When was the last time you carefully opened your web browser and typed in “www.___________.com”?  Most browsers now self-populate with suggestions of what you might be looking for, but if you’re like me, that convenience isn’t really the point.  The point is that the web browser is just a pathway to your search results and what you really want to find isn’t just one single website, anyway.

What does this have to do with brands and new products?

Brands need to understand that the first impression they make on consumers is not the homepage of their primary URL, or their Facebook page, or their banner ads on other sites.  The place where brands now make a first impression is on the first page that results from a consumer’s search. That is a brand’s real home now.

Not long ago, brands considered this fact a challenge to overcome, and they smothered that the Internet with SEO content so that the only thing people could find was the brand’s own content. Even if a brand wanted to succeed at this goal in 2014, Google is a few steps ahead, and is actually delivering what people really want, which is not canned information or captive websites. People want Google to deliver what they have always sought in the real world: a combination of information, offerings and content from a variety of reliable sources.

And Google delivers, with such reliability that we’ve stopped even thinking of it as Google (or any other search engine); at this point it’s simply become the storefront of life.

Search Results: Content and Commerce

Everyday reliance on search results has evolved slowly.  Few of us really thinks about how much a single page of results offers, in what a sophisticated way we use it, or how mobile search and smartphones have integrated it into every waking moment.

Let’s say we are searching for a new brand, or a brand’s new product.

We know the first results will be sponsored, and probably from the brand itself.  We also know that the brand’s own URL may come first in the unpaid results.  That is now an expected convenience – and a sign of credibility.

Beyond that, we see a carefully woven mixture of websites that offer content, reviews and shopping opportunities.  Along the right sidebar we can also find shopping opportunities and ads, just like we might in a magazine.

To take one example, say you’ve heard about a portable music speaker called the “Melody” and want to learn more. If you Google “Melody speaker” your first-page results offers a constant alternation between reviews (many from the kind of audio fans who obsess over sound quality), shopping opportunities, and websites related to Melody’s maker, Soundcast. Google has worked really hard to seamlessly deliver such a potent mix of exactly what consumers are looking for today.

We have become more accustomed than we realize to this alternating mixture of content and commerce, one that delivers the tools that shoppers actually seek in making purchase decisions. And without ever telling us this much, Google and other search engines are delivering us what we really need to make brand-buying decisions: awareness, relevance, and credibility.

Those are the tools we work with at IMC’s Influencer Marketing division, built on the Vibrant Nation platform I founded in 2007.

Brands can buy awareness, but they can’t buy relevance or credibility. For those elements consumers look to other consumers, not brands, and we now look for reviews and other content from influencers as a requirement before making a new purchase decision.

Think of how you look for a hotel. You search for results related to a particular destination, and you find magazine/newspaper articles, travel websites, TripAdvisor, blog posts, and more.  Before you actually make a reservation, ask yourself what was the factor that pushed you over the edge?

It was likely the story, in a real person’s voice, explaining why they liked the hotel themselves.  Even if other factors make a difference – and they do – finding enough negative stories about the hotel would probably have kept you away, no matter what other kind of pricing or promotional content you found.

For that reason, it is impossible to launch successful new products without generating real stories from real people about why and why those products work.  That’s why we’ve built our own fast-growing influencer network (currently reaching 6 million consumers each month) and why we partner with others to extend that reach.

Because new product live or die by search results, you’d better be inviting influencers to join you at your new home (and theirs): Google.

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