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What Marketers Can Learn from the Tomato Scare

Whole Foods, McDonald's Should Be Buying Keywords, Posting to Blogs

By Published on . 1

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The businesses affected by the tomato scare are, yet again, missing out on a very big opportunity to address nervous consumers: search.
A search for 'tomato scare' at today's Conversational Marketing Summit resulted in no ads addressing the problem.
A search for 'tomato scare' at today's Conversational Marketing Summit resulted in no ads addressing the problem.

Despite being taught the importance of paid search either by action or, more often, inaction of other marketers during times of crisis -- including the pet food scare, Jet Blue's runway woes or Mattel's toy manufacturing issues -- grocery and other food marketers have not focused on search as a way to address the recent tomato scare.

No ads
At a panel dedicated to search marketing at today's Conversational Marketing Summit, Federated Media CEO John Battelle performed a search for "tomato scare." The result? No ads addressing the problem.

The panel of search marketers criticized the non-action as a missed opportunity.

"I would suggest taking responsibility," said Chrysi Philalithes, launch managing director at Steak Media, a U.K.-based search marketing firm that recently landed on U.S. shores. She suggested a company such as Whole Foods, which pulled tomatoes last week before determining their tomatoes were unaffected, should market via search that they had addressed the problem.

Other important steps
Josh Stylman, managing partner of Reprise Media, said marketers should go even further: They should not only buy paid ads but also issue press releases, which would show up in a news search; write blog posts, which would show up in a blog search; and buy contextual advertising so that marketers can address news reports and blog posts talking about the scare.

"Conversations dominate search results pages," he said.

Sherwood Stranieri, director-natural search at SMG search, noted that one marketer, McDonald's, is actually listed three times on the page -- in news stories about how the fast feeder had pulled tomatoes from its menu. He said: "Marketers should be sensitive to this and ready to deal with this."

Listening better
The search experts also suggested marketers do a better job of listening to customers through search and finding ways to address that while also adhering to the brand strategy.

Two of the panelists recalled incidents in which two different auto marketers had tried to dictate the terminology surrounding new product launches. In one case, a marketer didn't want to call a new model a car (even though that's how many consumers saw it); in the other case, the marketer didn't want to call the new model a truck, even though it clearly was one. By ignoring what consumers said the product was and not buying keywords around that or using those terms in the marketing materials, they forfeited search traffic.

"[Consumers] are going to type in what comes to mind," said Mr. Stranieri. "When we do keyword or key phrase research, we're doing a reality check. We're finding out what people are already doing."
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