The Path to Purchase is Paved with Good Intentions

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Digital marketers have a cornucopia of targeting tools at their disposal -- demographic, behavioral, contextual, search retargeting, social targeting and look-a-like modeling. But in the end, these traditional methods are all just approximations – high tech best guesses. That needs to change -- and can. The most effective targeting of all, the method that marketers need for a real time, multi-level understanding of consumers’ sentiments, can be found with intent targeting. Here’s how intent targeting works, why it’s effective and what its future may look like.

Consumers first began digitally expressing their intentions around 2009 when location apps like Foursquare first launched. Since then, we’ve seen a steep increase in digital declarations, as mobile apps, e-commerce and social networking sites have given consumers virtual bullhorns with which to proclaim their wants, needs, desires, frustrations, whereabouts, etc. Today’s consumers are constantly sending out signals, and many are related to their purchasing plans: they’re adding products to wish lists, posting inquiries for product recommendations, tweeting and posting likes, sharing content and more.

Why Intentions - and Intent Targeting - Matter

While marketers know that consumers are sending out intent signals, most aren’t looking beyond social networks. That’s a big mistake. The digital landscape is continually shifting and marketers have to adapt and focus their ad spend to keep up with changing consumer engagement levels and habits. According to comScore, app usage -- not social engagement -- now accounts for seven out of every eight minutes of media consumption on mobile devices.

Consumers are going beyond social and desktops to voice purchasing preferences on mobile applications for coupons, price alerts, price comparisons and shopping lists, to name a few. Advertisers are missing out on crucial data because they aren’t analyzing information from a combination of sources, including desktop, mobile, social, e-commerce sites and apps.

Brands also lose out when they rely on traditional targeting because it tends to look at only a single consumer behavior. If a prospect visits a site, for example, then they are served a related ad. Intent targeting goes further and looks at a combination of behaviors, then analyzes them in total. For example, with intent targeting, a brand might choose to serve an ad after a series of events: a consumer posting that he or she needs a product, putting the item on their wish list and visiting a price checker app for that item.

By analyzing intent signals from multiple inputs, across different platforms, marketers can gather data that will point them to consumers who are interested in a product, are in the middle of the buying cycle or ready to make a purchase – in short those most open to influence.

How Intent Delivers

Intent targeting looks at measurement on several levels as well. While the ad industry’s typical measure today is the click, intent targeting measures Return on Intent (ROI), and does so by looking across three key pillars: Did the action drive a lift in social chatter? Did it contribute to a lift in behavioral change? (e.g. amount of time spent visiting a brand’s site), and did it further engage the consumer in a conversation (while also gathering first party data to optimize the ad unit for the next exposure)?

While intent targeting is still in the early stages, solutions exist to help understand and act on consumer intent. These solutions collect and analyze millions of unique signals, in real time, add in historical statements of intent, create composite pictures and interpret their meaning. Marketers can use this technology to understand consumers’ digital journeys, uncover those with the strongest intent and serve campaigns to those consumers across all of their screens and devices.

Intent targeting experts typically align with unique data providers to collect user-generated intent signals from online wish lists, price or product comparison apps and real-time opinion polls to name but a few. All parties are mindful of consumers’ privacy, and gather only anonymized information. The data used may come from anonymized cookies, IP addresses or device IDs. In each and every case, the consumer’s identity is never revealed to the data partner or intent targeting solution provider -- their expressions are the only information leveraged for targeting purposes.

Looking Ahead: The Future of Intent Targeting

Since it's still in its nascent stages, intent targeting holds tremendous promise for the future. As new apps and social platforms are introduced, consumers will have ever more diverse ways to express intent. Much more data – including information about products and services, which can be analyzed for intent – is likely to be shared as well. According to KPBC, close to eight zeta bytes of data will be created and shared by the end of 2015 alone.

As increasing amounts of data are available, intent targeting may be applied in brick-and-mortar settings, the Holy Grail for retailers. The technology could help retailers match behaviors to special offers, such as coupons and rewards programs, helping to reduce or even prevent showrooming. In the very near future, we may see real time targeted ad networks integrated with point of sale systems. Targeted ads could then be displayed against intent data sets, which would drive users to a mobile landing page where discounts could be taken at the cash register.

Make no mistake: Intent targeting can provide marketers and brands with some of the richest, strongest and most multifaceted indications of consumer behavior available yet. And that’s more than just a guess.

Title image by Voyages etc... (Flickr) via a CC BY 2.0 license