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May 23, 2024

What Is Happening to Brand Discovery and Search?

Brand discovery and search are undergoing significant changes. These shifts are driven by changing consumer behavior, technological advancements, and strategic updates from major platforms like Google.

Here’s a closer look at the major trends reshaping brand discovery and search, and how brands need to adapt their strategies to stay ahead.

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The Transformation in The Ways We Search and Discover Brands

At the moment, manual search engines still hold first place for information searches, but social media platforms are getting really close. According to GWI, social media overtook search engines as the top source for brand discovery among Gen Z in the UK as early as 2019. Gen Z are comparatively more likely to use a variety of methods for discovery, including social media, search engines, GPTs/Chatbots, image search, and voice search. However, the rest of the population is catching up as well.

While many things are simultaneously shifting right in front of our eyes – from Google trying to recover lost search share to uncertainties in social media – one thing is clear: a multiplatform approach to brand discovery is becoming inevitable.

Brand discovery, information sources, search pleatforms

(Graph: GWI)

The Rise of Social Media as a Discovery Channel

For many young people, social media platforms have become the primary means of discovering new brands. TikTok, in particular, is leading this trend with its highly engaging, video-centric content. Unlike traditional search engines, where users often have a specific intent, social media discovery is more inspirational. Users browse through content for ideas and inspiration, which can lead to organic brand discovery.

Recent studies highlight this trend, showing that nearly 10% of Gen Z users now prefer TikTok over established search engines like Google when looking for information. Furthermore, about 43% of Gen Z start their online product searches on TikTok rather than Google or other search engines. This shift underscores TikTok’s growing influence as a trusted source of information and product discovery (E Marketer).

But we're not just talking about young people having a different favorite go-to platform. The shift is much more significant since it changes the characteristics of how we search as well:

  • Intentional vs. Inspirational: Search engines are typically used for intentional queries, where users know what they are looking for. In contrast, social media browsing is more about discovering new ideas and products through serendipity.
  • Precision vs. Broad Appeal: Search results are designed to be precise and answer specific queries, while social media algorithms prioritize content that has broad appeal and high engagement rates.

Brands need to understand these differences and tailor their content accordingly. On social media, this means creating visually appealing, engaging, and shareable content that can capture the attention of a browsing audience.

AI tools like ChatGPT, Perplexity and others are making search smarter and easier. From user perspective this eliminates the need for exactness or specificity and allows for more descriptive approach to search. Ability to have a full conversation can easily transform search into research.

AI can now understand and generate natural language, making it crucial for brands to optimize their content for AI algorithms. This includes using natural language processing (NLP) techniques to make content more conversational and engaging (Search Engine Land).

Voice search continues to grow in popularity, driven by advancements in AI and the increasing use of voice-activated assistants like Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, and Apple Siri. More households are adopting smart speakers and voice-activated devices, making voice search a common part of daily life.

These advancements in natural language processing (NLP) allow voice search to understand and respond to complex, conversational queries with greater accuracy. Users are becoming more comfortable making purchases using voice commands, ordering groceries, buying products, and booking services through voice-activated assistants.

Similarly, image search technology has advanced significantly, with AI playing a crucial role. AI algorithms are now more sophisticated in recognizing and understanding images, identifying objects, people, scenes, and even extracting text from images. This has made image search more reliable and useful for users.

Platforms like Pinterest and Instagram are enhancing their visual search capabilities, allowing users to shop directly from images, transforming how users discover and purchase products online. Additionally, image search is increasingly being integrated with augmented reality (AR), providing users with interactive and immersive search experiences. For example, users can take a photo of an item and instantly receive information about it, including where to buy it and customer reviews.

Google is continuously enhancing its search capabilities with AI-driven innovations. The recent updates announced for 2024 include several game-changing features:

  • AI Overview: Overviews created with artificial intelligence are a new feature Google is launching. They will appear at the top of search results and contain quick answers to user questions, as well as links to websites and paid positions (Google).
  • Circle to Search: A new feature that allows users to search by simply circling or highlighting text and images on their screen without switching apps. This makes search more intuitive and integrated into everyday digital interactions (Google).
  • Changes in Paid Advertising: Google is introducing new formats and positions, as well as changes in targeting, measurement, reporting, and data. See 12 major changes in Google Ads you should know.
  • Improved Quality Ranking: Algorithmic enhancements to surface the most helpful information while reducing low-quality, unoriginal content in search results (Google).
  • Spam P1olicy Updates: New policies to combat spammy and low-value content, including stricter measures against scaled content abuse and expired domain abuse (Search Engine Land).

