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Creating Intent in Digital Media

In Part 1 I will look at three types of digital media and cross-media and see what the future may hold for intent creation. Next week in Part 2 I will focus on using creative and technology in synergy to optimize intent creation.
IntentThe idea of creating intent is one of the touchstones of marketing and advertising strategy. Yet in digital marketing outside of offers, affiliate marketing and email marketing there is a huge void in creating intent. It doesn’t exist in display, it leads into search yet is not an integral part of it and while it shows promise in social media nothing has been delivered.

Still, I believe that this is next great frontier for all marketing. It will be where technology and creative meet and thus it is where brand and direct marketing will merge to form a new type of marketing. In a few short years this will redefine all marketing, whether Madison Avenue adapts or not.

Let me pose a question -- If for every marketing dollar spent you were able to generate an interested customer or an intentioned customer how would you budget your money?

The answer seems obvious yet so much time and money is still spent on creating interest when there is measurable intent left on the table-- the same intent you hoped would be a byproduct of that interest. This antiquated fascination with interest generation can currently be witnessed watching businesses throw millions of dollars into display ads when they haven’t tapped out all the available search inventory. But as mentioned, search is marketing to people already intentioned. Creating intention is where the real and future power sits.

Since I’ve been beating up on display for years let’s start with it because it might have the most potential. Display is anywhere from 40-50% all digital ad spend. However, at the present time display does little to create or deliver on user intent. Maybe, you can create interest, or leverage interest created in other channels but this is highly unmeasurable and what we can measure accurately (click rates) shows increasingly pathetic results.

It is possible this will change. With emerging “adplications” or widget based ads it seems likely that the ménage à trois of targeting (geo/demo/affinity et al), APIs and targeted creative can create intent since at least some measure of goal (intent) fulfillment will be possible from within the ad itself.

It’s unclear if the app players like Slide and RockYou will become ad networks themselves or if the apps will get hosted and served through existing networks -- most likely we’ll see both. What certainly will happen is that tracking and measurement will need to be transparent and improved. Look for Google/Doubleclick and Microsoft/Atlas to make some noise in this space and possibly a third party analytics solutions. Also, expect this all to get integrated into AdWords, AdCenter & Yahoo at some point rendering a large part of the current media buying population useless.

The marketing sea change that was search grew quite simply from the fact that there was now and easy self-serve way to advertise to people once you knew their intent. This is the closest anyone has ever come to right place right time advertising. And it works!

We can expect the relevancy of search to continue to improve with initiatives like personal search, 3-D search and semantic search. While at its core search does not create intent, rather it serves as a tool for goal completion, we know the power of the SERPs can influence behavior enough that subsequent intent can be generated from the ads and the results. This factors in the emergence of secondary and latent goals as well as having the influence to refine or redefine primary goals and intentions.

We also need to consider the role that mobile, local and vertical search will play in creating intent. With a few exceptions (like travel and finance) we’re still in the very early development stages in all three mediums yet there are few marketing strategies as persuasive as the convenience and expertise that these channels can deliver.

Social Media (SM)
Social Media contains so much interaction and engagement with media that it is certainly possible to create intent within the context of those actions. Social media might not overtake search as the place to market to highly intentioned users but it could be place where those very intentions become realized – meaning that it has much more influence as a marketing channel. However, before we get our panties in a bunch about social media (oh, is it too late?) from the initial results on CTR from Facebook Flyers it seems we are still a few years and a few roadblocks away from SM becoming an influencer of anything except digital photography.

A nascent example of intent creation in SM is the facebook app Grow-a-Gift. Grow-a-Gift is touches on the potential for intent creation in SM. I met the founders of Grow-a-Gift recently and while they haven’t figured out everything they are certainly onto something.

The way the app works is that you give someone a virtual flower. That flower grows over a number of days. After blooming you as the recipient can purchase a real flower that can be sent to the person that sent you a virtual one. While this is a very basic app with about 300k daily active users, it touches on something much larger -- the idea that creating applications to drive intent has tremendous promise in SM.

We know that offline advertising drives online intent. We know that online research drives offline intent. Multi-Channel retailers have been dealing with this since the very first catalog became a website. Recently those whiny media buyers have been crying that display doesn’t get the credit it deserves (funny, I don’t hear the same from the TV folks that really make an impact). Even in search keyword level attribution in the purchase funnel is an incredibly difficult thing.

Attribution for intent creation in digital is a big analytics hurdle and really the holy grail of ad measurement (which is why Atlas has been working on it for years). Still, we can’t let spend attribution get in the way of bottom line performance.

One great example of cross-media intent creation is the Pontiac/Google campaign. Almost two years ago Pontiac made some noise in marketing circles by instructing viewers to “google” Pontiac. While initially met with some skepticism because competitors were able to also benefit from Pontiac’s ad spend, the overarching strategy was sound and ahead of its time (and crippled more by its lack of dealer coordination than anything else). The fact that we still witness TV ads without a large URL at the end still amazes me. Better yet, where is the persistent URL on the bottom of the screen?

Cross-Media has always been a marketing challenge but the onus falls on the client not the agency to ensure that strategies to create intent are being developed, executed and measured properly. I guess the next question is does anyone know how to do it well in digital?

Continue to Part 2


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Great article. I would argue the End is Near

The next generation of Search, or Web 3.0, will be the marriage of Vertical search engines and a Virtual UI - both of which pretty much exist now. "Search in the year 2010" will probably manifest in 2008 - if that long.

Charles Knight editor

Thanks Charles.

...and I agree with your assessment of next-gen search.


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Excellent post the creating intent is a great initiative and I agree with this creation.

Is a interesting creation I hope that it be very positive for you is a nice idea.

I find very interesting this creation it is the best that I see it is great.

But as mentioned, search is marketing to people already intentioned. Creating intention is where the real and future power sits.

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