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Guide to growth: Get more volume & reach new audiences efficiently

Navigating through uncertainty, often with fewer resources, is the new normal. We want to help you chart a path to growth in 2021, so we’re offering four important strategies that will help you recover and thrive.

The agile search marketer

The pandemic has changed customer behavior and created some new trends that will likely become permanent. One trend that is here to stay is the increase in digital consumption and commerce. Working and learning from home has driven a wider variety of consumers to go online to find ways to adapt their environments to make them suitable for this new normal. Purchases for new hardware and software, home improvement, and home gyms have spiked. Previously less savvy online consumers are now ordering their groceries, meals, and binge-watching streaming media from the convenience of their couches. Companies of all sizes are shifting their brick-and-mortar strategies to digital first and finding the cost savings and revenue upsides to be significant.

This increase in online consumption and commerce is placing search engine marketing (SEM) at the center of digital strategies, when SEM used to be a silo within digital marketing; very specialized, with its own budget and goals. The crisis has put pressure on doing more with less, so the media mix has become much more fluid and digital. Search engine marketers who operate with a high degree of adaptability and agility are the ones who will emerge as champions. They have a holistic view of the media mix, are thinking about big picture solutions, and know how to leverage artificial intelligence (AI) and automation to their advantage.

We want to help you adapt and grow and be the hero through this recovery phase by empowering you to be flexible and agile, with less overhead, in a world in flux.

Strategy #1: Understand and adapt to the changing customer decision journey

The customer decision journey (CDJ) has changed. As we’ve seen since stay-at-home orders went into effect, certain categories have surged in buying behaviors and, with that, we’ve seen shifts in the CDJ that are important for marketers to recognize.

Take technology for example (Tech and Telco Insights):

  • The conversion funnel length for hardware is 3x shorter since COVID, while software conversion length has increased by an average of 2 days.
  • Hardware and software conversions have become more strongly correlated than they were pre-COVID.
  • Since COVID, software nonbrand conversions have increased while hardware brand conversions have increased.
  • Software saw an increase in searches from the Gen Z and Millennial populations post-COVID.
  • Both hardware and software saw an increase in searches on personal computer (PC) devices post-COVID.

Microsoft Advertising Insights provides analyses on changing consumer behaviors and the impact to search advertising in our insights hub, as well as custom vertical and product category reports.

Search marketers can cover all levels of the marketing funnel by adding to their search campaigns the Microsoft Audience Network, a programmatic native advertising solution. The Microsoft Audience Network is comprised of high-quality native ad placements, which are curated through human and AI reviews, and brand-safe environments on Microsoft owned and operated sites like MSN,, and Microsoft Edge. Additionally, ad placements are on select premium partner properties like CBS Sports, Everyday Health, Fox Business, and Reuters. By adding the Microsoft Audience Network, search marketers can drive greater impact at each stage of the CDJ and, when combining search and native, drive a lift in your search advertising results.

Microsoft Audience Ads exposure improves downstream brand awareness and consideration, and purchase intent

Microsoft Advertising has measured the downstream value of ad exposure on the Microsoft Audience Network to search ads. This can help advertisers understand the impact of a user just seeing the ad, even if they did not click on it, as can be the case with an upper-funnel channel like native. We’ve seen:

  • +141% lift in brand awareness per user, measured by post-exposure brand search rate
  • +399% lift in brand consideration per user, measured by post-exposure domain visit rate
  • +318% lift in brand purchase intent per user, measured by post-exposure conversion page visit rate

Honda was looking for new ways to expand its digital footprint to reach new customers. Working with their agency, Dentsu Aegis, the Microsoft Audience Network was proposed, and Honda jumped on the chance to increase their brand’s reach. They had success in the past with display and search campaigns on other networks, but they saw better performance on Microsoft Audience Network native ads compared to a comparable display campaign: a 3x higher click-through rate (CTR). Microsoft Audience Network allowed Honda to expand their display campaigns across Microsoft properties without needing to learn a completely new platform. (Honda Case study)

Strategy #2: Embrace digital transformation at any scale

Technology transformation has happened in a much more condensed timeframe. What companies planned to do over 2-3 years to shift to digital has now happened in just a few months. You don’t have to be a company with a lot of resources and budgets to go digital and reap the rewards. Marketers large and small can take advantage of technology such as automation to do more with less, and AI and machine learning (ML) can be applied to data to identify new audiences and discover search trends before they materialize.

