROI and social impact, respectively.
Brands needed to derive the actual business impact from search and social campaigns rather than putting emphasis on metrics such as impressions and engagement. Blame the mobile internet for confounding marketers, agencies, and industry pundits. It, however, raises a pertinent question: what are people doing on their mobile phones? Is mobile SEO just going to be about “chasing the algorithm” and using the signals we learn through testing like traditional SEO?, or is something bigger out there that we are missing?
Welcoming The Post Search Era
Generating business value lies in thinking beyond “search-and-social” and helping consumers to make contextual discoveries.
The mainstay of desktop users—online search—became the first victim of the mobile Internet. Mobile users are no longer using Google to search for information about a destination, people or jobs, travel or just about anything; they’d instead be using TripAdvisor, LinkedIn, or any other app to get the required information.
According to SEMPO’s State of Search Report 2015 and CMO Survey – an average mobile user is using the browser only 1.25 times per day to search the web. This means users are highly engaged in social media, playing games, instant messaging and using more and more apps on their mobile. But what most users are not doing regularly is conducting searches in a browser, let alone within the app store. This fundamental shift in usage pattern has battered the very foundation of digital marketing. However, the predominant role played by instant messaging apps on mobile Internet has been a game changer. These apps and their myriad offerings made life a lot easier for the mobile user.
In other words, the role played by search and Google in the age of desktop Internet is now enacted by the messaging apps in the mobile Internet age.
Social Gives Way To Messaging
With people using more than two or three social channels, social communities have become part of our identities. As advertisers continue to bet big on social media, more and more users are retreating from these networks and moving to messenger apps. The rise of Facebook Messenger, Slack, and WhatsApp speaks to this transition.
Messaging apps serve as a powerful broadcasting platform for people to express their wants, desires, likes and dislikes. By April 2016, the top four messaging apps had 3 billion users among them—much more than the combined user base of the top five social networks, i.e. 2.04 billion users.
In more ways, messaging apps have become a touchpoint for users to access and share information—in effect, replacing the role of browsers and even social channels.
Brands Are Betting On Messaging Apps To Drive Discovery
As the organic reach on social media continues to fall, social marketers are quickly transitioning to messaging apps. By the end of 2017, brands will get their act together to get the most out of these apps; for example, using branded Slack channels, making a pitch on WhatsApp, and programming chatbots for a soft sales push. For marketers and consumers alike, messaging apps, such as Facebook Messenger, Slack, SnapChat and WhatsApp, are both a fair game and boon.
Adding Context To Search
Even Google has been personalizing search results now, leveraging user’s search history and social activities. It has been finally understood, when the industry talks about context, limiting this to search and apps alone will be a mistake. It is the need of the hour to link other parts of people’s daily activities to explicit search exercises that people perform otherwise. For it to truly work, every search must have more context behind it. Recommendation engine is a good example of how users are encouraged to skip the search and browse things that may be of interest to them, based on their browsing patterns.
Smart Keyboards: The Next Frontier
In the coming days, it remains to be seen how messaging apps with their suave algorithms bridge the gap between search and social by providing contextual help to users. On the other hand, the ubiquitous keyboard remains the vanguard for most of these apps. Computational linguistics and natural language processing fortify the next-gen keyboard technology.
Smart mobile keyboards dig deep into user data for contextual understanding of user intent, to provide non-interruptive, relevant content recommendations when consumers are using their mobile. With a synonymous integration with the mobile device, these keyboards will help in driving brand discovery even before user opts for an explicit search.
To Sum Up
We are fast approaching a space where online search will gradually fade away with users wanting to do away with explicit search, thereby narrowing the gap further, between their need and solution. It is yet to be seen if instant messaging apps will play a bigger role in the future, of a mobile-dominant internet. If anything, the proliferation of apps seems to be fragmenting the centralizing nature of the traditional search-engine-based internet.
That being said, the market opportunity for messaging apps is clearly there and seems to be growing. Marketers should monitor this trend and look for ways to experiment with IM marketing. Undoubtedly, those who ride on the initial waves will be in a win-win situation, getting the first mover’s advantage. With so many big names entering the IM space, it is certain that messaging apps will take the center stage and will leave web search behind in the competition.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Deepti Mani Saxena is the Sales and Marketing Director at KeyPoint Technologies and oversees nationwide sales and marketing strategies for KPT that includes brand stewardship, product innovation, customer relationships, day-to-day marketing and sales operations. Her achievements reflect in the groundbreaking marketing strategies she had designed for Domino’s, Goibibo, Thomson Digital and many more over the span of 10 years. Creativity is only half the equation; this growth hacker has also been recently awarded as the most influential marketer at the World Marketing Congress.