Intention-based markets represent the collective intent of consumers in relation to products, services and information. These markets include huge consumer segments with millions of potential buyers connected by shared intent. For example, there are millions of consumers who are thinking about or actively seeking out gifts, books, pet supplies, financial advice and a college education. Within these broader markets, there are lots of smaller market collectives built around more focused and refined intent. As intent narrows, consumers get closer to making a purchase or completing a lead.

When engaging Intention-based markets, search is the natural starting point. Within search, intent can be identified, tracked and measured. Through search, consumers tell us what their intentions are by the keywords and terms that they use. A marketer can know how many people are looking for a particular product or a solution related to their product, and they can know this before they launch a campaign or develop messaging for a campaign. Indeed, a marketer can even know the size and characteristics of an intention-based market before a merchandiser sources a product.

Search let’s marketers reach prospects who communicate their existing intent. Without existing intent, there is no search activity. Although search can help shape, clarify and direct intent – it isn’t the best channel for establishing intent. Intent is usually established prior to search – whether the search occurs on Google, eBay, Amazon or Wikipedia. Simply, consumers don’t actively search for things or go places they don’t know exist. For this reason, exposure is vital for establishing intent that results in a search.

Intent is the active pursuit of a goal. Intent can be established by any exposure to a need, want, desire or interest. It can be established by talking, listening, observing, feeling, sensing, reading, thinking or imagining. If your back hurts, you have been exposed to a driver of intent – which is a desire to stop the pain in your back.  In this moment of need, consumers turn to the information assets they’ve already gathered to find a solution. These assets include experiences, expectations, logical deductions, directional resources, and biases.

When consumers reach a search engine, they’ve already established intent. They’ve indicated a desire to perform a particular search on a specific site. Previous exposure established intent and now they communicate their intentions. Next, marketers who are aligned with this intent can deliver their message. Messages that are seen and in context are considered. Some of the considered options are actively evaluated. Finally, the consumer makes a decision and accomplishes his or her mission.

Google and Amazon are directional resources – channeling intent to specific products, services and information. Here, searches reflect what consumers have been exposed to prior to arriving at these sites. For example, if I search for “Bluetooth Smart Watch” or “HVAC training” – I’ve had prior exposure to these concepts. Conversely, if search volume goes down for these terms, it indicates fewer exposures to the concepts searched for or brand replacement.

Search Volume Declines in Proportion to Exposures

If a concept doesn’t acquire exposures prior to search, there will be fewer searches and the intention-based market will shrink. Thus, a brand dependent on organic or paid search volume for sales is at the mercy of previous exposures for its growth. As previous exposure declines, so does the number of searches and traffic for brands feeding from this intent. With the decline of traditional media, there are countless search terms that have decreased in volume due to lack of exposure. This is compounded by the reluctance of Digital Marketers to engage consumers earlier – prior to search. Fewer people search for terms as the concepts they represent become less visible.

Brand Intent Replaces Generic Intent

Today, fewer people search for “online streaming movies” and related terms than they did 15 years ago – thanks to Netflix. Fewer people search for “online book store” and “online auction” due to Amazon and eBay. Simply, their brand means the same thing as the generic intent in the consumer’s mind. As brands grow by reaching consumers earlier, there will be fewer searches for generic intent. In fact, high search volume is an indication that no brand has emerged within a particular market. It’s an opportunity for marketers to replace generic concepts with their brands. Those who don’t build brands will see their traffic and sales decline – while their costs increase. Those who do build brands will see their traffic and sales increase as brand intent increases.

Brand Intent is the Goal of Intention-Based Marketing

Brand Intent is when consumers search for a specific brand or go directly to a specific site. We define this intent as Brand Activity – since it cannot occur without exposure to a brand. For most retailers and lead generation companies, this accounts for 60-80% of sales. As Brand Activity increases, so does traffic and conversion rates – which means more profitable sales. As Brand Activity declines, so do traffic and sales. In the data for every site, there is evidence proving this fact. Marketers use this knowledge to build digital success. Marketers want to grow brands and brand activity – which is where the majority of online sales come from.

A Technocratic Approach Makes Brands Vulnerable

Non-branded intent is the focus of SEO and SEM technocrats. Brand activity is something they’d prefer to explain away rather than leverage for success. This indicates a lack of understanding for how consumers buy online. It is an incremental and temporary strategy that ignores 60-80% of conversions in order to grow 5-10% of sales. It is vulnerable to competitors with little or no resources beyond knowledge of SEO. It’s vulnerable to lack of awareness early in the decision-making process. It’s a strategy that’s easily bested by a marketer who reaches consumers earlier and knows how to measure Brand Activity. SEO and SEM professionals, unfortunately, cannot measure Brand Activity without devaluing the ROI of search. Minus branded search terms, organic and paid search conversions would look really, really bad.