Oriental Trading Co. Sees Google PLAs As Paid Strategy Strengthener

orientalQuirky arts-and-crafts catalog company Oriental Trading Co. has been in business for 80-some years. Begun as Japanese immigrant Harry Watanabe’s church-and-carnival sales operation, it has since weathered a 2010 bankruptcy and made its way through multiple hands and advisers before being acquired by billionaire Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway last fall. More recently, it acquired toy company MindWare Holdings.

Paid digital media now is core to the company’s marketing.

“A common denominator for our products across all 40 categories is generating experiences and memories,” said Garrick Baxter, head of ecommerce marketing at Oriental Trading Co. “Some of our products range from personalized pencils to wedding favors and school and craft supplies. You’ll hear me say ‘engagement’ and ‘experiential’ a lot, and that’s really what Oriental Trading is proud to have in products and services.”

The catalog, core to Oriental Trading’s business from the start, “is still relevant and significant,” Baxter said, and acts as a nice “complement” to the company’s online business.

“The two definitely need each other and as Google Product Listing Ads really start to mature and reach their anniversary [under Google Shopping] this fall … you’re seeing [more granularity] in impressions,” especially in taking offline data specific to catalog customers and integrating it with online behavior at the ID level.

Oriental Trading first started working with performance-based retail marketing and analytics company Adlucent in 2009 and has entrusted the management of more than 1 million keywords and 30,000 to 40,000 SKUs to its partner. Baxter said that by adding PLAs to its paid strategy, the company has nearly doubled its core, nonbrand conversion rate.

But, “the paid search funnel doesn’t start at a product view or searching for a category,” Baxter noted. “We will take impressions and engagement with impressions in our dynamic contextual ads and we’ll sort of extrapolate and triangulate from there, so we’re less reactive and we’re ready to be at the edge of somebody’s interest.”

He added, “You will not get somebody into the purchase funnel unless you invest in that interest funnel, and that’s the dynamic contextual ads, interest remarketing, social, mobile…all of those things. Even as recently as a month or two ago, we’ve been investing in that interest level of the funnel, which has helped us with the predictive nature of paid search and we would only do that with the support of Adlucent and high-touch engagement with Google.”

Adlucent’s CEO Michael Griffin said there’s some struggle among retailers in the Google PLA query- and bid-management process if a retailer wants to surface a particular ad for a product that is, historically, a stronger performer. Or, conversely, an item may be out of inventory or stock, and a PLA might still be surfaced, which could cause some friction.

With its launch of BuyerPath, a feed- and query-management and bid-optimization platform, Griffin said analytics are being used to help retailers get more granular with measuring demand velocity, map product feeds to search queries and, ultimately, optimizing their bidding. More than 20 retail customers are beta testing the solution.

Both Griffin and Baxter agree that Google will continue to experiment with PLAs in its broader commerce strategy and could play with Amazon-like attributes in merchandising, reviews and recommendations, or even facilitate paid transactions down the road.

“I think if Google understands the value of being as strategic as its advertisers and agencies are, things like PLAs will mature quickly and advertisers will learn a great deal and invest more,” Baxter said. “Google is interested in monetizing every pixel in your search results page and in your shopping experience on their site, and so what’s been really awesome is that as they’ve stepped up their game to be more high-touch.”

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