Creating Intent in Digital Media – Part 2 & 3

Part 1 focused on three types of digital media and cross-media and looked at what the future may hold for intent creation in each. Part 2 looks strategically at creating intent and Part 3 is a case study.

Goals and Intentions
Goal_2For the most part, people are consistently in goal or intent (I use these terms synonymously) mode online. They rarely sit down at a keyboard and wonder what they want to do. The online medium is lean-forward and action based. Messages and creative are not washing over passive behaviors. Here, messages and creative compete with the actions taking place along the click path derived from goal fulfillment efforts.

As digital marketing matures it’s becoming clear that success is predicated on either helping fulfill the goal or helping create it. Before we go into some strategies and examples of creating intent there are two basic principles that are helpful to understand.

Intentions emerge anywhere. It’s not unusual for an intention to emerge after reading something (online or offline), talking to a friend, watching TV or any number of other unconnected ways.

Intentions are fluid. Secondary and latent considerations emerge during intention fulfillment. Even primary intent can change in the course of fulfillment. The more information that’s collected and considerations that are presented when trying to complete a goal the more likely a change of mind becomes.

Still, there is one thing that almost never changes – once a user has a goal they have tunnel vision trying to complete that goal.

What is tunnel vision? It’s what banner blindness is all about while at the same time being what has made search advertising so successful. The folks at my alma mater Creative Good have spent more than ten years as the leading observers of online behavior and goal fulfillment. They define tunnel vision as:

1. Customers don’t think in terms of sites, features or other elements that professionals spend their time focused on.

2. Customers focus on what they are looking for and little else.

3. If content elements are not in context of the customer’s focus, they are likely invisible.

4. Customers pay attention to detail only when they have found what they are looking for – even then it is only the detail related to what they want to see.

To summarize, the path of intention can start anywhere and at any point. The intention can also change at any time. People are laser focused on fulfilling these intentions and will notice almost nothing unless it is in the context of helping them with fulfillment. Who said digital marketing was easy!

Motivating Action
BarnumThese psychological conditions are not new to marketing strategy but they form the backbone of creating intent. Understanding them and using them appropriately can yield great rewards.

Cause and Effect – This is helpful for people in discovery mode. Think how intent can be created for a loan refinance business by having a savings calculator on their homepage. Similar to having the calorie burn rate calculator updated in real-time while you are on a treadmill.

Observation – Seeing what your friends are doing – seeing what anyone is doing can create intent. The voyeuristic tendencies and desires of humans have been leveraged by marketers well before P.T. Barnum’s first sideshow in 1835 and AdultFriendFinder’s cam shows of today. According to Nielsen 80% of social network behavior is voyeuristic. The gating of this behavior can create intent as can the very behavior itself.

Visual Attractiveness – At the risk of being labeled misogynistic, there is no question that more profiles of attractive women are looked at in MySpace and Facebook than of less attractive women. It is incredibly important to note that attractiveness takes many forms online. From forms to landing pages to full sites to images, we know from testing that visual presentation is a key to creating intent.

Reciprocity – Grow-a-gift was an example of using reciprocity for intent creation that I used in Part 1. As also mentioned in the first post, Social Media presents a bevy of opportunities to create intent in this form. It will be a core strategy of creating intent in social networks. Personally, I had never done a LinkedIn recommendation until one was done for me and I felt a desire to return the favor. Reciprocity is a social norm found in every society ever studied.

Trust and Credibility – These are two factors that often turn interest into intent. Their power can range from the most important of factors of influence to the least depending on the timing and placement of these messages. In a strange twist of fate it’s where all the ROI from branding dollars takes place yet it’s the most vulnerable to customer empowerment and the new church of the customer marketing paradigms.

Incentives – If you incent, you will intent. Coupons, loyalty rewards, closeouts, sales — these methodologies are tried and true intent creators. Offers are by far the most successful way to create intent and encompass a number of underlying intent creation strategies. As technology advances I believe we will be able to use it to create intent in ways that have are as powerful as our current offers as well as making offers even more powerful. Email and affiliate marketing are two early examples of the technology shift that enabled offer marketing to gain power. This can be done through a number of ways but at the core of many of these is targeting and the accompanying targeted creative.

Trigger Mechanisms
TriggerIt is my firm belief that creating intent or “intention triggers” will define marketing success in the coming years. This means more than generating interest. It is the bridge from interest to intent. This is fascinating because it is where technology meets marketing. It is these triggers that move someone from merely being interested in something to being intentioned.

Underlying the success of intent creation is Kairos. The word goes back to that incredible marketing treatise by Aristotle, Rhetoric and means the right time, or opportune moment. Timing is a paramount consideration to the delivery of relevance and the backbone of behavioral targeting (as well as something that makes BT distinct from personalization).

An intention will also be more easily created if there is some preexisting disposition to it that can be leveraged. This is the reason why some sites have higher conversions on the 15th and 30th of the month (payday). To create intent our marketing must be emergent – meaning it takes latent motivations and delivers ability to fulfill intention. It is an action suggestion, action tool or ideally both. It can be implicit or explicit. All can serve as triggers.

