Ever since the dawn of time, human beings have been yearning for knowledge and understanding of how to carry out certain tasks; how to make things, how to get from A to B, how to communicate, how to survive.
Before writing and the printing press, this knowledge transfer was done by word of mouth via storytelling channels such as parables and progressed through the agricultural era where artisans and entrepreneurs started a revolution by experimenting with mechanization leading to wisdom and experience being transferred over longer distances thanks to inventions like the wheel.
During the industrial era, the pace of change increased albeit in favor of a minority who controlled the process and refused to share information, keeping the majority in the dark, stifling innovation and keeping the disruption of business models at bay. This law of scarcity became the norm.
Then, twenty-five years ago this year, came the Worldwide Web. Humanity came online, and while it’s been a wild ride, many businesses are still trying to figure out what to do with all this access to information.
A report out late last year from the ANA and McKinsey points out there is a thirst for more data among marketers. 46% say they make decisions based on data rather than on qualitative metrics but just 10% of believe they are very effective at turning insights into customer behaviors.
If consumers had access to data for twenty-five years, why is it taking marketers so long to figure out how to use it and how to be successful?
Questions dominate the consumer decision journey
Whatever your business model, at some point your target customer is going to be somewhere along a consumer decision journey that includes some or all of these stages: initiation, research, comparison, transaction, and experience. All these stages yearn for information to be delivered and transferred.
Some journeys might be deeply considered like buying a car, and some might be a quick impulse journey like knowing where the nearest sushi bar is.
Whatever the journey, there’s an opportunity to address that query and intent with answers in the form of content, education or instruction that is authentic, useful, relevant and actionable.
According to the ANA/McKinsey report though, just 13% of companies surveyed felt strongly that they had identified their customers’ decision journeys and understood where to focus marketing, and 50% had no hands on any data concerning customer touch-points through the buying cycle. So, even with all that data, we lack the most essential answers about our customers.
Consumers are trying to navigate both the digital and physical worlds, and brands who can transform themselves to deliver relevant answers during their entire journey stand the best chance of building trust and loyalty with a fickle public who knows other solutions are simply a click away.
Think of search as the bridge to understanding intent
As marketers, we operate in an increasingly complex world where digital nomads are moving seamlessly on and offline across a myriad of different devices. Search is the bridge that holds offline and online environments together.
If we need directions, we search. If we want to discover a new restaurant, we search. If we want to book a vacation, we search. If we need to learn how to do anything, we search.
The opportunity and data is there for brands to understand and anticipate search intent, creating touchpoints to capture some of that attention along that bridge.
Some companies are already doing this really well, for instance, if you search for “how to use Snapchat” on Google and Bing, you’ll find this Verizon article: Snapchat 101: what it is and how to use it.
That’s right. Sprinkled in amongst Snapchat themselves and publishers like Mashable, Wired, and For Dummies, is a telecom brand providing useful, relevant and actionable content to searchers looking for answers. How did Verizon know this would be a smart marketing move? They looked at the search data and acted on it.
There’s no direct competition for Verizon on that first page and so, with that one article, they are showing that they understand that success comes down to how businesses are indexing themselves and being relevant across the search ecosystem to answer questions.
For many brands who are already creating this kind of knowledge-transfer experience throughout the sales funnel via content marketing, SEO, agile PPC advertising and thoughtful data harvesting and analysis, the future is getting more complex (some might say thrilling) with the advent of voice search and artificial intelligence vehicles like ChatBots.
Where there is a knowledge-transfer there are communities where influence and reputation are better barometers of success than legacy revenue models. What this means is that companies who can relinquish the blinkers of traditional marketing and double-down on intelligence that can predict intent will be those brands we’ll see thriving when the Worldwide Web is fifty years old.
A search engine is still a database of intentions.
Just do a search on Google or Bing for the phrase “how to” and you’ll see the first of over five billion results combined.
How well are you set up to provide answers to your customers or potential customers?