Catch Me If You Can

  |  June 1, 2005   |  Comments

To what extent do surfing habits indicate intent to buy?

Just who are you?

It's not a trick question, but it doesn't have a single answer, either. I'm a dad, a husband, a programmer, a homeowner, a marketing executive, a blue belt in karate, an avid reader, a college professor, and a writer. I'm all these, but these aspects of my persona won't create an equation that truly describes me. Can you be described any more simply?

When we try to define consumers by their online behaviors, we drift from developing a realistic understanding of who they are and what their needs and interests might be. Instead, we create a two-dimensional data construct that might fit into a designated slot (if you push hard enough). Simply put, your surfing habits today aren't necessarily indicative of what you're interested in purchasing tomorrow, next week, or next year.

If that weren't the case, based on today's surfing pattern I'd be a prime target for any advertiser looking for a consumer who checked his bank balance, requested a homeowner's insurance quote, wandered an ad agency site looking for a phone number, looked up a domain name, checked out NYTimes.com headlines, or logged into a university server and downloaded two audio books.

From this list, the only thing I'm currently in the market for is a new homeowner's insurance policy, and even that need is lukewarm. Nothing else on the list is even slightly indicative of the fact I have a new puppy, am fiendishly making fixes to the house in my spare time, have been organizing a summer schedule for my kids who will be out of school in a few weeks, have a washing machine older than both of my children combined, and need new carpeting (did I mention I have a new puppy?)

My past behavior isn't necessarily indicative of my future behavior. Although it's a place to start for many behavioral marketing vendors, using past histories as a way of planning for future behaviors isn't unlike using a car's rearview mirror to navigate the road. You may make some progress, but the first turn will put you in a ditch.

Not only are my personal needs and interests diverse, but I'm not the only one using my computer. I think it's safe to say my 10-year-old son and I are different people. Though I can appreciate his interests, I personally don't spend a great deal of time surfing Nicklelodeon, Homestar Runner, or the official Weird Al Web site. Yet you can be certain any data profile of my computer indicates I have the tastes of a 10 year old.

Measure Intent, not Interest

When you walk into a department store, what do you buy? No doubt the answer is something like, "It depends on what I need." As consumers, we have an ongoing needs list. These needs are based on replacing similar items, improving our lives, resolving existing problems, and giving in to desire. Needs are also governed by factors such as income, practicality, overall value, and usefulness.

I once owned a pickup truck. I liked my truck for the convenience it provided when I needed to cart around furniture, cement, garbage, or wood. I liked riding higher than the rest of the traffic. It may have made me feel a bit more macho, too. On the other hand, it chugged gas; it was next to useless in a snowstorm, hard to park in the city, and a lousy family car. I eventually traded it for a minivan. The practical need of moving two kids, a wife, a dog, and all our assorted possessions around safely and efficiently outweighed my need to have something that could carry 12 sheets of wallboard.

The change doesn't mean I'm not interested in pickup trucks, but I can honestly say I have no intention of buying another one. I may visit sites featuring trucks just to see what's out there, but my interest has a long way to go before it's converted into intention.

This isn't to say surfing habits don't indicate intent. But extracting intent by compiling a list of sites visited is bad science. Although repeat visits to a specific site or visits to many similar sites may indicate true interest in a product or service, at what point does that interest convert to intent?

The best way to obtain this information is to let the consumer tell you. Wise marketers give site visitors the opportunity to create and follow paths that define those intentions. Sometimes, just asking "Are you planning to buy a new pickup truck soon?" is a much better indicator than watching and guessing.

Behavioral analysis is still in its infancy when it comes to marketing. This space will continue to grow and change. The good news is you and I have gotten here soon enough to learn how to make this work for our clients. Someday, we'll look back on all this uncertainty and laugh.

The ClickZ Marketing Excellence Awards recognize ClickZ readers' choices for achievement and innovation in online marketing technology, solutions, and execution. Nominate the products, services, and campaigns you believe deserve the distinction of being named the best in their category. Nominations are open until Friday, June 3 (EOB, EST).

ClickZ Live New York What's New for 2015?
You spoke, we listened! ClickZ Live New York (Mar 30-Apr 1) is back with a brand new streamlined agenda. Don't miss the latest digital marketing tips, tricks and tools that will make you re-think your strategy and revolutionize your marketing campaigns. Super Saver Rates are available now. Register today!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rob Graham

Rob Graham is the CCT (chief creative technologist) of Trainingcraft, Inc., where he heads up development of customized training programs for a wide range of digital marketing, entrepreneurial development, and digital media clients.

A 20 year veteran of digital media, Rob has served as the CEO of a multimedia development company; an interactive media strategist; a rich media production specialist; a Web analytics consultant; a corporate trainer and seminar leader; and a chief marketing officer.

When he isn't on the road presenting training workshops, Rob teaches at Harvard University, Emerson College, and the University of Massachusetts - Lowell where he teaches classes on Digital Media Development, Web Store Creation, Software Programming, Business Strategies, and Interactive Marketing Best Practices.

He is the author of "Fishing From a Barrel," a guide to using audience targeting in online advertising, and "Advertising Interactively," which explores the development and uses of rich-media-based advertising. He has been an industry columnist covering interactive marketing, digital media, and audience targeting topics since 1999.

COMMENTSCommenting policy

comments powered by Disqus

Get the ClickZ Marketing newsletter delivered to you. Subscribe today!

COMMENTS

UPCOMING EVENTS

UPCOMING TRAINING

Featured White Papers

Google My Business Listings Demystified

Google My Business Listings Demystified
To help brands control how they appear online, Google has developed a new offering: Google My Business Locations. This whitepaper helps marketers understand how to use this powerful new tool.

5 Ways to Personalize Beyond the Subject Line

5 Ways to Personalize Beyond the Subject Line
82 percent of shoppers say they would buy more items from a brand if the emails they sent were more personalized. This white paper offer five tactics that will personalize your email beyond the subject line and drive real business growth.

WEBINARS

Resources

Jobs

    • Customer Service Consultant
      Customer Service Consultant (Bonner and Partners) - Delray BeachBonner & Partners: Full-time Customer Service Consultant Position Who we are...
    • Financial Editor
      Financial Editor (Confidential) - DurhamSIX FIGURE EDITORS WANTED: To enforce lofty NEW editing standards. Easy Conditions Unlikely. Promotion and...
    • Information Processing Specialist
      Information Processing Specialist (Agora Inc. ) - BaltimoreInformation Processing Specialist – The IP specialist position ensures the successful...