There are many analogies out there to help explain the power of internet marketing, but one of the analogies I find most useful when thinking about internet marketing is describing search engines & social media sites as “Databases of Intentions.” It’s a useful analogy in explaining what makes internet marketing unique from traditional marketing, as well as to understand the unprecedented potential we as marketers have to aggregate & leverage data that our customers are sharing with us.

The phrase was coined by John Battelle, a founder of Federated Media Publishing and of Wired magazine, which is quoted below with emphasis added for effect and can be read in full here:

The Database of Intentions is simply this: The aggregate results of every search ever entered, every result list ever tendered, and every path taken as a result. It lives in many places, but three or four places in particular hold a massive amount of this data (ie MSN, Google, and Yahoo). This information represents, in aggregate form, a place holder for the intentions of humankind – a massive database of desires, needs, wants, and likes that can be discovered, supoenaed, archived, tracked, and exploited to all sorts of ends. Such a beast has never before existed in the history of culture, but is almost guaranteed to grow exponentially from this day forward.

Since originally writing the post, he’s expanded this analogy to apply to any website, and implies that marketers can leverage both their own internal data as well as publicly shared data to create their very own database of intentions.

How can we as marketers create our very own database of intentions to help us market more effectively? Look to these sources first, and expand from there with other data you might have available:

  • Your Analytics Data – Your analytics data is your very own database of intentions that no one else can see. What kind of content do users most frequently read & interact with? What search queries are they entering to find your website? What areas of the site do they spend the most time on? All of this data will help you understand your customers better and create new content on your website around the topic areas they find most important or interesting.
  • Internal search data – If your website has a search feature, then analyze your log files to see what your visitors are searching for. Those search queries represent what your visitors are looking for, what kind of services they are interested in, or what kind of content they want to read but are having trouble finding through your navigation. Analyze your internal search queries for trends & patterns, then adapt to better meet the needs of your customers.
  • Google keyword data – Google has a plethora of keyword tools to find popular search queries, correlated search queries, trends, keyword insights and more. All of these give you a sneak-peak into Google’s massive database of intentions to find what searchers are looking for, enabling you to tailor your messaging to directly address the search intentions of your customers.
  • Twitter – Part of what makes Twitter so unique is that consumers can so easily communicate directly with brands, whether to complain, praise, or just chit-chat. What kind of questions are your followers asking you on Twitter? If you receive a lot of complaints about a particular area, address it by making a change to that problematic service line or product. If you receive a lot of praise for something, build on that praise and integrate it into your core selling points.
  • Facebook, Yelp, and other Social Sites – Much like Twitter, your customers are likely communicating with you, or providing feedback to you, in places like your Facebook Page, your Yelp page, Google Places, and other social media sites. Analyze the feedback & reviews left for your business to gain insights into common pain points & areas of praise, and integrate those findings into your marketing plan.

As you can see, there is a wealth of data out there to analyze the database of your customers’ intentions – allowing you to virtually read their mind and then create a marketing plan that speaks directly to their wants & needs.

Behold the power of the database of intentions.

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