These changes aim to provide users with more accurate, relevant, and high-quality search results, making it essential for brands to focus on creating valuable and authentic content.

Adapting Marketing Strategy for Better Brand Discovery

Multi-Format and Multi-Platform Content Approach

Brands need to diversify their content strategies to include various formats and various platform. Relying on search for discovery is not sufficient anymore and brands need to find multiple touchpoints to become visible for their users.

If you want to be present on various platforms, you will need videos, images, audio, blogs, and interactive content. This not only caters to different audience preferences but also improves the chances of being discovered across multiple channels. For instance, short, engaging videos on TikTok or Instagram can complement longer, in-depth articles on a brand’s blog.

With the ease of content production the AI area has brought, users are bombarded with content and standing out is becoming more and more difficult. Therefore, producing high quality content and reusing it on multitude of formats is becoming more and more important.

How To Create A Multipurpose Content System?

  • Finding the Best Topics: Identify topics that resonate with your audience by leveraging keyword research, social listening, and customer feedback. Tools like Google Trends, SEMrush, and BuzzSumo can help uncover trending topics and common questions within your industry. Additionally, analyze your competitors' content to identify gaps and opportunities. This comprehensive approach ensures that the topics you choose are relevant and engaging for your target audience.
  • Invest Resources Into One High-Quality Piece: Once you have identified a compelling topic, allocate sufficient resources to create a high-quality, in-depth piece of content. This could be a comprehensive blog post, a detailed video, or an informative podcast. High-quality content should meet the following criteria:
    • Well-Researched: Based on accurate and up-to-date information.
    • Comprehensive: Covers the topic thoroughly, addressing all relevant aspects.
    • Engaging: Written or produced in a way that captivates the audience’s attention.
    • Original: Provides unique insights or perspectives that set it apart from existing content.
    • Visually Appealing: Includes high-quality images, graphics, or video production.
    • Actionable: Offers clear takeaways or steps that the audience can implement.
  • Repurpose Content Across Multiple Platforms: After creating a high-quality piece, adapt and repurpose it to fit various platforms and formats. For example, a detailed blog post can be transformed into a series of social media posts, infographics, short videos, and even podcast episodes. Tailor the content to leverage the unique features of each platform, ensuring it remains engaging and relevant to the specific audience. This strategy maximizes the reach and impact of your original content.
  • Return To The Piece In Future: Reference your original high-quality piece in future content to maintain its relevance and extend its lifespan. Create updated versions or new iterations that reflect the latest trends and information. For example, you can publish an annual update or a follow-up article that builds on the original content. Linking back to the original piece can drive additional traffic and reinforce your brand's authority on the subject.

Optimize For Social Media Discovery

Discovery on social media combines users who are actively searching for specific content and users who are passively wanting to get inspired. Therefore, in order to get discovered on social media, we need to optimize content for social search and optimize content strategy for better reach and engagement.

The truth is that true organic virality is, in 2024, almost dead. Instagram went as far as to propose paid subscriptions for content creators to get some reach, and YouTube and TikTok are the only platforms left where you can experience a little bit of organic growth. Make sure you read our article on how you can expend your brand's reach on TikTok.

That does not mean you need to pay for every view or collaborate with influencers to get the eyeballs you need. But you need to be able to identify your leverage and use it. This could be your existing communities or your existing email lists that you use to promote your social media content. It can be your personal contacts, your employees, your users. But you need to have something you can use to start growing traction and communities. When you gain a bit of following, paid ads and influencer or brand collaborations bring better results.

Secondly, users also use social media to actively search for something. Optimizing for that is called social media SEO.

How To Optimize Social Media For Desired Keywords:

  • Research: Similarly to how you research for relevant keywords for your website, do the research for keywords on each individual platform. This is important because your keywords can be "what is + keyword" on one platform, and "keyword + 2024" on another.
  • Optimize Your Content: Incorporate selected keywords into your content, but don't overload your posts with too many keywords. Tactics for where to put your keywords and how to perfect optimization may vary from platform to platform (and also change over time), but make sure you include long-tail keywords in post descriptions, comments, hashtags, and, if you have video, also in the audio.
  • Optimize Your Profile: Ensure your profile bios, descriptions, and links are fully optimized with relevant keywords and clear information about your brand. This helps search algorithms understand your content and improves visibility.

Website Optimization

A well-optimized website is still the cornerstone of a strong digital presence. This includes:

  • Mobile-Friendliness: Ensuring the website is responsive and offers a seamless experience on mobile devices.
  • Fast Loading Times: Optimizing page load speeds to reduce bounce rates and improve user experience.
  • Clear Calls to Action: Making it easy for visitors to engage with the brand, whether through purchases, sign-ups, or other interactions.

