Ad Buying Strategy: Intent vs. Audience

Picking the Right Tool for the Right Job


Hypothetical scenario: You have a light switch that needs replaced today. There are no electricians available. So, being a somewhat simple job, you decide to do it yourself. You get the old toolbox out and open it up. You have three tools to choose from. Wire cutters, a screwdriver and a sledgehammer (must be a big toolbox).

For those that have performed this task before, you know that all you’ll need are the screwdriver and wire cutters. Even if you haven’t though, you likely knew the sledgehammer was not going to be required. It just doesn’t logically fit in to solving the task at hand. Marketing works in the exact same manner. The marketing channels & strategies you choose need to reflect your business goals.


Reducing Digital Marketing Into Two Purchasing Methods

The purchasing methods of digital marketing are a complex maze of CPCs, CPMs, CPAs layered upon a litany of demographic adjustments that make it all quite complex. Broken down into its most basic form, however, it’s largely just purchasing intent vs purchasing audiences.


Purchasing Intent:

What does purchasing intent look like? In a room of people, these are the individuals who raised their hand when asked if they were looking to buy a new outfit or seeking an electrician. They are in the act at that precise moment of looking for your product or service. The most common example of this is paid search advertising, AKA SEM (Search Engine Marketing). The path to conversion on this channel looks like this:

Step 1: User searches Google for “red dress with pockets”.

Step 2: Ignoring the shopping ads, they click your search text ad for this season’s dresses with pockets because it really speaks to them.

Step 3: The user is then taken to a landing page that features all of your current dresses with pockets.

Step 4: They pick their favorite design and convert right then and there with an online purchase.

The user has a desire, looked to fulfill it at that moment, and the marketer offered a proper solution. This is SEM done right. It’s extremely focused on relevancy and user action.


Purchasing Audiences:

Purchasing audiences looks much different than purchasing intent. In this method an advertiser is focused on purchasing audience lists that match their desired demographics or previous customer behavior. If a brand knows that 90% of their customer base is females between the ages of 25-35, they can purchase audience lists that match this breakout on several different platforms.

It’s often believed that purchasing audiences is much more awareness focused but this isn’t 100% true. While there are many more awareness themed audiences available for any vertical, some audience lists are extremely action or purchase oriented as well. An example of this is Google’s In-Market Audiences or DataXu’s Hot-Leads Audiences.

Regardless, your average audience ad purchase looks something like this:

Step 1: A user has been thinking about how much they would like a red dress with pockets for an upcoming vacation.

Step 2: They match the average customer demographics of Dress Brand X, and because of that, are served an ad on Facebook.

Step 3: The user notices the Facebook ad, but they have no familiarity with the brand so they don’t click on it.

Step 4: Dress Brand X is also running programmatic display ads that match their average customer demographics and serve across several popular fashion sites on the Internet. The user sees one of these ads, and remembering the Facebook ad they saw earlier, clicks to the site.

Step 5: The user views a few different dresses, puts one in their online cart, but decides to wait for now and leaves the site.

Step 6: Dress Brand X is also serving dynamic retargeting cart abandoner ads on Google’s Display Network, and the next day, the user sees another ad from Dress Brand X featuring the dress they left in their cart.

Step 7: They click on the ad, complete their transaction and are very happy with their purchase.

This example helps demonstrate the plethora of platforms available for audience purchasing. It also shows how much longer the path to conversion is for this type of marketing.

It’s not uncommon for this type of ad purchases to take double to triple the amount of time to convert compared to a user intent style purchases. The reason why is where the user is in the purchasing process. Audience purchased ads are reaching people much higher up in the conversion funnel – before they even start searching for a specific product or service. Intent purchased ads are largely reaching people after they have decided the transaction is an inevitability.

The marketing channels & strategies you choose need to reflect your business goals.

Can Intent & Audience Advertising Work Together?

These types of advertising are meant to work together! Many brands are surprised to discover how little search traffic there is for their product or service when setting an SEM campaign live. Often they will increase traffic by loosening keyword match types or adding more generalized keywords. This can work, but if not managed correctly, can easily lead to tons of wasted ad spend.

When there isn’t as much relevant SEM traffic as you would like, often the best solution is working towards creating more. This is where audience buying comes in. By purchasing hyper-relevant audiences and creating ads that speak directly to these users, you will often be able to increase your branded search traffic or general service / product traffic. You are capturing people at the very top of the conversion funnel and guiding them down to the bottom with continual engagement.

Trying to use SEM to bring in the volume of impressions Programmatic Display ads can bring in, is a lot like using a sledgehammer to fix a light switch. It’s the wrong tool for the job. Keep in mind what the main strengths are for each channel you are running marketing on and decide if it’s right for your business goals. Those with limited budgets and short conversion paths likely want to focus heavily on SEM. Those with longer conversion paths will want to look at keeping users engaged with audience buying methods like Facebook Ads, Google Display and Programmatic. Each method and marketing channel are powerful tools – but only when they are used in the proper manner.

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