Using Consumer Behavior to Drive More Business

08.27.2019 Dan Glicksman

Using Consumer Behavior to Drive More Business

The Three Stages of Intent – and How Understanding Them Can Help Your Local Business Advertise Smarter

Intent.  This word has never meant so much to a local business owner and their advertising choices.

Long ago, before the age of “everyone has a smartphone”, I was running the marketing department for a local financial company and often thought about three principle audiences in respect to bringing in my next customer –

  • Who is most likely going to need my services?
  • Who is actively shopping for the services I offer?
  • How can I get someone interested in my business who has already bought the service I offer or something like my services?

When I think about these three audiences in the scope of advertising and what is available today, one word comes to mind – intent. To me, intent is like the fictional thought bubbles that appear over everyone’s head – things people are thinking about when it comes to their near and short-term needs. And the cool thing about now being the age of “everyone has a smartphone”, you can practically see all those thought bubbles because of the activities and locations people share via their device.

Like me, marketers and business owners have recognized this modern-day gift of advertising. However, oftentimes to their own detriment, marketers have become so laser-focused on instant gratification that they forget there are multiple parts to “intent”…

Intent drives behavior which then shows intent… wait, what?

Intent is the idea in someone’s head to go and do something, to address some need or want. It’s a purpose. Individuals are either likely or not likely to have a specific intent when it comes to a specific product or service. Does someone walking onto a golf course on the weekend signal behavior that they are a golfer, and may be more likely to have the need to buy golf balls or golf clubs? Does someone who has been to restaurants on numerous occasions in the past 30 days signal they are likely to show that behavior again? Is a homeowner more likely than a renter to do major home improvements?


Generally, we can look at one’s behavior as a signal to one’s intent to do something. Take this scenario – Tom is online, searching through various local home improvement sites… he’s clearly showing behavior that signals his intent is to do some home renovations. And if you are a competitive home improvement business, you can use his search information to get your brand into the conversation. This is good, but it would be even better if he’d found you first right? This can be the difference between the good advertiser, and the great advertiser.

Like I mentioned earlier, your advertising is aimed to do three things – reach those most likely to show intent for what you sell in the future, those currently showing intent for what you sell, and then those who likely have shown this intent at one point in time. When you look at your advertising strategy, think about what you are doing to address all three with a combination of different media:

PRE-INTENT: Finding people who fit the mold of someday needing your services

From my experience, I would argue that investment in reaching people most likely to need your services in the future may be the most overlooked category of the three audiences I’ve mentioned. Pre-intent is when you have a defined audience who has the potential, based on demographics or geography etc., to move into active intent and buy what you and your competitors have to offer. It’s here where I’m asking myself, “Do I want people to search for ME specifically when the need for my services arise, or do I care if they just search for everyone who offers my services (even my competitors)?” and, “Do I want a chance to be the first seat at the table, or show up to a crowded room with my competitors already negotiating the deal?”.

Before continuing, answer these questions when it comes to online search:

  1. How many online searches are likely to have you as the number 1 or 2 result (when potential customers aren’t mentioning your business in their search query)? Likely not many, if any, and to be honest, you probably aren’t even on the first page.  If you’re beyond that, good luck! Stats show the first two results on page one account for roughly 50% of all clicks.
  2. If you are buying AdWords to solve the aforementioned search issue, what have you seen happen to the money you are spending vs. what you are getting over the past one or two years? A lot less bang for the buck, right? And social media is standing in the batter’s box for a similar price increase. 
  3. Where are you listed in the Yellow Pages? (… just kidding!)

So, how do you come to mind when the consumer need arises for your solutions? The answer is branding! The consistent presentation of a brand increases business’s revenue by 23% on average.

Target people who are most likely to show future intent by using traditional media, like Cable TV. Do you think people watching home improvement shows are more likely to use their home’s equity for home improvement? Absolutely. Could people watching the Outdoor Channel someday need a new fishing pole or camping tent? Sure. No matter what, you will A) reach a crowd of people who will one day be shopping for what you offer or B) hit up a few people who are showing they are currently shopping. Either way, with a good branding campaign aimed at people most likely, or showing “pre-intent”, to need what you offer, you increase your chances of pointing them in your direction instead of just hoping they think of – or find – you before they find your competition.

