Last week I sat in a café biding time (working) before meeting a client in Sydney’s Martin Place. I sat next to the window to see if I could get my wireless broadband to give me anything other than a snail’s paced connection, and ended up watching a Greenpeace staffer intercepting innocent passers by.

This is not an uncommon approach for fundraising and support building, but from my seat in StarJeans it didn’t look like a successful one. What caught my attention though was not the level of engagement or the bright ‘brand-building’ T-shirt, but the behaviour of the passing public.

After watching for half a mug I noted two distinct types of response to the unsolicited interruption. The first was the obvious avoidance; this group was by far the largest, at a guess I would say they accounted for at least 95% of all those approached. Some were more polite than others, but the result was much the same, they remained passers by. It was the second group kept me wondering though; they seemed really quite pleased to see our hawker, and greeted him openly, even enthusiastically.

I puzzled at this for a while until I worked out who the enthusiastic people were… they were current Greenpeace members and supporters!

So, our sore-footed friend was being actively avoided by those who Greenpeace would love to reach, but being engaged and encouraged by the already converted. I am not suggesting that there is no value in this exercise in fact I see a few useful outcomes:

  1. Brand awareness for Greenpeace
  2. Affirmation for current supporters
  3. Minor chance of engaging of new supporters

Targeting and making contact with the optimum audience is a key issue for most businesses. For many organisations reaching prospects in buying mode is the holy grail of marketing.

So how can we effectively connect with people genuinely in a buying cycle, looking for a product in our category? DM may be audience targeted, but we would need real insider knowledge for each prospect to know if they were in procurement mode. Where can you directly and effectively connect with prospects that are actively looking for you? Well there are a few places, some old and some new: directories and search engines.

Hardcopy directories are not my area of expertise but they surely showed the way to their online cousins and later search engines when it came to monetisation. Directories and now more importantly search engines know that they are gatekeepers to a very special and attractive kind of audience, one that business will pay large sums to get in front of. Visitors are actively searching and often they are searching for products and services. Often they will be in a buying cycle, and even if they are not then they definitely have an interest in you. This is great behavioural targeting, if we know which keywords to target.

Most users of search engines are not well educated about the search environment, most know that the smaller listings to the top and right of the organic results are paid, but are open to using them if they are relevant – ads continue to draw a significant volume of clicks (five to 10 percent of clicks depending on who you ask). Better still, most searchers have no idea that the organic results can be effected by website owners, and nor do they care. People believe that a high ranking search result must be in some way ‘better’ than those lower down. So ranking well in Google is akin to an endorsement of your company and its products and services.

Yet another benefit of visitors to your business attracted via search is that they rightly believe that they found you. This may seem obvious, but it has two important implications, firstly they have invested time in finding your site (have bought into the process), and secondly (because you did not approach them) the psychological power balance favours the business. These phenomena are important but a little in depth, so I will provide further information in a later posting.

So lets recap on some of the benefits of leveraging search engines:

  1. Prospects are searching for you, excellent behavioural targeting if we can find the best key terms
  2. They believe (largely) that search is impartial or better still an endorsement, akin to a referral, thus higher trust levels
  3. Searchers believe that because they found you, you must be good! They are ‘bought into’ the process

I do not know if Greenpeace have a search strategy, but perhaps they should.