Leveraging the power of AI, advertisers can drive quality growth while maintaining control and optimizing budget and resources.

  • Volume Precision leverages automated bidding, search partners, and the right conversion goals to focus on business outcomes, not only campaign metrics.
  • Dynamic Discovery combines the flexibility of Dynamic Search Ads (DSA) with audience targeting to find your audience amidst their new unknown behaviors and changes in their CDJ.

Bose, one of the leading audio companies with products like wireless sport earbuds, portable speakers, smart speakers, and noise-canceling headphones, had a few challenges to address during a competitive holiday shopping season. The company needed to keep their products and brand top of mind in what had recently become a competitive noise-cancelling headphone market. Bose used In-market Audiences, which are curated lists of searchers who are in market to buy for a certain purchase category, and Similar Audiences to help increase conversion rates by finding shoppers who most closely matched the ideal characteristics of a current Bose customer. Bose achieved a 69% increase in CTRs when looking at the Black Friday to Cyber Monday period year over year (YoY).  In-market Audiences alone led to a CTR that was 28% higher than non-audience visitors, and they converted at a 21% higher conversion rate (CVR). (Bose case study)

Strategy #3: Market with purpose

Brand reputation matters. People buy from companies that stand for something larger than just what they sell. People want brands to stand for what they believe in, and understand who they are. In fact, not standing for something or playing it safe is riskier. Almost 50% of consumers stated they have stopped purchasing from a brand because it did not represent their values.

Understanding what the people you serve value, and taking a more inclusive approach in your marketing, has been proven to increase brand and advertising performance. Search engine marketers have an opportunity to take an increased focus on inclusion, and it’s time that those inclusion initiatives make their way into the world of SEM. Our research has shown that representing more diversity in your advertising can significantly increase purchase intent: We studied a variety of real ads from today's brands that represented diversity, and ones that did not. We asked people to tell us which were most appealing and inclusive, and then we mapped that to purchase intent. When we broke down the performance, the inclusive ad had a 23% increase in intent to purchase post ad exposure, as opposed to the second-highest performing ad that was not inclusive, which had a 10% increase in purchase intent post exposure.

Our Marketing with Purpose playbook helps search engine marketers serve the needs of a larger percentage of customers who are searching on more inclusive terms, and uncover more potential audiences by thinking more inclusively about the customer decision journey, about data bias in audience targeting, and the advertising visuals and language they use. Learn how to reach more shoppers with an inclusive approach.

Strategy #4: Prepare for the cookieless future

With the change in the data landscape, there is an opportunity with global privacy policies and restrictions to third-party cookies across browsers to build your first-party data and create a more transparent and rewarding value exchange with your customers.

  • 87% of people in the U.S. believe privacy is a right, not a privilege.
  • 85% of consumers will not consider a brand unless they trust it.

Regulations and consumer demand will change how marketers collect and use data to engage with audiences. People will increasingly demand transparency with their data and vote with their wallets if marketers are not upfront in how their data is used. Our research shows that people are willing to share their data if they get something of value, such as more personalized experiences or special offers or rewards, in return. Let’s look at LinkedIn as an example. People agree to share their data with LinkedIn to receive personalized job recommendations based on their profiles. Marketers should be focusing on growing their first-party data asset and ensure they maximize the value from that asset. Consider what is the trusted value exchange that would allow you to gather consent-based first-party data. Also, partner with publishers, like Microsoft Advertising, who provide solutions that help you leverage that valuable first-party data in a privacy-compliant manner and, when combined with second- and third-party data, help search marketers understand user behavior and create better performing cross-channel campaigns.

Much like we saw in 2020, change has become the only constant. Navigating through uncertainty, often with fewer resources, is the new normal. Some of the change fueled by what has happened in 2020 though will become permanent, so we want to help you recover by growing your business with more volume and new audiences, more efficiently.

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