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How is the Intent Economy defining a new customer era

Neeraj Pratap 0

In the early part of the evolution of marketing as a discipline there were a lot theories and strategies. Almost none of them were backed by data. Today, in the age of big data, marketers have an ocean of information but are struggling with how to use it. They capture every interaction with their customers – the sale, the after sales service, etc. and based on all this transactional information use predictive and lookalike models to forecast his future behavior. All of this based on his interactions with the brand. Pretty neat, Ah! Sounds simple and logical. In all this simplicity they almost always miss out on an important fact – What you don’t know about the customer can and will hurt your brand and business in the short and long run. There is a brand world and there is a customer world and they don’t collide. They co-exist and inter-mingle. The sooner we get it the better.
All of us have experienced on platforms like Flipkart, Amazon, MakeMyTrip, etc. that once you look at a product or offer they literally start trolling you. This in my mind is the crudest form of ‘intent’ marketing or trolling, if you please. One of my friends who had a back pain bought a massage oil on the advice of his yoga teacher, turns out that the oil was also a cellulite reducer and Amazon quickly concluded that he or his wife was pregnant and bombarded him with pregnancy related items! He certainly was not amused. His son is in the US and studying music, he travels three times a year to meet him, he loves different cuisines, loves performing arts, etc. and all this data is somewhere, he does almost all his searches online. But who will take the effort to understand him?
Currently, marketers look through a narrow prism of interaction with the brand. Though most of them talk about having moved to or striking a balance with ‘attention’ driven marketing to ‘context’ driven marketing, very few know how to move to ‘intention’ driven marketing. The most successful marketers pick up signals, aka – intentions and convert them into opportunities for their brand. Signals and intentions are a two-way street. The prospect/customer is going to look or is looking for something that will meet his needs/wants and the brand is looking for him. Probably the most fertile mating, eh, meeting ground, right?
Marketers are discovering that life in the fast-changing digital world is not so easy. But the fact is that the customer is leaving behind a host of signals outside the marketer’s ring-fenced data ecosystem. This can be effectively used to place the brand in the right place, at the right time and in the right context and solve the right problem for the right customer…this certainly is the right intention, right? Customers start their journeys towards making choices much before brands come to know of them. Using a mix of data and intent driven marketing, marketers can narrow this chasm. In his book, Pull, David Siegel wrote – ‘In the world of pull, you don’t own the customer, the customer owns you, your company’s economics are aligned with your customers. Companies that focus on results for customers will set the pace.’
It’s time for markets to move from interruptive marketing to intention marketing. Let’s stop taking things at face value or rather ‘Facebook’ value. Targeted marketing is after all not so targeted. I can assure you that a lot of people are not what they claim to be or write on their facebook wall. Zuckerberg once said – ‘the days of having a different image for your work, friends or co-workers and for the other people you may know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly, having two identities for yourself is an example of lack of integrity’. However, he quickly added in the same breadth that the only ‘you’ that matters to facebook is the one it knows. Not the one you are!
Intelligent marketers are grappling with these issues – intent, context, content, conversation and closure. Let’s stop stereo typing the customer, let’s look beyond the typical segmentation techniques. The fact of the matter is that there is no one data set that can ideally describe who we are and what we want. It will always be multi layered. Going forward to get to the real intent and hence address a genuine need for customers, marketers will have to marry First party (transaction data), Second party (partner data) and third-party data. There are many facets to data – structured, unstructured, dark data, unrelated data. All of this cohesively brought together will result in better signaling and a much more accurate expression of intent by customers. We already live in an ‘intention rich’ and ‘attention poor’ economy and marketers will need to embrace this paradigm shift.
To operate in an intention economy, marketers will need to get comfortable with –

  1. Dealing with complexity – look at ideas and signals across unrelated data points.
  2. Let facts and data points evolve strategy. Not the other way around. If you have a ‘gut’ feeling or hypothesis test it with data.
  3. Be nimble. Be willing to experiment. Be willing to change course at no notice.
  4. Get intelligence driven partners on board.

Surely, its early days for the intention economy in India but as the Danish mathematician Piet Heim said – ‘to err and err and err again but less and less and less.’  Marketers will have to experiment and bet on new platforms, techniques and solutions. A combination of intelligence, data, technology, ability to take risks and their synthesis will drive the new customer era. And just so that I have the last word – Good intentions don’t last, an intelligent approach and relentless execution does.