On intent: the key question marketers forget to ask

What-do-your-customers-want“What do we want to achieve and how will we achieve it?”. Purpose, intent, goals, paths. It is a question marketers (and managers) ask each time they consider launching a new project or solving a business question. Answering it is a must if you want to develop a proper plan. Define the goals, analyze the best ways to achieve them, determine how to measure success, launch, monitor and improve.

The answer to the question what we want (to achieve), is usually simple and comes down to what Jim Sterne defined as the three business goals: improve customer satisfaction, lower costs and/or raise revenue.

Obviously, depending on the project, these three goals can take many forms and offer various roads to get there. A second question, certainly in marketing, that must be answered in order to address the first question properly is “what do they want?”. They are the customers, consumers, stakeholders, external communities and internal teams. And “their” intent, their tasks are what should drive all integrated marketing efforts.

Intent and the opposition of “them” and “us”

The intent question should be asked across all the decisions that are taken in the marketing strategy process, whether it concerns a social media marketing program, the deployment of a content strategy or a good integrated plan. And, it’s not just about marketing. Intent always matters. In fact, it should be asked across every single touchpoint with everyone  in the ‘target group’ and of course to your existing customers. Obviously, this can be done better in real interactions, offline or in specific touchpoints on, for instance, social media, with your brand and the people within and around it. In other touchpoints with our business, even those we cannot always track (directly), such as offline word of mouth, determining and offering what “they” want, is harder to address. And in social media marketing we even need to take into account the intent of the connections of our connections, what social sharing is all about. It’s just like in channel marketing: to do business with a partner ecosystem you need to understand the needs and intent of their customers as well.

Furthermore, the question what “they” want, is not the most important one. The “us and them” mentality still reigns in most businesses, often including so-called customer-centric organizations.

You can see it in board rooms or in strategic teams where managers and consultants all have their opinions on what the target group wants, sometimes based on some relatively good data but very often based on assumptions. When they don’t know the customer or don’t look at the customer journey from a touchpoint and persuasion perspective, oriented on the tasks of the customer.

Bringing in the “you”

The most important question, that is so often forgotten, is “what do YOU want?”. The distance between “us” and “them” is frequently so huge that we rarely involve and engage the direct (prospects, consumers,…) and indirect (employees, other stakeholders) individuals and groups in the decision processes and the ‘board room’.

That’s a shame since the simple truth is we never precisely know what “they” want unless we involve and ask “them”.

In the “us and them” rhetoric, there is an opposition and even an inequality. When you introduce the “you question,” there is a relation. Asking people what they want, should be the main question to ask across all touchpoints and decision processes.

Obviously, you can’t ask it all the time: it should already happen in the beginning of the strategic stage and be repeated when possible.

However, it should be your goal to ask it when and where you can, or at least to offer the possibility, without forgetting the rules of interruption. And in all those situations and touchpoints where asking people what they want and involving them is impossible you should gather so much information and understand the nature of the interactions so well that the answer to the “what do YOU want” question becomes as clear as possible. Across every single micro touchpoint, starting before there even is one: in the strategic process. In the end, that’s what personalization, optimization and a good use of data are about in this context as well: a more personal and thus integrated view.

“What do you want?” Ask it, always. Even if you can’t: it should be your obsession and a mindset in a customer-centric business that wants to understand consumer intent and optimize conversions, based on preferences.

Finally, asking is not enough. You should also listen and act as a consequence. That’s what marketing is about: persuasion and micro-conversions across all touchpoints in the customer journey of your buyer personas and if possible even of individual customers using a mix of data, tools (marketing automation and CRM) and most of all good planning focused on the questions to be solved during all touchpoints, especially those that matter most, the zero moments of truth.

Understanding the intent of customers, connections and target audiences – as well as that of their social spheres – and acting upon those insights drives marketing success.

What do they want? Here and now regardless of channel. Intent.