For the past several years, especially since Google’s Panda and Penguin updates transformed the online marketing landscape, blog headlines have cried, “Content is king!” For much of that time, this sentiment was true. Great content—that is, informative and engaging blog posts, infographics, videos, white papers, etc. that let marketers build trust and connect with audiences—was indispensable. And today it is still indispensable; however, 2017 is the year that intent marketing becomes king.
What Is Intent Marketing?
Intent marketing is, at its simplest, a way to weed out window shoppers. Specifically, it enables marketers to laser focus on prospects who have signaled the intent to adopt a particular solution or purchase a product or service. More generally, it also lets marketers figure out what buyers plan to do, whether in the long or short term, and respond appropriately to capitalize on those plans.
In the Marketing Funnel
Intent marketing looks different at different stages of the marketing funnel. Indeed, the customer conversion funnel is much less of a funnel and more of an amorphic cloud of information and interactions swirling around consumers until the right interactions condense into a purchase. Therefore, the marketing to match such a cloud is quite diverse and must be increasingly specialized.
The modern conversion and marketing funnels are more generalized and customers can skip entire parts altogether. Various actions taken by potential customers, such as using particular search terms and visiting certain websites signal the person’s intent and marketers can tailor marketing content to the individual’s situation. In this manner, marketers can ensure that no one slips through the funnel.
At the awareness stage, intent marketing requires finding people with the intent to learn about a company’s products or services. Awareness has different stages: potential customers may have no clue what a company’s products or services are, or they may know but are unaware of the purpose or benefits. In either case, the potential customers have a need or use for the products provided by a company and marketers either need to help these people recognize that need or help them understand how a specific company can fill that need.
As an example, let’s take a person who searches for “how to fix a leaky faucet” and visits a popular DIY blog or website and browses specific faucet-fixing articles and videos. Marketers can infer the person has a plumbing issue they need fixed and see that the person is becoming aware of the options.
To push sales content to this person at this stage is inappropriate and detrimental. The searcher will ignore the content and will likely develop a negative opinion of the brand. Intent marketing at this stage provides the person with helpful content that meets their needs on their terms. This can include optimizing the corporate blog or certain blog posts to cater to DIY intent.
On the other end of the marketing funnel, intent marketing means finding people who are actively looking for products or services with the intent to buy. This purchase decision may be a result of long research, such as is likely with a car or electronics purchase. Or it may be an in-the-moment impulse or emergency decision, such as finding a place to eat or fixing a broken pipe.
To continue our plumbing example, search terms such as “same day plumbing repair” or looking up reviews of a specific plumber on Angie’s List signal the intent that the searcher is looking for a service—likely immediately.
As a marketer, providing the person with DIY content is inappropriate and the potential customer will skip over the content in search of an actual company that will help them solve their problems.
Rather, an appropriate marketing tactic might be a PPC ad that highlights a company’s quick, same-day service, or a website landing page optimized for same-day plumbing repair that will show up in an organic search.
Benefits of Intent Marketing
Such a targeted approach to marketing throughout the conversion funnel has significant advantages over former marketing tactics. Through intent marketing, companies more effectively find the right people and engage only in specific marketing activities that will speak specifically to those people.
One of the reasons intent marketing is beneficial is that it produces better ROI by letting marketers bypass top-of-funnel activities like product differentiation and building brand awareness. Instead, businesses can search for “intent” signals based on the digital footprints individuals leave when they visit a product website, download a buying guide, interact with a brand on social media, or even try unsuccessfully to purchase a similar product.
Another benefit of gathering intent signals is that it lets marketers better personalize their advertising to address the needs and plans of their customers. By concentrating on prospects who have signaled intent, businesses can reduce overall marketing costs, tailor their messaging, and improve conversion rates dramatically. It also lets them serve their customers better by satisfying the needs indicated by the collected intent signals.
Examples of Intent Signals
Marketers can glean intent signals from any number of sources, but three of the most common—and effective—sources are as follows:
- Search Signals
- Social Media Signals
- Programmatic Signals
Each of these is discussed further in the sections below.
In search marketing, businesses attempt to determine intent by analyzing the terms users search for in search engines. We discussed this to some extent above. For instance, a user who enters the phrase “Cabbage Patch dolls” may or may not be interested in purchasing a Cabbage Patch doll. She might simply be reminiscing about a toy from childhood or trying to recall the name of a specific doll. However, someone who enters the phrase “best place to buy a Cabbage Patch doll” is likely signaling intent to purchase.
Some search signals are not as clear. For instance, a user who enters the phrase “Cabbage Patch Doll prices” may be signaling intent to purchase, or she may have a collectible doll she wishes to sell if the price is right.
Social Media Signals
Social media is rife with signals—Facebook likes, Twitter retweets, Pinterest pins, etc.—so it can be difficult to determine intent. However, analytic services like Parse.ly and Chartbeat can provide an in-depth and comprehensive understanding of the meaning behind sharing data and website visits.
The social media platforms themselves are investing enormous time and capital to make sense of the myriad signals, and their technologies are bearing fruit. For instance, when a Pinterest user pins photos of overstuffed chairs and mahogany end tables to a board called “2017 Family Room Makeover,” the social media platform can flag that data, garner the intent behind it, and pass the info off to an advertiser.
Programmatic marketing is very high tech, and involves delivering targeted messages across multiple different channels and devices to relevant audiences. It requires tracking users from their laptop to their smartphone or tablet and adjusting the message accordingly. Intent data is collected via anonymous online behavior. The websites, product review pages, and forums consumers visit reveal their interests, so marketers can target them with customized messaging based on the intent signals they collect.
Advances That Have Made Intent Marketing Powerful
The reason 2017 is the year that intent marketing becomes king is that numerous recent advances have combined to make it a powerhouse marketing tool.
There is much more available data today than there was only a few years ago. Content consumption data, search marketing information, point of sale data, social media interactions, onsite and offsite web activity, and others all add to the collective well of data that marketers can access to find intent signals and isolate the individuals giving those signals.
As the amount of data has increased, so too has our ability to process and make sense of it. Improvements in software and hardware have enabled many major sites to connect the dots and draw actionable intent insights from the new wealth of data they have available to them.
Moreover, marketers can now target individual consumers more effectively than ever. Cookies and search query data have been around for years, but through increased sophistication of social networks and advertising technology, marketers can now offer personalized messaging beyond simple demographics or search interests—even across multiple platforms.
Move aside, content! Intent marketing is now king.
Of course content is essential for successful marketing campaigns. But if the content is presented to the wrong audience, the awesomeness of the content won’t matter.
Intent marketing lets marketers weed out window shoppers and focus on potential customers who have signaled intent to buy. It leads to better ROI and more personalized messaging, as well as better overall service and satisfaction.
Marketers can glean intent signals from social media, search engine usage, and from other—often anonymous—online activity. Its rise to the top of the marketing toolkit is largely due to recent technological advances in data collection and processing that now let website owners, social platforms, and marketers figure out who is in the market to buy what, and then send those individuals targeted, personalized messaging.
Check out BoostUniversity for more online marketing tools.
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