This study of VoIP awareness/research by consumers, though not yet a mainstream consumer category, shows that search is used early in the buying cycle (as well as later) and can function as a pseudo-branding medium at that early stage as well as a direct response medium later in the process.
According to the Search Engine Journal write-up:
The Yahoo SEM VOIP survey, commissioned by the National American Testing Organization, explored the role that Search plays in the research process for consumers seeking VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) calling solutions. Conducted in August of 2005 using a nationally representative sample of US adults with high-speed connections at home, Yahoo found that Search is the most trusted, essential information resource for consumers researching VoIP calling services.
Traditional media (31%) and the Internet (28%) as the two primary sources used to drive initial awareness of VoIP technology, products and services; according to Yahoo survey results. Television spots (14%), banner ads (14%) and newspaper/magazine ads (10%) held the top three spots.
Here's another panel at Drilling Down that will address some of these interesting questions about the relationship of search to the purchase cycle and consumer buying behavior:
The New 'Purchase Funnel': Online Shopping, Offline Conversions
Even though e-commerce may have reached US$30 billion in 2005, it represents just 2.5 percent of total U.S. retail. Yet the Internet is having a growing influence over offline consumer behavior. What is the precise nature of this new "purchase funnel"? Where do consumers start and where do they typically end up online before buying offline? Is paid search truly a direct response medium? What categories of sites are the most effective source of offline conversions? Will we see more search/shopping engines add local "inventory" information this year? These and other relevant questions will be explored in depth.