How Google’s Consumer Barometer tool can help public relations planning

In this guest post Andrew Smith seeks out consumer buying insights from a free Google planning tool.

By Andrew Smith

Google’s Consumer Barometer tool has been around for nearly two years – but it still seems to be something of a mystery to many working in consumer public relations.

It’s a free tool that provides insights into how people in 39 countries actually go about researching and purchasing 40 different types of consumer product and service.

And not just whether they research and purchase on or offline, but which particular marketing channels play the biggest role in influencing the research and final purchase decision.

The data was gathered using good old fashioned market research – but whereas in the past, access to this information would have been expensive or provided in an unhelpful format, Google has given it away. And wrapped it up in an easy to use, online interactive tool.

How people buy washing machines

Let’s imagine you’ve been asked to recommend a public relations programme for a particular consumer product, let’s say, a domestic appliance of some sort.

By looking at this category in the Consumer Barometer, you would see that although 59% of domestic appliances are purchased offline in the UK, 40% of people do their purchase research online only. Offline marketing will have no impact of these people.


You’ll also notice that the key channels prospective purchasers use to begin their research are visiting stores, search engines and manufacturer websites.

Notice that newspaper articles, TV, radio and social networks seem to play no role whatsoever.

From a public relations perspective, it would suggest that focusing on blogs, consumer reviews, online articles and print magazine coverage would be the best place to put your efforts.

Targeting journalists to gain print press coverage however, would seem to be a waste of time in terms of influencing the research phase of the consumers journey (less of sales funnel these days and more a flight path if you buy into Google’s Zero Moment of Truth philosophy).

There is also a role for public relations to play in SEO. What are the keyphrases that people might conceivably use as part of their research? What pages currently rank highly for those keyphrases?

It may suggest that a public relations-led SEO approach would better map on to the actual research and purchase behaviour for that particular consumer segment.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that according to Edelman’s 2014 Trust Barometer, search engines are trusted more than traditional media. If public relations is about reputation and trust, then our involvement in what people are likely to encounter as a result of a Google search should make public relations-led SEO even more important to the modern day practitioner.

Free data driven insights

You can also use Google’s Consumer Barometer to segment the research and purchase behaviour for any of the 40 consumer product and service segments by age, gender, educational attainment and broadband access.

Granular segmentation of this kind may well offer further insights into what an appropriate public relations strategy might look like.

This is just one example.

Certainly anyone working in FMCG would do well to spend a little time familiarising themselves with the Consumer Barometer. Even those working in B2B and other sectors would do well to look at it – because Google may well produce similar tools for other areas too.

And of course, it’s free.

Surely there is no excuse for not spending at least a few minutes investigating the research and purchase habits of consumers.

Even if you don’t work in consumer PR, you may well find that you glean insights that in previous years would have been costly or impossible to obtain.

About the Author

andrew-smithAndrew Smith is managing director of escherman, a specialist online public relations, SEO and analytics consultancy. He has been a consistent PR innovator, being among the first UK practitioners to exploit email (1991), the web (1994) and Twitter (2007).

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Professional advisor for agencies and communication teams, Wadds Inc. Author: #brandvandals, Exploring PR and Management Communication. #PRstack, Share This, and others. Visiting Professor, Newcastle University.

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