We’ve all heard the phrase “the customer is always right,” and never has this been more true than in the consumer-centric world we live in today.

The advent of the internet has given consumers the tools to be able to research any company, product, or service they need. This, in turn, means that brands need to work ever-harder to rise above the competition.

The best way to do this is by developing a clear understanding of who the consumer is and what his or her goals are when they engage with your brand. In this article we’ll explain why understanding consumer intent matters, and outline techniques that will allow you to pinpoint the intent of your specific target customers.

Why consumer intent matters

To understand why consumer intent matters, let’s first understand what it is. Consumer intent represents a specific consumer’s purpose for carrying out a commerce-related activity.

For example, Consumer A might visit a company’s website to find out if a product they know they need is in stock in a store in their area. Meanwhile, Consumer B has a problem they have to solve, and they turn to Google in search of solutions. Imagine both Consumer A and Consumer B ultimately visit the same company’s website. If the content on the site only speaks to Consumer A, Consumer B will abandon their research into that company and the brand will lose a potential customer. Worse still, what if the content on the site doesn’t speak to either Consumer A or Consumer B?

Every brand should strive to understand the needs and goals of their target customers. This understanding is what enables your brand to connect with the consumer in a way that will help push them along the pathway to becoming a buyer. A marketing touchpoint — be it a website, ad campaign, or store experience — that is designed without consumer intent in mind cannot satisfy the needs of the user, and satisfying the user’s needs (in other words, making the consumer feel as though their needs are met without having to work for it) should be the primary goal when designing an experience.

Unearthing consumer intent

Consumer intent is particularly important when it comes to website design and development. The brand’s website is often the first place consumers go when researching a brand or branded product. The website is what will show up in search results for relevant related queries. And it’s where many of your advertising campaigns will drive to. So it’s critical that consumer intent be considered at the earliest stages of the design strategy. This survey dives further into the importance of keeping a website up to date and relevant.

One of the most common ways to do this is to create a series of user personas. These are personas the brand creates to represent the different consumers who will use the website. Each persona represents a different category of user with specific needs or goals. These personas help define priorities when designing a user experience.

Another way to think of it is to consider the buying cycle, which typically includes five stages: awareness, research, comparison, purchase, and retention. Work to understand what the needs of the consumer are at each stage of this cycle and then consider whether your website is built to meet those needs in every stage. In other words, look for ways to meet the consumer on his or her own terms.

Specific techniques to determine consumer intent

Consumer intent isn’t always obvious, but the good news is that there are plenty of tools and techniques at our disposal designed to help us better understand our consumers. Below we’ve listed a few of the most useful ones:

  • Website analytics: For existing websites, turning to your own site analytics for insights is a good place to start. Don’t expect the analytics interface to provide all the answers though. You’ll have to know what you’re looking for and spend time sifting through the data to unearth valuable insights. Some good starting points include user flows, site search terms, and referring keywords.
  • Heatmapping: Another tool for sites that are already live, heatmapping lets you see a visual overlay of where users click on a specific webpage. Heatmaps help you quickly understand what content is popular with site visitors, and what content fails to capture attention.
  • Surveys: Asking consumers direct and targeted questions about their goals and needs either while they are on the site, or following an experience they have with the brand is a great way to gain insights that come directly from the source.
  • A/B testing: Further down the line, A/B testing specific messages, calls-to-action, and content prominence can help you understand whether you’re doing everything you can to speak to your user personas.
  • Keyword research: Keyword research is an excellent tool for understanding intent. Done properly it will help your brand identify the types of navigational, informational, and transactional searches consumers carry out, allowing you to hone in on what their needs are. A lot of brands have a kneejerk reaction to dismiss informational searchers, but this is a mistake. According to Google, “Our research shows 51% of smartphone users have purchased from a company/brand other than the one they intended to because the information provided was useful.”
  • Competitive research: Use your keyword research to fuel your competitive research. Look at who ranks well for the types of queries you associate with your target personas. What are those companies or brands doing? What does their content tell you about the intent and goals of your target consumers?
  • AI: Increasingly AI is part of the equation when trying to understand consumer intent. Marketers can use AI in the form of predictive analytics and lead scoring to interpret past action in order to predict future behavior. This enables them to design marketing materials to closely match the goals of the consumer.
In closing

Many brands fall into the trap of putting their own needs before those of the users. It’s tempting to start by asking what do we want to say? when what we should be asking is what do our users need from us?

Brands should focus on being consumer-centric, which means first and foremost understanding what your consumers are looking for and what their intent is when they engage with your brand. Design experiences with consumer goals in mind and the end result will be happy, loyal customers.