ACTIVE INTENT: These days, it’s like practically seeing people’s thought bubbles above their heads

Once upon a time, the main way to see if someone was actively in the market for something was by physically watching them shop (high creepy factor), or by taking a call directly from them. Today, it’s a whole new ballgame. With online and mobile phone technologies, the world is your oyster when it comes to targeting the customer with a need for your solutions… but at the same time, it’s your competition’s oyster too.

Let’s say you are a furniture store owner. You sell all types of beds, recliners, couches – you name it. Different fabrics, colors – you offer it all. Ten miles down the road, a person at home goes onto eBay, or a competitor’s website, and types into the search box “powder pink leather recliner” –  all sense of style aside, this is an example of someone showing intent to buy furniture soon.

The percentages are in your favor that if someone does a search like that, they are far more likely to be actively in the market for a pink leather recliner, rather than the chance that they are searching out of pure boredom.

Or, what if someone walks into your competitor’s store and is sampling the merchandise? I don’t know about you, but I don’t spontaneously drop in on furniture stores without at least a smidgeon of a need – I have better things to do. If your competitor sells furniture comparable to your stock, isn’t it safe to assume that someone showing active intent to buy your competitor’s products would be someone you’d love to walk into your store, too?

Let’s take this one step further. Let’s say you already know who your audience is. Don’t let the profile of your typical customer limit you. If you sold furniture to young families, would you tell your salespeople to hide if an elderly couple came in and started looking at couches? Of course you wouldn’t! The same goes for online behavior – don’t go too narrow in your targets! Play the numbers, the more you interact with people searching online for furniture, no matter their demo, the greater your chance of incremental sales.

These solutions are even available for the smallest of businesses to put their creative hat on. Determine what active intent looks like to your business, pick a local partner like Cox Media who knows the local geography and demographics inside and out, build a plan of attack, and take down the competition. Get your offer to those people showing active intent.

POST-INTENT: Now that they’ve purchased this, they are likely to purchase that, too

Let’s say you are a restaurant owner who would love it if you could keep a steady stream of repeat customers. The customers have already shown and activated their intent – but that doesn’t mean the chase is over. Could you improve loyalty with an offer to come back in within the next 30 days?

Would it make sense for an auto dealership to offer warranty services to people in a tight radius around their dealership who showed signs of being an auto shopper in the past 30 days? How about a flower shop reaching out to males who have recently visited a jewelry store?

The name of the game here is to get creative on the back-end with whatever you offer. Use previous actions and displays of active intentions into offers for supplemental or complementary products/solutions. A combination of mobile and online media will get you most of the way, but a trusted partner will help you guarantee success.


Answer these questions when working with a local media partner like Cox Media:

  • Who is the next customer that walks through my doors – What’s their age, gender, income, where do they live and what things interest them (are they typically outdoors people, do they like sports, Thai food, etc.)?
  • If I were in my customer’s shoes, and in search of my products/services, what steps do I take online? Where am I searching? (Think beyond Google – don’t forget there are tons of other sites out there!)
  • Is there any place my customers typically go that would indicate they are more likely to want what I offer? Or better yet, places they go that scream “I’M IN THE MARKET FOR THIS NOW!”
  • Are there complimentary products to yours in the marketplace? If someone purchases a specific product or service, might they be more likely to come to you next? Or, if they’ve bought from you, how else can you get them to come back?
  • Am I working with a local partner who knows me, my competition and the local area? I can’t tell you how many local companies miss the mark here – I mean, if you were a local pet store, who is going to know where the dog parks are, or restaurants that allow pets? These are insights that are advantageous to know in launching a mobile campaign around pet owners. Do you think your partner a thousand miles away would know these details? No way!
  • Can I trust my partner to provide me with factual reporting? (You may or may not be surprised to hear this concern, but yes, there are robots overseas clicking ads and skewing reporting. Plus, other instances where ads are showing up in highly undesirable places – not very good for your brand.)
  • Does my advertising partner have access to data that I’m not getting anywhere else or through self-service platforms?

By paying attention to each strategy, pre-, active, and post-intent and recognizing associated behaviors that indicate that intent, you will set yourself up for far greater opportunity to be chosen first – and again and again after that.





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Dan Glicksman

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