The Emerging Marketing Intent Graph: How to Understand and Manage Consumer Preferences

The following is a guest contributed post by Sameer Patel is the CEO of Kahuna
The battleground for understanding and managing consumer preferences is heating up. The recent acquisition of consumer identity management provider Gigya by SAP for $350 million is an encouraging sign, showing proof that consumer marketers are increasingly interested in deeply understanding how the consumer wants to traverse the purchase journey.
The acquisition got me thinking about how the adoption of very useful but very fractured consumer engagement touchpoints over the past decade has left us with a woefully chaotic view of consumer intent. Here’s what the marketer is experiencing:
  1. Weak signals from spray-and-pray email, largely limited to opens and click-throughs.
  2. Shaky purchase intent gleaned from fly-by-night gestures such as “likes” inside the walled gardens of social networks.
  3. Rich, near real-time but siloed digital breadcrumbs from mobile experiences that are disconnected from a batch & blast-style email marketing technology stack.
  4. Even richer yet even more disconnected insights captured via browse & cart abandonment resulting in a staggering drop off of 7 out of 10 transactions, because your e-commerce system can’t effectively take the baton from your email or mobile marketing system to maintain a consistent thread of the customer’s journey.
  5. A lack of preparation for the coming tsunami of emerging engagement channels in the next 12 months: beacons, chatbots, AR/VR, voice, and ironically, what Forrester analyst and retail expert Brendan Witcher describes as an uninspiring effort by brick & mortar to bring its sexy back.
The lure of being able to capture the sheer scale of customer expression from this wide array of touchpoints no doubt gives digital commerce providers some serious X factor. But the single most glaring inefficiency in all of this is that every marketer has lost a single identity layer that exposes true intent.

Consumers Are Complicated

The reality is this: Some of us research at certain times and buy at other times. Some find products and research products on different devices or physical locations. Others want to be marketed to based on what similar buyers have browsed or bought. And for yet another group, even the incessant bombardment of untargeted emails won’t be able to trigger a purchase; instead, a simple external event such as good weather or a baseball game this weekend might be enough motivation. You get my drift—consumers are a complicated bunch. We’re all different.

Introducing the Intent Graph

True identity comes from building a dynamic Intent Graph by gathering gestures across all touchpoints in near real time and orchestrating a meaningful 1:1 personalized experience for every individual consumer.
If there is a single common thread I’ve seen across modern marketers who are giving established brands a run for their money, it is the ruthless prioritization of the marketing stack around the Intent Graph. Everything else—segmentation, campaign design and execution, and message delivery—must work to maximize the value of the Intent Graph.
The good news is that this doesn’t need to be as daunting as it sounds, and it doesn’t require the complete replacement of your existing email, web, or mobile marketing automation technology. Leading digital brands are simply injecting an intelligent layer that can make sense of consumer gestures and make machine-driven orchestration decisions about how to engage consumers, in real time.

A Dynamic Future Awaits Us

And by the way, this is just the beginning. The Intent Graph will be extremely dynamic. Emerging touch points such as beacons will express intent with situational awareness. The growing popularity of voice assistants such as Amazon Echo or Google Home will enable consumers to express intent with an added emphasis on tone and emotion. And if that’s not enough, AR/VR wipes out these seemingly physical and digital constraints and lets the consumer express tone, emotion, and situational awareness without ever leaving her living room. The Intent Graph keeps building from her couch.

CMOs Must Focus on Consumer Intent, Not on the Process

CMOs at some of the most iconic brands of the past lost the plot when they focused on the process and not on the consumer’s intent. This scathing characterization by Mark Bonchek and Gene Cornfield in Harvard Business Review about the reasons behind the removal of Coca Cola’s CMO sounds like a career obituary that may well become the rule and not the exception:
“Coca-Cola—widely regarded as one of the top marketers in the world—recently eliminated the role of CMO and replaced it with a Chief Growth Officer. The previous CMO was known for his focus on campaigns and was thanked for ‘improving the productivity of marketing’ and leading a ‘resurgence in the quality of advertising.’ In contrast, the CEO explained the leadership changes as necessary to ‘respond to the fast-changing needs’ of customers, employees and partners and to ‘transform our business for the future.’”
Ouch. But it unapologetically reinforces my point.

Final Thoughts

Channels will come and go. Campaigns and delivery will always matter. But a 1:1 personalized experience based on an ever-fluid Intent Graph for every individual consumer will be the digital commerce battle ground for e-commerce brands and marketplaces in 2018.

Byline: Sameer Patel is the CEO of Kahuna, a leading AI-powered consumer marketing software provider serving iconic digital commerce brands and online marketplaces. Sameer is @sameerpatel on Twitter.