Google quietly changed it’s terms and conditions for advertising yesterday. Up until now, advertisers using Google AdWords have been banned from using the brand names of their competitors in their adverts; now they can.

This has spawned all sorts of suggestions as to how businesses might capitalise on the change. One example I read was if you are Sainsbury, you can now use the word Tesco in your online advertising with Google. Fine; but what value does it bring you.

Let’s take a look at some statistics. Wordtracker tells us that every 24 hours just over 1,200 people type in the word “Tesco” and a mere 500 or so type in “Sainsbury” or “Sainsburys”. However, both of these stores sell millions of different things. Compared with the other keywords for which they might be found, these figures pale into insignificance.

Take “car insurance”; both Tesco and Sainsbury’s sell car insurance. There are almost 3,000 searches on Google every day for the phrase “car insurance”. There are just over 200 for “Tesco car insurance”, but none at all for any combination of “Sainsbury” and “car insurance”. In other words there are almost twice as many people looking for “car insurance” as anything containing the word “tesco” or “sainsbury”.

Brand, online trust and credibility

What does this tell us? It suggests that at the outset, brand does not matter. When people are searching for something they are looking, for instance, for anyone who can help them with their car insurance needs. When they have a selection, then, perhaps, brand comes into play in terms of trust and credibility. But at the search level, it is of secondary importance.

This means that using a competitor’s brand name in an advert is – once again – looking in the wrong direction. What it means is that companies will focus on their competition, rather than spending their time thinking about their customers. Tesco, for instance, is well known for saying its turnaround from being an also-ran in the supermarket business, to a world leader came when they stopped worrying about their competitors and focused every ounce of corporate muscle on their customers.

The Google change will do the reverse. It will make companies focus on their competitors rather than their customers. And as the “car insurance” example suggests, at the search stage of the process who provides the car insurance is not important.

Consider fresh bread!

As another example, consider “fresh bread”. Only 11 people every 24 hours search for this phrase – but there is only one advert on Google and that’s not from Tesco or Sainsbury. Yet, both these companies have in-store bakeries and would be able to outbid the current advertiser easily, gaining almost all of those 11 people a day. Add that to the millions of other products and they’d gain even more traffic from people looking for specific products.

What the corporate brands do, is believe their own publicity. They honestly believe that the brand is all important, when online it is of only secondary importance. To the people who want fresh bread, they want fresh bread – who supplies it doesn’t matter that much.

I’m not saying that brand is irrelevant; I’m just saying it is lower down the pecking order than big brand owners would like to think. The problem with the Google change it confirms in the brand owner’s mind the importance of brand. Hence they will spend more money using brand names in their Google AdWords campaigns – and who will benefit? Well Google of course.

Brand names are not important

What will happen to those 4,105 people a year who want “fresh bread”? Well they will be denied the knowledge that Tesco and Sainsbury offer them tasty fresh bread prepared by master bakers. Tough on them, but even tougher on the retailers who are denying themselves income by worrying about the competitor’s brand name adverts rather than focusing on their customers.

Google is laughing all the way to it’s bank of course. Why? Because they have focused on their customers very well indeed. Google knows that its brand name customers love using brand names – even though Google knows it’s a fools game. So, if big brands want to waste their money? Let them, says Google.

Focus on your customers – and online that means providing what they want at the precise moment in time they want it. When searching, brand is of little importance. Only when people are making a decision to buy online does brand start to play its part. The result is that for almost every business this change from Google is worthless. Your customers are not searching for your brand, or your competition’s brand; instead they are searching for your solutions and that’s what your advert should focus on.

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