Everything We Knew about Targeting Has Changed, and What Marketers Must Do to Keep Up

In the age of social media, selfies, and viral content, everyone loves to know who is paying attention to them. In the digital economy, demography has been the “winner takes all” strategy for passing competitors– the more detailed your knowledge about your audience, the stronger the contribution to sales. Whole organizations have been founded around the market research they bring to clients about what kind of customer they should go after.

Changing Winds

But the wind is now blowing in a different direction, and there is evidence that the sheer volume of opportunity regarding demographics may be tapped out. The college guy is no longer stunned to be getting ads about the latest energy drinks, trendy fitness programs, or mind-enhancing study series. What does seem to move the needle in customer interest these days is the moment in time in which marketing efforts find them.

The New Trend

Although customer demographics will continue to be essential due diligence, by understanding the customer’s intent, marketers have a ripe opportunity to wow an already interested individual.

The benefits of this shift from Who to When are obvious: if so much of the art and science of sales is in timing, an actively interested individual lands ahead in the sales funnel, strengthening the probability of a sale. As any hustling salesperson will tell you, this is gold—a major shift in how we think about targeting the customer.

Spotting the Pattern

So, how exactly do customers unconsciously signal their intent? The clues are in the language they use in their search queries as they do research. Google has released staggering data regarding searches that indicate explicit buying behavior. Check out their insights:

And this one should make your eyes pop out,


How to Get There

So what exactly does it look like to create keywords that anticipate the buying behavior you want? Let’s start with the example of a local hardware store using conventional targeting. Traditional, demographic-driven keywords might look like this:

  •      “Hardware store Grandview Heights Ohio”
  •      “Lawn and garden supplies Columbus”
  •      “Family owned hardware Columbus”

There is power in specificity, so what do these look like if we include the customer intent? Here are some possibilities:

  •      “Buy hardware supplies near me”
  •      “Where can I buy contractor supplies in Columbus Ohio”
  •      “Is there a family owned hardware store near me”

Here is another beauty to this strategy: not only are you taking advantage of the customer’s state of mind, intent targeting is not yet a crowded keyword marketplace, so it will be far easier to win the rankings game with unique, effective keywords. What’s not to love?!

The Conversion Catch

Because of the obvious opportunity here, Google has upped the ante by changing their search algorithms. Jim Yu at BrightEdge points out that Google now looks for and identifies keywords showing what they think is explicit commercial intent, and the “ad pack” you see at the top of the search results typically expands from three to four.

Why is this a big deal? It opens the debate between paid and organic search marketing. Winning the click with your new keywords and a larger “ad pack” of four is tricky because organic results are pushed further down the page. For certain keywords that really hit the intent nail on the head, you should consider paid ads for maximum return. This will become more important as time goes on and people catch on to the intent strategy.

The good news is that, according to Google, ads that truly nail customer intent experience a 50% uptick in brand recognition. That is no small feat in a very noisy marketplace! But regardless of paid or organic, the opportunity behind finding the customer at the right time is massive.

Where It Leaves Us

The possibilities for telling a brand story become far more interesting when targeting the customer’s moment. It does make it more complicated, but if you have had conversations with happy customers who have told you their story, you are halfway there. By imagining their mindset the moment before you walked through the door, you have the information regarding intent you need to start anticipating more effective, moment-driven keywords.

Your bottom line will thank you!