Apple Card Takes Over Google Search for Big Marketing Launch

Apple set out to stake a major claim to search engine marketing terms to maximize traffic for its Apple Card site. Using competitor targeting with paid search, initially mostly on mobile, enabled it to gain better exposure than seasoned card brands. This experience should be a lesson to financial marketers in not getting out-flanked.

Virtually any time Apple introduces a new product to consumers, it’s going to be a big deal for competitors. And when it enters a completely new vertical— like financial services — the impact has the potential to be devastating.

Waves rocked the financial sector with the August 2019 launch of the Apple Card, the tech giant’s first foray into the consumer credit card business. That disruption also played out in the search landscape, where financial companies spend more than any other industry. Given the already competitive nature of this sector, legacy players like Chase have already been feeling the brunt of Apple’s usurping of search market share.

The fallout from Apple’s market entry speaks volumes about the current search landscape that financial marketers are facing and offers a lesson in how rivals might have better defended themselves when Apple pour onto the battlefield.

Looking at How Apple Moved in On Longtime Players

Here’s how things unfolded:

1. Apple Card immediately took a bite. Within a day of launch, Apple Card shot to the #3 position for impression share in the search landscape, appearing on approximately 70% of impressions. (Impressions are counted each time an ad is shown on a search result page.)

That means that any time someone searched for a generic term to do with cards, Apple.com appeared in search results 70% of the time. This strategy allowed Apple to grab 10%-15% of resulting clicks from legacy players like Chase and quickly rise to the fourth top competitor among credit cards in terms of clickshare. (Initially Apple concentrated on the mobile channel.)

2. The message never wavered. Apple has positioned the Apple Card as an antidote to the bank card through its marketing strategies, highlighting in particular its consumer-friendly features, rates and cash-back policies. From device choices to keywords (focusing on terms like “security and privacy,” “not a bank” and “daily cash”), everything about its search strategy helped to support this unique selling proposition.

3. Apple poached. Rivals didn’t. In the weeks following the launch, Apple.com bid on just over 400 terms with an estimated 655,000 impressions, again, concentrating on the mobile channel. Apple did not shy away from bidding on rivals’ brand terms, leading to a significant 12% of their impressions coming from competitors’ brand terms. Other credit cards likely saw prices increase for their owned terms as Apple’s efforts stimulated bidding.

Meanwhile, Apple won 100% of impressions on the terms “apple card” and “apple credit card,” with minimal competitive response from rivals.

4. Apple Card dominated mobile. Unsurprisingly, given the Apple Card’s mobile-first approach, Apple has aligned its search strategy by bidding aggressively on mobile — with no paid search presence on desktop platforms except for a small number of key Apple-branded terms.

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Apple made entering a new search market look easy, so much so that the company’s rapid rise in the search rankings seemed a foregone conclusion.

But was it? What if rivals had taken countermeasures or exploited vulnerabilities in Apple’s strategy? There were a number of missed opportunities:

• Readying the counter-punches: Apple’s search ad copy made the company’s positioning clear. Astute rivals might have adapted their own campaign copy and offers with aggressive counter-messages and terms.

• Finding the chinks in the armor: Apple Card left desktop search virtually undefended, leaving plenty of room for competitors to go on the offensive there. If competitors had been aware of this strategy, they could have used this as an opportunity to gain market share in a channel with less competition and make better use of their search engine marketing dollars.

• Getting aggressive with brand protection: Apple freely and successfully bid on others’ branded terms without consequence, but only citi.com attempted to bid significantly on Apple’s core terms. This was the time to bid aggressively to protect owned terms, take enforcement actions against Apple infringements where feasible, and make Apple work to protect its own branded keywords.

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The Cost of ‘Set-It-And-Forget-It’ Strategy

It’s hard to know what drove this muted reaction by marketers.

It may have been a lack of visibility — with credit card companies unable to predict or track Apple’s moves with any degree of clarity. But most likely it was a matter of complacency.

Financial marketers tend to stick with set-it-and-forget-it strategies instead of continually optimizing their campaigns based on emerging opportunities and threats. An Apple doesn’t enter the market every day, but even subtle day-to-day market shifts create opportunities to optimize performance and gain or protect market share.

Whatever the cause, what’s clear is that Apple Card was able to quickly gain a foothold in search that may be hard to dislodge.

In any industry, a search strategy and market position will be vulnerable if you don’t know what your competition is doing, can’t see new challengers coming, and aren’t willing to protect your brand territory. Having this knowledge in your arsenal will ensure that when the next Apple Card shows up in your market battleground, you’ll be equipped to defend your position.

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