With AI becoming more sophisticated, search engines are now better at understanding and interpreting complex queries. Tools like Google’s BERT and MUM are designed to comprehend the nuances of human language, allowing them to deliver more precise search results. This means that brands need to optimize their content not just for keywords, but for the intent behind those keywords (Search Engine Land).

Moreover, Google's focus on E-E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness) means that content quality is more important than ever. Websites that provide in-depth, well-researched, and trustworthy content are more likely to rank higher in search results, which necessitates a shift from volume to value in content creation (Search Engine Land).

Key Optimization Tactics:

  • High-Quality, Human-Centric Content: Google’s updates emphasize the need for content that provides real value to users. Brands should focus on creating comprehensive, informative, and engaging content that addresses user needs and queries (Search Engine Land).
  • Structured Data and Rich Snippets: Using structured data to enhance search engine results with rich snippets can improve visibility and click-through rates. This includes adding schema markup to content for better indexing by search engines.
  • Visual and Voice Search Optimization: With the growing use of visual and voice search, brands should optimize their images with descriptive alt text and ensure their content is easily accessible through voice queries.
  • Local Search: Local search optimization is becoming increasingly important, especially with the rise of mobile search. Brands need to ensure their local listings are accurate and up-to-date. Additionally, providing personalized experiences based on user location, preferences, and behavior can significantly enhance engagement and conversion rates (Search Engine Land).

Scale Direct Engagement With AI

Leveraging AI for direct engagement allows brands to automate personalized interactions at scale. AI tools can manage tasks such as commenting on social media, responding to forum posts, and sending hyper-personalized direct messages or email outreach. This automation not only saves time but also ensures consistency in brand communication.

AI can generate tailored messages for different audience segments, including greetings, special offers, and follow-ups based on user behavior and preferences. These tools can help brands maintain an active presence and engage with users in real-time, enhancing the overall customer experience. However, it's crucial to ensure these efforts are relevant, respectful, and compliant with legal guidelines to avoid spammy and illegal practices. By leveraging AI responsibly, brands can achieve meaningful connections with their audience, driving engagement and loyalty.

How to Make Sure Your Direct Outreaches Are Not Spammy Or Illegal?

  • Relevance: Ensure that the content of your messages is relevant to the recipient to avoid being marked as spam.
  • Frequency: Do not overwhelm your audience with too many messages. Find a balance to keep your communication effective without being intrusive.
  • Compliance: Adhere to legal guidelines, such as GDPR and CAN-SPAM Act, to ensure that your outreach methods are compliant. This includes building compliant email lists, providing opt-out options and respecting user privacy.

Niche Websites and Platforms

Niche websites and platforms that align closely with your brand can offer significant opportunities for discovery. These platforms attract highly dedicated audiences who are deeply interested in specific topics, making them ideal for targeted marketing efforts. Engaging with niche platforms helps brands reach early adopters and influencers who can amplify their message to a broader audience. Participating in discussions on forums like Reddit and Quora, or leveraging the growing popularity of podcasts on platforms like Spotify and Apple Podcasts, can effectively target audiences who prefer in-depth and specialized content. Additionally, niche platforms often have lower competition compared to mainstream social media, providing a unique opportunity to stand out and capture the attention of a dedicated audience.

Popular Niche Platforms to Consider:

  • Forums: Engage with communities on forums like Reddit and Quora, where users seek in-depth discussions and expert opinions.
  • Podcasts: Leverage the growing popularity of podcasts on platforms like Spotify and Apple Podcasts to reach audiences who prefer audio content.
  • Specialized Networks: Look for industry-specific networks and communities that cater to your target demographic, providing a focused space for engagement.

Don’t Forget the Offline

While digital marketing is the norm, integrating offline strategies can enhance brand authenticity and community building. Combining digital efforts with an offline presence creates a holistic marketing approach that reaches audiences in multiple ways. Offline marketing activities, such as events, print ads, and local sponsorships, can make your brand appear more authentic and trustworthy. Physical presence through events and local activities helps build stronger connections with your community, fostering loyalty and advocacy. For instance, participating in local events, trade shows, and community activities not only increases visibility but also demonstrates your commitment to the community. Additionally, traditional media like print ads in local newspapers or magazines can complement your digital efforts, reaching demographics that might not be as active online.

The value of offline marketing lies in its ability to create personal, tangible connections with your audience. This approach can enhance your brand's reputation and credibility, providing a solid foundation for building long-term relationships with customers. By integrating offline and online strategies, brands can ensure a comprehensive and effective marketing approach that leverages the strengths of both realms.

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