How Capturing Consumer Intent Creates Better Advertising


Eric Wheeler

The next generation of innovation will not leverage massive data stores in the cloud – it will happen on-page, and in real time-without cookies. We call it intent targeting.

Targeting and retargeting were hot topics in 2013, as several companies made big strides in their ability to reach audiences through advanced modeling, shopping behaviors, geo-location, and social data. However, the next generation of innovation will not leverage massive data stores in the cloud – it will happen on-page, and in real time-without cookies. We call it intent targeting.

Just as search advertising allows advertisers to reach consumers at the moment they type a query, advertisers now have the ability to deliver a relevant message at the moment of discovery across the Web. Now with 50 percent of most sites’ Web traffic coming from social channels and search, the opportunity exists to understand the intent and mindset of a user instantly when they arrive at a page. No cloud needed. No cookies needed. Let me explain how. Intent targeting is delivered at the page level based on a real-time stream of intent and interaction data without the need for profiles and cookies.

It’s Time to Shift Focus From the Ad Unit to the Page:
Many of us have spent the last four years building advanced artificial intelligence to make standard ad units more effective. However, at some point, we must admit that much of the Ad Gutter, the top bar and right rail where most ads sit on a site, isn’t working like it used to in the past. A generation of users has been trained to ignore these ad units and no amount of science and segmentation can reverse this behavior.

While the targeting advances have been considerable in the past few years, at some point you do start feel like for every advance you make there is something that puts you back a step. Even if your perfectly targeted ad delivers a great message to the right person, a far less relevant message most likely occupied that space before and after your “perfect” ad. We have to keep in mind that for as many wins as you make in your targeting, the increasing reality is that the ad systems that supported the last 15 years of growth will not be sufficient for the future of advertising as users seamlessly move from desktops to tablets to smartphones. Tomorrow’s publishers need to make the entire page smarter for advertisers and have the ability to create relevant ads in real time.

Activate On-Page Intent Signals:
Unlike other forms of targeting, intent is founded on the premise of delivering advertising and content to a consumer at the point in which they are looking for specific information or products. Think about the kind of research you do when looking for a credit card or mortgage. You start with some online searches, visiting specific websites and maybe sharing relevant content that you found with your trusted contacts to ask for recommendations or advice. This is certainly done via word of mouth, but more and more via email, social media, and newer chat/SMS communications platforms. Intent targeting predicts in real time consumer interest, intent, and provides additional content to a consumer that might be relevant beyond the credit card itself.

Intent targeting may sound very similar to contextual targeting, which is the basis of many large content farms, but it’s different for a few key reasons. It’s not just about serving an ad that relates to the content of a particular site, but an ad that really aligns with intent signals from what you, the consumer, are actually interested in and at a time and place that is most appropriate.

Behaviors Continue to Change:
Step back and look at how consumer behaviors are changing with new channels and devices. From December 2013 to January 2014, 33Across measured a 12 percent increase in month over month Dark Social traffic (links sent via online chat or email, rather than shared over a social media platform, from which referrals can be measured). People are communicating, sharing, searching, and researching using new tools and platforms everyday.

From a 33Across standpoint, we know that people copy and paste content, URLs, and images for three main reasons. The first is to share with someone else, maybe a friend or colleague, and this occurs more than 70 percent of the time via email. The second reason is to search with terms and products names that are copied into search engines. And lastly, to do research – think about how many times you have emailed something to yourself in a draft to keep information that you wanted to remember. This practice occurs more and more, across applications and services like, Evernote, and more applications that are emerging everyday. As this behavior is evolving, publishers and advertisers can be much smarter about what, how, and when to deliver a relevant ad message.

It’s Not Just the Network, It’s the Network Effect:
Word-of-mouth referrals have always been one of the most revered forms of advertising – one person recommending something to another – and now the tendency for people to trust the opinions of complete strangers continues to increase. In a recent study┬áby Skift, newer generations like Millennials and Gen Y actually rely on user-generated peer review to help make travel plans much more so than older generations. These younger groups, as well as early adapters, communicate differently and rely on newer research tools, which allow us to universally tag, rank, and score data at a meta-level.

The future of advertising will not only rely on matching content based on search and share behavior but will go much deeper by understanding the mindset and intent of the consumer. Advertisers will make strides by creating engaging customer experiences that pair with what consumers are looking for in real time. Intent targeting might just be the most powerful weapon in an advertiser’s arsenal for increasing engagement and conversions. And, when deployed correctly, it can dramatically improve the path-to-purchase dynamic going forward.