Digital Experience

Intent marketing in practice. 3 case studies

Demographic criteria aren’t effective anymore — age, origin, place of residence, income, and gender define customer behaviours to a lesser and lesser degree. The trend of post-demographic consumerism indicates that tastes and habits now span individuals who used to be classified into separate groups.

We are observing the emergence of products that may seem ironic or internally contradictory — luxurious golden skateboards or beer supporting post-exercise recovery. "There are actually 10-year-old guys who watch Dance Moms, and there are 73-year-old women who are watching Breaking Bad" — says Todd Yellin from Netflix.

For business, this means a crisis of the traditional demographic segmentation. According to Google, only 31% of search engine queries related to computer games are entered by men aged 18–34, i.e. the model recipients of the product. This means that marketing campaigns based only on demographic segmentation miss nearly 70% of potential purchasers, such as parents looking for gifts for their kids or girls who play computer games.

How do you guard against such losses? The key is to recognise customers’ intentions — their needs at a particular moment.

What is intent marketing?

Intent marketing can also be referred to as real-time marketing, contextual marketing, marketing of the moment or 1-to-1 marketing. Regardless of which term we choose, it is about identifying signals indicating purchase readiness and responding to those signals in real time. The type of signals given by a user at a given moment is more important here than static demographic segmentation. What matters is what the person is doing and not how he or she can be classified. This is why the intent marketing paradigm often involves the creation of dynamic segments with variable numbers of users and triggered 1-to-1 campaigns where the message is a response to the user’s behaviour. What is important is both the customer’s behaviour (what he entered in the search engine, what campaign he responded to, what he wrote in social media) and the context which affects the purchase decision (e.g. the place where he is now, the weather or the proximity of a local shop of the brand).

When should you use intent marketing, what does it look like in practice, and what benefits can you gain from it? Let’s examine 3 examples.

Use of weather data and geolocation — Neutrogena Beach Defense case study

Neutrogena, an American brand of cosmetics, was looking for a way to promote a new product — the Neutrogena Beach Defense sunscreen. Traditionally, this market segment advertises on weather applications in order to reach users at the same time when information on sun intensity on the given day reaches them. The basic disadvantage of this practice is the short time of exposure to the message and the limited interest of recipients in the presented advertisements.

In order to optimize the advertising budget and to pinpoint user intent, the brand decided to apply a combination of weather and geolocation data. As a result, the user (the target audience of the campaign were women aged 18–54) was invited to make a purchase only when the following two conditions were met: the customer was nearby a drugstore where she could buy the cream; and the weather was sunny. To enhance the power of the communication, messages were sent primarily in areas of increased sun exposure, e.g. in parks or on the beach.

An added incentive were personalised coupon offers sent to potential customers. The combination of intense sun, the easiness of getting the product (proximity of a drugstore), and the incentive in the form of a special offer encouraged customers to make the purchase.

Thanks to the campaign, awareness of the brand increased from 0 to 63 percent, and purchase intent rose by 43 percent.

When demography is not enough — Park Stay & Go case study

Park Stay & Go hotels, located near airports and docks outside cities, address their services to customers with a precisely defined need: a 1-night stay and the possibility of leaving your car at the car park for up to 2 weeks. The service is designed for people who are travelling and need to stay somewhere overnight and then leave their car and change the means of transport. After the traveller returns they can pick up the car and move on.

Park Stay & Go certainly caters to the needs of many customers, however, demographics-based segmentation would not have enabled the company to identify precisely those people interested in such a mode of travelling and such a service. Consequently, Park Stay & Go faced the following question: how to direct marketing communication so that it reaches persons travelling precisely in this manner, interested in leaving the car near the airport and flying away?

The first thing was data. The company harmonised and integrated its information, which enabled distinguishing between recurring customers and new users on the website. The latter were presented with contextual advertisements and the company tried to obtain as much information about the given person (including geolocation data) as possible. Customers that were familiar with the brand and had already stayed at a hotel of the brand received upsell and cross-sell messages.

Changing the promotional paradigm to an intent-based one drove a 28% increase in the number of hotel bookings, and the revenue was increasing by 6% year-on-year. This way, a hotel chain that used to post financial losses started to expand significantly and to enhance its recognisability.

Advertising only where necessary — Kleenex case study

In addition to boosting sales, reliance on purchase intent can also yield savings. This is the path that Kleenex, a tissue manufacturer, decided to follow. Due to the specific nature of the product, it is difficult to speak of any target audience. At the same time, rapid deterioration in weather conditions does not necessarily entail a flu or cold epidemic, which makes setting the product in a context even more difficult. A large proportion of the advertising budget was wasted on reaching persons who did not need the product at the given point in time.

Kleenex studies revealed that users were currently much more willing to go to Google than to the doctor’s when they were ill. Using AdWords, it was possible to pinpoint specific outbreak areas even before they became visible in statistics on doctor visits — these were areas where phrases related to flu symptoms were searched for more often. Thanks to such precise adaptation, during the autumn of 2012, 96% of the company’s advertising budget was spent in locations affected by cold and flu outbreaks. The sales increased by 40% year-on-year, which corresponds to over 432 thousand boxes of tissues sold. The advertisements reached persons who needed the product and the advertising funds were not wasted on promotion among recipients who would not have been interested in buying the product anyway.

To implement intent marketing, you need to change your approach

Today, marketing messages are addressed to narrow groups, much smaller than demographic segments — sometimes even to one specific recipient. In order to be able to run such campaigns, you need:

  • to combine data from various sources (e.g. from mobile applications, social media, and the user’s profile built on the basis of his or her behaviour online)
  • to work on data in real time (when it is raining, when the customer is walking past a local branch, when the customer has just found out that his flight has been cancelled — this is the time when the user is acting. The need will quickly disappear, so whoever responds to that need more promptly is the winner)
  • automation processes (if you want to send many narrowly-targeted campaigns launched in response to a specific event, you need automated sending processes)
  • dynamic content (newsletter contents, product arrangement on the homepage of an online shop — all this is not a static, once-only formulated message that reaches each person in the same form. Not only the sending time and the channel, but also the content of the message need to be adjusted to the user)


However, the most important thing is to change your approach: change your understanding of concepts such as “campaign” and “recipients”; be ready to adopt a fast data-based model in which you respond to the user’s actions in real time, using established automated processes; obtain feedback and use it as a basis for the optimisation of your processes.

Today, demography no longer constrains customers. Thanks to intent marketing, it does not constrain marketers, either — they can communicate with recipients more effectively, offering them the contents, experiences, and products that they need at the given point in time.