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Google has its place

Ryanair’s Chief Marketing Office, Kenny Jacobs, recently lamented to the travel trade press about the travel industry’s lack of fortitude in dispensing with Google, whose dodgy business model may soon come a cropper when European Courts get their teeth properly stuck in.

In particularly he was highly critical of the way the insidious algorithm offers commercial advantage to those willing to pay the piper, to the detriment of real user-benefits.

For slightly different reasons, it’s a subject dear to my heart:

Why do all my clients (not just in the travel industry) pour huge budgets into paid search with Google?

One answer is that it’s because Google has become a cost of sale. It’s not actually advertising or communications spend, in terms I would use. It’s more of a hard-wired distribution cost such as staff costs or store costs. But it also has the advantage of being much more measurable and accountable, and therefore that much easier to get through the finance department (the real decision makers).

It also means you don’t have to bother about investing in your brand. ‘Cos that’s like, really expensive and unmeasurable, right? Well, wrong, and there are literally tons of research, data and sales-based case studies to prove it, but never mind that for a minute.

The real answer was articulated to me quite recently by the owner of several insurance brands. He said: “It’s like a drug. You can’t stop using it for fear of the withdrawal symptoms.” And he should know. He spends £50k per month on it.

And no one has ever heard of his brands.

And that, in a nutshell, is my problem with the current balance of power.

It’s a measurable, accountable way of buying share of voice, in the way you used to have to do it on TV if you could afford it, but now relatively smaller players can get in on the action.

But it is a similar model to that of aggregators and price-comparison sites – gaining ranking and attention through pricing (or in the case of search, bidding), whilst relegating all the other critical factors of choice which are of relevance to the consumer: product/service fit, brand trust, etc.

It is a perpetual cycle of commoditisation.

Why not spend the same budgets on building your brand – focussing on areas of performance, trust, credibility, relevance and awareness – so that potential customers seek out your brand, even at a price premium, and they type your name into the search bar, rather than a broader product query?

But don’t get me wrong. Google does have its place, and I wouldn’t want to go back to a world without it. The algorithm is, as we all know, spookily clever. I rarely have to finish typing a search question before I am offered at least one relevant option.

Seek and ye shall find, with Google.

But, to paraphrase Kenny Jacobs, if you are a brand, don’t depend on it for value.

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