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Happy 14th Birthday, Google: Looking Back – and Ahead – at Buyer Behaviors

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by: Ellen Valentine (@EllenValentine)
27 September 2012

Believe it or not, this month marks Google’s 14th birthday. Do you remember where you were and what you were doing in September 1998? Probably  not, but if you were buying products or services, chances are excellent that you were calling a company and asking to speak with a sales rep, or wandering into a retail establishment, hoping you could speak to a knowledgeable salesperson.

We relied on these sales reps to educate us on their products and explain how we should buy what they had for sale. There was no central place for us to turn to in order to get information. We had no real way to “help ourselves,” on our own time, on our own schedule. We also relied heavily on reading print advertising to find out what companies, products and brands we should consider. I’m sure magazines and newspapers wistfully long for those days. Fledgling Amazon was just 3 years old, and we only thought of them as “The World’s Largest Bookstore”. It was cool to visit to see what esoteric books we could purchase that were never available in our neighborhood bookstore.

My, how times have changed. Now Google isn’t just a website, it’s also a verb: “Just Google it” and you’ll get the answer. Today, it’s become our primary way of researching products, services, brands and much more. It’s become the cornerstone of inbound marketing. Now, getting found no longer means picking up the phone and wandering into a shop, it means SEO, PPC and content marketing. September 1998 also represents the month that companies began losing control of the first half of the buying cycle.

Remember the old frog in a pot story?  You put a frog in a pot of cold water on the stove and he happily swims around. The water gradually gets warmer and the frog can jump out if he wants, but because the temperature changes so gradually, the frog doesn’t realize it and faces his unfortunate demise because it didn’t take action on the gradual change fast enough.

That’s kind of what it’s been like over the last 14 years with Google; the shift has been gradual, but it’s produced sure, steady fundamental change – and marketers who haven’t jumped at the chance to address these new marketing opportunities are finding themselves in some hot water.

Gradually, we all came to rely on Google for company, product and brand insight, not the companies that make, provide and distribute the products and services. We’ve become free agent researchers, with little or no company or brand allegiance while we educate ourselves on what to buy and how to buy.

Today, we’re also doing the same thing with our social channels, relying on our peer network for advice and counsel on who and what to look at and who to eliminate from consideration. Last year’s IBM CMO Study said it very well: “The empowered customer is now in control of the business relationship.” And in a survey of more than 1,500 buyers, the Marketing Leadership Council found that customers are choosing to delay conversations with suppliers until they are more than 57 percent of the way through the sales cycle before they are engaging with a sales resource. This is a staggering shift in buyer behavior over the last 14 years.

So, what will the next 14 years hold for companies and the buyer experience? I’m not sure my crystal ball can look out that far, but if it’s anything like the last 14 years, it’s going to be a fun, sometimes wild ride. What has remained, and I believe will continue to be fundamental, is the experience we provide to our prospective and existing customers and the relationships we build based on these interactions. So if you’re feeling like your sales and marketing pot of water is a bit warm, jump out and get going on your social media efforts, SEO, PPC, content marketing and behavior marketing efforts before it’s too late.

Related Resources:
1) White Paper: "Let the Buyer Be Your Guide: Leveraging Buyer Behaviors in a Multichannel World"
2) Blog: "Behavioral Marketing: What It Is and Why It's So Exciting"
3) Blog: "Don't Be a Dinosaur: Marketing's Four Biological Changes"




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