LONDON: Marketers need to explore the possibilities for using search to build brands rather than simply seeing it as a direct response channel, a leading industry figure has argued.

Writing in the 50th anniversary issue of Admap, which looks ahead to the future of brand communications, Matthew Maltby, head of thought leadership at Google, highlighted how mobile has changed the way people use search, from something they sit down to do at a desktop, to a constantly available companion which removes the gap between need and action.

In an article titled The future of search, Maltby explained how this behaviour was a bonus for brand marketers. "It provides unique audience insights, reach and engagement," he said. "It makes search the only place where a brand can guarantee it will deliver on the old saw of 'right ad, right person, right place, right time'."

The example of L'Oréal Paris was instructive: the hair care brand spotted a spike in hair-related search terms and was able to develop within months a product to fill a particular need in the consumer marketplace. And, of course, marketing was simple as they could use search to reach the very audience that had alerted them to the opportunity in the first place.

"A tool with little history in brand marketing has a big future," said Maltby of search, as it "reflects the authentic interests, intent and behaviour of people worldwide". It can be used for insights, for reach and for engagement, he added.

Maltby explained that people searching for 'curly hair' were interested in hairstyles, while people searching for 'dry hair' were interested in hair care tips. This could easily be established by looking at the organic (non-paid) search results to see what the audience was really looking for.

Reach could be attained by moving from considering just branded searches, to including category and affinity searches too. "With most brand media, you buy an audience," said Maltby. "With search, you buy an interested audience."

And, having reached this audience, relevance and engagement become important. So, he suggested, a woman searching for 'hairstyle' on her mobile device at 7pm on a Friday night might be looking for a quick fix while the same woman making the same search at 10am on Saturday morning might be more interested in a salon appointment.

Successful marketers, Maltby said, would be able to join these dots and make their brands part of people's lives in the future.

Data sourced from Admap