Impulse is a trigger in the context of the type of response or action in response to an intent. It is incredibly powerful for marketers and digital is the perfect medium to create impulse because marketers can immediately deliver. The real contribution of impulse rests more on the technology side of the equation – though this doesn’t mean it has to be thought of less strategically than factors of motivation.

Probably there is a third part of third post in creating intention yet be written that deals with technical strategies ad side and onsite that can be employed to leverage impulse. Fittingly, while technology is of tremendous importance it should be a final consideration in developing strategies for creating intention.


Case Study – The Publishers Dilemma
Creating intent (or lack thereof) is what is killing publishers. Subscription models are dying and highly intentioned visitors from Search (60% of traffic for many) have fractured their content delivery strategy. Publishers need to understand merchandising their content. Their conversion event is a click on their page – just a single one! Yet this remains so elusive and difficult for many. It gets even more troubling when we realize the search visitor read a lead-in prior to landing.

I argue that the entire business model for digital publishers should be focused on merchandising their content to create another intent. How bad are things? It took me one try to find an example to share.

Here’s a typical content search and the results.

Query & SERP

Here’s the landing page above the fold. Research tells us most people will not read past the fold.


Where is more contextually relevant information? Where are links to more up-to-date content produced by NYT publications? This article is two years old. There’s nothing new over the past two years about allergies and pediatrics? It really wouldn’t be too hard to double the page views from this landing.

Things don’t get better below the fold either. The incredible marketing laziness of having Google ads is astounding. It raises the question if those ads had any influence on the natural search ranking (despite what Google says).


It is simple to create intent here. All the psychology and triggers are in place. What’s missing is the execution.

Case Study – Optimizing Intent
One of the most interesting optimizations at OTTO Digital over the last 6 months consisted of testing a series of three checkboxes as opt-in, opt-out and various combinations of both in a driving directions interface.


We were measuring what additional results users were interested in when doing a driving directions query. What we found was even more interesting. Having all three check-boxes pre-selected delivered 3% more driving directions requests equivalent to thousands of additional requests per week. What we quickly realized was that we used content and technology both from a testing and delivery standpoint to create intent.

This was done using cause and effect, observation and quite possibly attractiveness. Without observational testing we can gain any more knowledge as to why getting certain results drove more people to actually search. Maybe it was knowing at least something of what they were getting in advance? Maybe it just looked better? Still, tens of thousands of tested visits told us that something about having all the options pre-selected created more intent.

Experience Ultimately Creates Intent
If you put this all together it brings us to the fundamental fact that it’s not any one idea but the holistic user experience that creates intent. Factors like simplicity, perceived ease of use, limitation of choice are key drivers to create intent and can be used in concert with more tactical strategies.

We also know from testing that the closer we can bring this goal fulfillment to the user the better experience it is for the user and the better our results will be. So if an ad is creating intent shouldn’t it also have the ability to deliver on it? If we remember Kairos the answer is yes – and this next generation of ads is right around the corner. These “adplications” will be highly targeted and deliver users the ability to complete goals in far fewer actions, creating better ROI and better user experiences.

Targeting and Personalization are used to deliver relevance and create intent everyday in search advertising. What we’ve learned from those little four lines and 130 characters called search ads is how influential creative can be when targeted to an intent at the right time. We’ve also learned in the process how powerful a role technology plays in that delivery of relevance.

The Future of Intent Creation
Carrot_stickThe future of intent creation is all around us. Social Media holds a well of promise and Facebook is onto something with their Beacon program. Finding a way to turn a fraction of the 80% of FB time engaged in voyeuristic activities into actions and intent is the pot of gold in the social media rainbow.

Beacon is a system to create purchase awareness amongst a circle of acquaintances. If I buy “Supercrunchers” on Amazon it will go out on the FB feed to my network (if I so desire). This appeals to peoples desire to inform others and be seen as a trendsetter or influencer. This can create interest and it will deliver the tools to leverage intention. The very presence of these tools may also help create intent. These ideas are not too far removed from optimizing viral distribution (another post that’s on my radar).

We are in a disruptive time in marketing but the concept of intent creation is not new and the core psychologies and strategies have been working for many years. What is new and really disruptive is the marriage of these strategies with content delivery platforms and the real-time measurement of effectiveness that allows us to test and optimize intent creation.

Never has marketing been more powerful or relevant. Never has more intent been created. Never has the cost of not creating intent been higher.

Part 1 of this post on Creating Intent in Digital Media



2 responses to “Creating Intent in Digital Media – Part 2 & 3”

  1. david allan Avatar

    This is a lot to grasp in one sitting. Going to have to read two or three more times to absorb all this good info. I will book mark you and check it out tommorow when I have more time. Too deep for me this early.
    Keep up the good work


  2. JellyDreamas Avatar

    Huh… interesting site…
    Wher search-link on your site.
    Can you help to me!?
    P.S. Anybody know about XRumer 5.0 software? Need an url to it…


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