The Single Advertising Factor That’s More Important than Demographics (And How Measuring It Makes All the Difference)

When it comes to online advertising, no one is disputing that demographics are important. After all, they’re what powers your media buying and customer personas. The data you collect is meaningless without demographics to help you properly filter and segment it.

But dig a little deeper, and you’ll find something much more important than demographics powering actual conversions. And using it effectively could make a huge difference in your sales. Let’s take a closer look at what it is, and how you can leverage it to the fullest.

The Dismal State of Online Retail Conversion Rates

According to a report just released by Monetate in November, online retailers continue to struggle with e-commerce sales. A meager 3% conversion rate is something these retailers get excited about. But I’m of the opinion that this number could be much higher, and it has nothing to do with demographics.

online-retail-conversion-ratesFourth quarter e-commerce conversion rates across devices for the US, UK and global markets

Let’s use the just-passed holiday shopping season as a perfect example. Let’s say I’m in the market for a technology gadget of some kind. I’m already not in the target demographics for this market, which tends to lean heavily toward the 20-something male segment. I go to a website where I find the gadget, and proceed to buy it, but the shipping is a bit too high for my tastes, so I abandon my cart and go back to my search.

If you, as the online retailer, carried the same gadget at a better price or value, wouldn’t you want the opportunity to earn my business? Of course you would – which is why demographics go right to the back burner when it comes to enticing me to do business with you instead.

This is known as customer intent.

“So what?” I can hear you saying. “That was for a gift, and it was a one-off purchase, so it doesn’t count.”

But when you consider that 56% of mobile searches for sporting goods are made by women, and 68% of influencers for skincare and beauty were male, you can see how targeting by demographics alone goes right out the window.

How Do You Measure What You Can’t See?

chart-graphicsYou leave telltale traces of your intent every time you browse the web

Currently, there is no “one size fits all” tool to measure something like customer intent. It’s far too complex. We can, however, measure the things that lead up to intent. You do it right now without even realizing it. Cookie-based ads, remarketing, email automation — all of these things have been used successfully for years to help target ads relevant to the customer’s search.

But it’s not enough. Until now, marketers have relied on their existing automation systems, their CRM cata and other traditional sources (known as first party data) to better understand their customer base. More and more, however, a new type of data known as third-party data, is coming into play. Third party data is often captured through things like IP tracking, shared cookies or user opt-ins.

Let’s say a user comes to your site through a link on social media. They find an article funny or entertaining and decide to continue reading other, similar articles on other sites. Maybe they even leave a comment or two.

All of these actions leave a sort of “breadcrumb trail” for publishers to follow and glean insights from. Maybe the article you read had to do with funny images of babies, and perhaps your comment was a story about your own little one. From these few points alone, advertisers can deduce that you’re probably a mother of an infant or toddler, and that information, combined with other sites you visit, could paint quite a picture of you without ever being personally identifiable.

It’s questionable from a privacy perspective, but welcomed by marketers, as it gives them little tidbits of information about a prospect — just enough, perhaps, to measure their intent on buying.

So the question then becomes, how do we attract the kinds of people that are intent on buying?

Crafting Content for an Intent-Centric World

Just as all these first party and third party data snippets come together like pieces of a puzzle, so to must marketers and content creators do a little detective work to determine what kinds of content best resonate with that audience. One of the most well-known companies to leverage this kind of information in a meaningful way that boosts their own sales is the Home Depot.

A couple of years ago, they discovered that their do-it-yourself customers were browsing YouTube on their mobile phones to determine how to do different home improvement tasks, ranging from painting a room to building a fire pit. So Home Depot made several YouTube videos walking customers through the process of the most popular types of DIY projects:


Currently, the Home Depot’s YouTube channel has hundreds of how-to videos, all of which have received a remarkable 48 million views combined. There are lots of different ways you can leverage this strategy yourself, including:

  • How to clean/repair/care for the products you sell
  • Reviews of the products or their ingredients
  • Recommended accessories or add-ons for the products

There are plenty of analytics tools available – including Kissmetrics – which can help you ascertain customer intent and then harness that intent to the fullest with helpful content, reviews and recommendations.

And although it may be a bit of a stretch to say that intent is more important than demographics, it nevertheless fills an important role that all marketers should be aware of when planning campaigns both now and in the future.

Which Do You Think is More Important? Demographics or Intent?

Do you weigh demographics more heavily than customer intent? Or is intent simply too cumbersome to measure? Do you think both deserve a place in your marketing plan? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

About the Author: Sherice Jacob helps business owners improve website design and increase conversions through content marketing and SEO copywriting. Get your free printable conversion checklist and web copy tune-up at or follow @sherice on Twitter.

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