Consumer intent is one of the most powerful tools you have for understanding your customers. It’s far more revealing than demographic factors such as your audience’s age or gender and can help you build a far more complete picture of your customer. Understanding intent is essentially a question of understanding why a person is motivated to act in a particular way at a particular time – and how your brand can be part of it.
Intent is also particularly effective at helping you engage with your mobile audience, who are much more likely to be hunting for an immediate solution to their need. Research data from Millward Brown in 2015 suggested that brands could be missing out on up to 70% of potential mobile customers by failing to identify intent effectively.
Understanding intent is vital to understanding the customer journey and the best way to insert yourself into it. Working effectively with intent data means being fast and flexible, using technology to communicate quickly. It’s all about reaching the consumer in that microscopic moment of time when they’re most decisive.
It’s not an easy challenge for businesses to rise to but the tools available to understand and respond to intent are improving all the time.
Immediacy is an important part of understanding and reacting to intent. The point when a consumer is looking for something is absolutely key to engaging with them. By understanding their intent in that moment, you’re much more likely to transact with them in some way by reaching them at whatever stage of the journey they’re at.
Engaging with intent can be a way to free yourself from your own prejudices. It’s easy to develop a rigid view of who is using your product or service; focusing on consumer intent rather than the characteristics of the consumer in their daily life can help you overcome your own assumptions.
It’s less about seeing your audience as a set of channels or devices, or a collection of demographic stereotypes, and more a question of seeing them as individuals engaging with your brand at particular points in the decision cycle.
There are plenty of examples of brands misunderstanding their audience because they focused on narrow demographic assumptions. Brands are starting to wake up to the fact women buy video games, do DIY and enjoy superhero films, and that men buy makeup and are increasingly buying items such as groceries and laundry powder. Narrow demographic assumptions aren’t helpful to either the consumer or the retailer.
They’re also inefficient. Audiences are far more fragmented than they have been in the past, with demographics that are harder to pin down. People aren’t as predictable as they were a few decades ago based on their age or gender. They’re also pretty hostile to brands that make assumptions about how they live their lives.
With audiences that are tricky to pin down with demographic understanding, it makes more sense to target instead, the people that are actively making moves in your direction. It’s better to engage with what people do rather than who they are.
Engaging with intent
So how do you identify intent, understand and then engage with it? From a search perspective, it all starts with what Google calls a micro-moment – the point at which a customer suddenly becomes ready to engage with a brand like yours. They could be looking to buy something, learn something or do something else online.
Your search strategy can help you understand micro-moments and respond to them using content tailored to users with that particular intent and using paid search advertising based on what they’re searching for online.
A big part of your success in the area of intent comes from understanding how to make the most out of those micro-moments and how to map searcher intent to your keyword strategy. It can be hard to interpret intent when it comes to understanding how people search the internet.
A good tip for understanding SEO and intent is to try to understand how Google interprets things. If you’re thinking of building a search campaign on a particular keyword, perform a search for it and see whether the results returned are informational or transactional – it’ll help you understand the intent behind the keywords you’re targeting for organic and paid search.
There are many ways to respond to intent once you’ve identified some patterns in user behaviour. Some users may be signalling that they just want to quickly close a sale – it’s important to take them on a brief journey to complete this.
Others may want to research further, get a question answered and learn something. There are many different content formats that can meet their needs, from technical specifications for your product to informational videos or content that simply gives a succinct answer. Try to understand the most suitable content format to meet specific user intent types at particular moments in time and for their specific scenario, such as on a mobile whilst travelling.
You may be able to tackle some of their needs right from the search engine results page using tools such as those offered by Google My Business. For example, fast food chain restaurants often find that the most common intent they encounter is customers on mobile trying to find the nearest branch.
That’s why McDonald’s and Starbucks are easy to find within the search results without having to click into the brand’s own website. Many businesses also add their opening hours and contact number into their Google profile to make them easier to find by customers with specific intentions to visit or contact them.
It’s important to understand that you can’t just do intent-focused marketing as a one-off activity. Understanding and responding to customer intent is an ongoing activity and you’ll need to refine your process as you go along. By basing your marketing strategy around customer intent you’ll be well on the way to making the most of the opportunities available to your business.