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Share of search doesn’t really impact B2B — yet

Posted by Andrew Shephard on 3rd June 2021

This headline is a bit of a cheat — I’m discounting the suitability of share of search for B2B in the first paragraph but as you’re here why not read on?

“Share of search” says that rather than analysing all the exposure for you and your competitors to judge relative shares of voice, you look further down the sales funnel by using tools like Google Trends to analyse what potential customers are actually searching for, which, providing you have enough results to track, is far simpler and requires dramatically less data. I think for even moderately established brands share of search is sexy and sensible, but because it works in a much-reduced dataset, it won’t be as fantastic in lower-volume B2B technology brands for now, staying firmly in the FMCG toolbox.

Various smart commentators including Mark Ritson have shared views in the last six months that give context to this but, mark my words, in a couple of years’ time, share of search will evolve to feature in industry award submissions for B2B agencies too. Perhaps more importantly, I’m more convinced about the efficacy of the techniques Wildfire already advocates relating to a rigorous focus on share of voice. More importantly, how “excess share of voice” (ESoV) can be used to drive up market share from any PR campaign.

Selectivity is the key

ESoV, i.e. getting a bigger SoV percentage than your market share, leads directly to market growth. This is undisputed and actually quite easy to understand. You have 3% of a region’s market but a 10% SoV in the same region, this equates to an ESoV of 7% (the difference).

Increasing SoV is tougher for smaller or new brands. They have to work much harder because of the inertia that larger competitors’ market position imposes. A strong market position literally operates like a ballast or a force field that stops new entrants moving the SoV needle without a disproportionate effort or investment. Most research in this area again relates to FMCG and hasn’t been properly analysed in B2B but this is where our experience selecting the right media and identifying the correct competitors evens up the SoV playing field and optimises that effort. It’s also why I don’t feel we’ll ever need to resort to share of search in the first place.

Proper editorial SoV is hard

SoV analysis in B2B campaigns doesn’t happen often enough to be a useful tool. To be fair, most campaigns fail in this respect. It’s fiddly and time consuming to set up and practitioners don’t bother to take the time needed to configure them or invest in platforms that make them effective. Another restriction is because SoV is an interchangeable term, which gets used a lot in advertising, it can be confusing as a PR measurement, especially with the client’s decision makers beyond the marketing department.

Lastly, just to put it out there, a marketing science fact; brands do not decide who their competitors are — that’s the customers’ (or media’s) job. Too many times we’ve configured a beautiful SoV dashboard for a potential client following their guide as to who they compete with only to find two more significant players are lurking like ghosts in the data. Looking at who features most in the terms you care about to identify the real competitors is a very good way of looking at things when analysing media coverage.

How to grasp editorial SoV

Here’s how we approach it. Choose a swathe of media you know your customers engage with. Include some aspirational titles and be brave. For practitioners in the tech space, a shortcut here is a tool like TechNews, which curates a subset of media outlets and correspondents that’s wholly tech focused and all but eliminates anything of little relevance or influence for a technology-focused audience. Another option is building a custom source list in platforms like Meltwater. Whatever platform or system you use, ring fence the process just to the media that matters. It doesn’t have to be perfect to deliver useful results to inform your campaign. If anyone questions the list and is critical that it doesn’t include all your coverage remind them how Google relates relevance and domain authority to search results.

Analyse all the terms and phrases that describe what you offer within your chosen media swathe and review the results to identify which companies also get talked about in those terms — don’t give it brand names yet because here’s where you identify all your competitors.

Next, get good at Boolean and build comprehensive editorial SoV searches for you and your competitors. Refine them carefully then lock it all down. Stop fiddling and leave the searches as they are, don’t change the media list either. It is an important part of what comes next and why using a platform to do this really helps.

Distil the juice

Every month, run your numbers again and report the trend graphically — you versus your identified competitors, using 12-month history and supplement that with the latest six months’ SoV and simply state the hard percentage numbers. Imagine you have a line chart for the last 12 months trend and maybe a pie chart for the SoV.

Use the simple up-to-date visual trend and SoV percentage to confirm the success, or shortcomings, of your campaign tactics. Compare the SoV to market share if you are able to retrieve that data in real time — rarely easy in the same timeframe, I know, so quarterly is probably OK — to deduce ESoV.

Rest assured that if you move the SoV needle beyond your market share in any period, generating measurable ESoV, that will reliably translate to increased market share for your brand in the following weeks or months depending on the length of your sales cycle.

Andrew Shephard

Andrew’s engineering background and ‘fluff-free’ attitude combined with probably the broadest knowledge of technology installed in one PR brain ensures critical insight for Wildfire’s clients. He has driven campaigns for major forces in the semiconductor industry over 18 years including NEC Electronics, Sun Microelectronics and TSMC along with game-changing start-ups like Achronix and Nujira.