Rethinking the Concept of Consumer Intent

We Need to Move From 'Intent to Buy' to 'Intent to Engage'

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Troy Young Troy Young
There's a lot of talk about "intention" in recent posts. Intention is the golden center of response marketing and an obvious requirement for transaction. Online marketers are pretty good at finding intent and have worked at exploiting it since the beginning. But as we struggle to make the internet work for brand advertisers, we have to look at the challenge differently.

Here's what I mean: Intention is one or two steps before purchase and far removed from "unaware." Brand advertisers love intention, naturally, but the real magic is the part before intention -- moving a consumer from being "unaware" to being "predisposed."

I have been looking at a lot of data lately from across dozens of brand campaigns and hundreds of sites. We are focused on getting consumers to engage with ad content and have been measuring our ability to do so.

What the data show is this: In creating value for brands, we need to look beyond "intent to buy" and toward "intent to engage" with a brand message.

In many cases, this has absolutely nothing to do with traditional models of targeting and everything to do with the "mode" a consumer is in when spending time on a web page. We see as much as a 15 times difference in our ability to get consumers to spend time with advertising across popular social media sites. We also see massive differences in time spent on ads when looking across various blogs and gaming environments.

Further, intent is almost meaningless for a huge number of brand marketers who are either a) working in the very earliest stages of the funnel or b) supporting low-consideration products (i.e., soft drinks).

How do we account for the differences found in consumers' "intent to engage"? The same way marketers have always leveraged "willingness" in the consumer psyche as opportunities to influence and sell. Think about items that line the checkout isle -- do you ever actually seek out the National Enquirer, stress balls or TicTacs? Think about ads above the urinal. Or TV for that matter. Get 'em while they're open to a conversation.

This is the opportunity and it could not be truer than on the internet. As the medium evolves and time spent online increases, the user's "mode" is a critical ingredient to creating engagement. While social environments may not offer strong signals around purchase intent, they can be a fine place to generate time with a brand message. The key to making this media work more effectively is in understanding how and where to deliver brand experiences that consumers will willingly spend time with.

Here's one critical implication: Within a site or online environment (i.e. social-networking site), a page is not a page is not a page. But CPM treats every page the same -- as an impression. The next evolution for internet advertising is brand marketing and brand advertising online is about spending time interacting with a message. It's time we started valuing inventory accordingly, not by impressions but by time spent. We call it cost per engagement, or CPE. Call it what you want, but if we really want to make it work for brand advertising, then we've got to get a new measure on value. Engagement is a great place to start.
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