Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Marketing Strategy: Beyond Behavior to Intent

Marketing strategists know how important it is to find the insight that sparks a creative and effective strategy.  Behavior has become the be all end all to understand consumers, as opinions and intent have been deemed low-quality data that consumers may fabricate and misreport.

But what about when we can determine intent as a result of behavior?  With all the data that marketers and retailers have about consumer behavior, we can now better understand why they do what they do without even having to ask them.  And this information can take us even beyond what they have done in the past and help us take a step closer to understanding what they will do in the future.  I recently came across two articles that presented evidence for just that.  The first article is about Target's new holiday promotion plan, and the second is about how advertising strategy can be leveraged in the face of device-fragmentation

These are the intent-based insights that can be gleaned from these reads:

Timing Breeds Intent…
Target’s early promotions are specifically targeted to those customers that they define as “planners.”  Another group of their customers, whom Target calls “doers,” may behave similarly and be just as profitable, but it is understanding the differences in intent between the two groups that allows Target to appeal certain promotions to one particular group.  The planners want to start shopping as early as possible, and Target’s new holiday promotion will let them know that Target is here to help them do just that.

Timing is key in understanding consumer intent

…but it can also Breed Contempt
Target is touting that their new holiday promotion will begin earlier than ever before.  The convention of holiday shopping starting on Black Friday is as old as whoever non-ironically bought you your last Christmas sweater.  Target’s new promotion will actually start even be Halloween.  Talk about scary!  They claim that consumer research presents a need for earlier holiday promotions, but there is sure to be a sizeable sect out there sick of the holidays creeping up on them.  With most other retailers also pushing up their holiday promotions, the question becomes whether to compete directly (like Target) or if waiting on your promotions can become the great differentiator.  In any case, the timing of these promotions is as vital as the content or media.

Look Past Media Channels
The fragmentation of devices in today’s world also reveals the importance of intent.  It really doesn't matter whether you have information on a customer who uses mobile, or PCs, or watches television.  What matters is how that person intends to act as a consumer, regardless of device or channel.  If you sell shampoo, you don’t want a mobile user or a PC user; you want someone who’s intending to buy shampoo.  The consumer probably doesn't care which device he uses to find what he’s looking for, and neither should you.  You should only care that he’s looking.

Take Action
Now that you understand how to leverage intent, it's time to put it to action.  Here's how:

1. Use your behavioral data to understand how consumers will want or need to act in the future.
2. Determine how, and just as importantly, when, to reach these people.
3. Talk to them as consumers of a particular good or service, not as users of a particular channel or device.

When you use the information you have about consumers to look past behavior and toward intent, you can look beyond what they've done in the past and begin to understand what they will do in the future.

Matt Slater is an IMC student and soon-to-be professional in Chicago.  He is interested in marketing strategy and analytics.  And baseball.  Questions or comments about the blog or anything else?  Find him on Twitter @MattSlaterIMC.

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