There’s lots of buzz these days about marketing personalization. At the heart of personalization is the pivot from brand-centric, channel-focused marketing to marketing that puts customers at the center of every message. In order to do that successfully, we have to understand one simple thing above all else: What do customers want? The purpose or meaning behind their actions is their intent. Digital channels and the resulting proliferation of customer data has culminated in a new approach to marketing based on customer intent. Understanding customer behavior is empowering us to tailor marketing content and build customer experiences that capture their attention and their shopping dollars.
Why does customer intent matter?
Seasoned marketers have earned their stripes by tailoring content to customer demographics — a statistical composite of a typical buyer — and then making assumptions about customers (who they are, what they do and what they look for) to determine what marketing tactics to invest in and what campaigns to roll out. However, when you’re trying to deliver immersive and memorable experiences to customers and prospects, knowing who they are isn’t as helpful as knowing what they do. Instead of putting all our marketing chips on superficial customer details — age, gender and income — we now have access to information about their behaviors across myriad channels and touchpoints from bots to voice search. We’re now swimming in data that gives us intelligence about our customers and prospects, and offers up valuable clues about their intent. When you collect and combine this data with foundational demographic information, you can craft a more insightful view of consumers and, ultimately, better understand how, when and where to reach them as they move through each stage of the buyer’s journey.
How does intent support the buyer’s journey?
It’s become an undeniably nonlinear path that spans many channels and devices, but the key stages of the buyer’s journey remain intact. As customers move from Initiation and Research to Compare, Transaction and Experience, they are looking at different websites and resources so they can make the best decisions. As consumers venture across these different touchpoints, they create intent signals that can help take you beyond the how, where and when of customer engagement. This data helps you understand the why. This kind of insight about their behavior is crucial for today’s marketing leaders. You have to not only know where consumers are in the decision-making journey, but what their goals are, so you can build more effective campaigns. The questions they’re asking, the content they’re reading, the products they’re browsing and even what they click or share on social media, can reveal a great deal about a person’s intent. If they ask questions focused on “who,” “what” and “how,” it typically means they’re in the earlier stages of their journey. As they progress to “when” and “where” questions, they’re often ready to buy. Information is power, and intent data is delivering the power that drives successful marketing campaigns. Ten years ago you might have sent a general marketing email to all women in a particular demographic group. Today, you can confidently segment your email campaign to reach women who’ve searched online for shoes or visited your website in the past month with a “buy one, get one free” deal that includes images tailored to their preferences. A car dealership might deliver a broader mobile ad to people who’ve visited an automotive website or searched for general information about hybrid cars, while delivering a different ad featuring low-interest financing that showcases current local inventory to those who’ve searched for a Toyota Prius. The value of delivering the right message at the right time can’t be overstated. An impressive 80% of shoppers in 2016 said they would switch stores or brands if they received a compelling promotion.1 If you’re taking full advantage of customer intent data, and delivering ads, messages and offers aligned with where they are in the decision-making process, you have the opportunity to truly stand out and differentiate from your competitors in ways that will help you exceed your acquisition and retention goals.
How can marketers take advantage of customer intent?
Intent data is virtually everywhere. Customer intent signals can be mined from website analytics, ad clicks, surveys and other sources, but search is arguably the most valuable source. The Search marketing offers unique access, insights and utility for marketing in the digital age. Beyond desktops, laptops and mobile devices, search is the intelligent thread that connects different devices and applications and, when users ask a digital assistant a question, it may not require any screens at all. We’ve progressed beyond the search bar. Wherever these searches take place, customers are leaving a trail of clues about their intent. We can now combine intent signals from search engines and other actions consumers take online to glean valuable insights about the people behind the clicks. As these digital channels expand to become more sophisticated and more widely adopted, marketers will continue to benefit more from intent data, both in terms of quantity and quality of information. Armed with this data, the sky is the limit for marketers. Without it, pretty soon you won’t be able to get off the ground.