How consumer needs shape search behavior and drive intent

How consumer needs shape search behavior and drive intent

May 14, 2019 Off By esential1@

Acting on consumer intent is one of the keys to unlocking growth. It seems pretty simple. In constant contact with one device or another, people expect immediate answers. The things they search, sites they visit, and videos they watch are not only expressing intent, they’re reshaping the traditional marketing funnel. And with the help of marketing technology, marketers can sift through all the signals left behind and gain insight that can help them predict intent.

But what about the underlying consumer needs that drive intent in the first place? After all, you don’t wake up feeling intent. You wake up feeling a need. It’s clear in the way people talk: “I need something.” “I want something.” And even in the way they search. That sort of conversational language is increasingly used in search queries.

Search, of course, is a powerful tool for both shoppers and marketers. When it comes to search, people are literally typing their needs into a form, which, in turn, generates data that lets marketers tap into insights across media. But what’s ultimately driving the search behavior?

That’s where our latest round of research comes in. We partnered with Kantar to better understand the underlying motivations driving search behaviors. Many marketers are familiar with Kantar’s NeedScope. But for the uninitiated, it’s a qualitative and quantitative segmentation approach that uncovers the functional, social, and emotional drivers of consumer behavior within a given market. At its core, it provides a framework for understanding why people make the decisions that they do, which, in turn, can reveal opportunities for brands and companies to (better) satisfy those underlying needs.  

When we set out, we weren’t sure how — or even if — it applied to search. The short answer: It does.

There are six canonical consumer needs: Surprise Me, Help Me, Reassure Me, Educate Me, Impress Me, and Thrill Me. Each need state is made up of a combination of emotional, social, and functional needs. Emotions are the foundations of need states. The truth is, decision-making is not a rational process, but one driven mainly by how people feel. The rational brain layers on reasons for our choices only after they’re made.

Major companies typically use a research approach like NeedScope to guide portfolio management, brand strategy, and creative execution. If you have a portfolio of shampoo brands, for example, you’d make sure you have brands taking care of each need state in the category. So you could have one shampoo brand aimed at the Reassure Me state. Everything from how the product works to package design to messaging would be designed to make the consumer feel comforted, safe, and soothed. On the other hand, your shampoo brand aimed at the Impress Me need state would strive for a more glamorous image and may rely on endorsements from a celebrity seen as powerful or ambitious.

How consumer needs drive search

Before we started this research, we thought search behavior might be dominated by one or two needs. Educate Me seemed like a no-brainer because search is inherently an information exchange. But the best research often has a surprising element to the results. In this case, we found that search behavior is driven by all six needs.

And those needs have a profound impact on search. How long the query is. How many times a person hits the back button. How many tabs a person has open. Which device they’re using. The number of search iterations. Whether a person prefers text, image, or video results. How many different things they type into the search bar.