Intent vs. Demographics: Choose the Right Data for Your Campaign

Published June 27, 2024

The difference between success and, just “meh”  in digital often comes down to data. While there are various types of data that can influence digital outcomes, one of the most sought after is intent data, which is built on what users are actively searching for and interested in. However, demographic data, which provides insights into users’ income, home ownership, number of children, car ownership and other characteristics, is often overlooked because it requires a bit more thinking.

Intent data tends to be the default choice out of convenience. If a buyer is setting up a campaign for an electric car, they’ll often just go into their DSP’s data marketplace and search “electric car” without considering how the data was compiled and what their campaign is looking to achieve. The label is enough. Though it can be useful, intent data is not always the best choice.

In the old days, household demographics reigned supreme. Advertisers would buy TV, print and out of home based on the demographics of their audience, with success metrics like GRP, TRP, CPP and reach. Reaching the audience was the KPI, not a tool to reach the KPI. Eventually, media mix modelling allowed advertisers to more intelligently link these demographic-based KPIs to sales metrics. This is still used today, and with the loss of cookies, MMM is enjoying a renewed focus.

During the shift to digital and the ability to target and track audiences using cookies, marketers became obsessed with the idea of targeting specific audiences based on their online behavior and linking them to actions like clicks, page visits and conversions. In fact, the industry became so obsessed with tracking, people began to lose their tolerance to being tracked. This landed us here, with GDPR, VCDPA, CCPA and other consumer data privacy laws all over the world.

Here in 2024, there’s been a shift. Intent data is more difficult to source, less reliable, and less scalable. We’ve come full circle and household demographic data is now more interesting than ever. 

For media agencies and their clients, understanding when to use intent data versus household demographics data is crucial.

For media agencies and their clients, understanding when to use intent data versus household demographic data is crucial. Let’s delve into when intent data is a good choice and when it would be better to choose household data.

The Temporary Nature of Intent Data

Intent data captures the immediate interests and behaviors of potential customers, such as their online searches, content consumption, and website visits. This data reflects a consumer’s temporary state of mind and potentially their current intent to purchase a product or service. However, this “intent” is highly fluid and can change rapidly. For instance, someone might spend a week researching the best running shoes because they’re planning to start jogging, but their focus might shift entirely to home fitness equipment the following week if their circumstances change. As a result, there is a good chance that with intent data, you’re targeting audiences that have already moved on from initial purchase intent.

One other thing to consider is the product. Intent can make sense for items where lots of research often precedes a purchase. The research can create a strong signal. A good example would be travel. Another popular example would be cars but here is where intent can be misleading because a significant amount of car browsing is aspirational. When it comes to everyday items like groceries or household cleaning products, ask yourself what signals might indicate intent and how relevant those signals are for your product. You might find yourself thinking more about demographics than digital actions.

Impact on Marketing Strategies

Marketing strategies based on intent data must be agile and responsive. Since consumer intent can shift quickly, campaigns need to be designed for rapid deployment and adjustment. This often involves:

  • Real-Time Personalization: Crafting messages that speak directly to the consumer’s current interests.
  • Quick Turnaround: Launching and tweaking campaigns swiftly based on the latest intent signals.
  • Dynamic Targeting: Continuously updating targeting parameters to match the latest consumer behaviors.

The Stability of Household Demographics Data

Household demographics data includes stable characteristics such as income, education level, number of children, and homeownership status. These attributes tend to change very slowly over time and provide a consistent basis for understanding consumer habits and preferences. For example:

  • Income Levels: Higher income households are more likely to purchase luxury goods consistently, as well as cut away aspirational audiences.
  • Education Levels: Higher education levels can indicate preferences for certain types of purchase considerations like sustainability.
  • Homeownership: Homeowners might have ongoing needs for home improvement products or services.

Household demographics address both top and bottom of funnel

Demographics data supports holistic marketing strategies by providing a foundation for segmenting and targeting audiences. Demographics are a key component of any business’s Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) and can be leveraged at all stages of the funnel to drive outcomes. This data allows marketers to:

  • Optimize Media Efficiency: Demographic targeting helps reduce advertising spend by focusing on the most relevant audience segments, minimizing waste and maximizing ROI. For top-of-funnel (awareness) campaigns, this means reaching users who either have a “need” or the financial capacity to purchase the product. For lower-funnel (decision) stages, demographic data helps in refining the audience to those who are more likely to convert, based on the advertiser’s ICP .
  • Increased Relevance and Personalization: By tailoring marketing messages to specific household demographic groups, advertisers can create more relevant and personalized content that resonates with their target audience. Where intent data focuses on a transitory signal, household characteristics are persistent. For example, targeting high-income households with luxury car ads can ensure that the message reaches individuals who have both the need and the means to purchase.
  • Enhanced User Experience: Delivering personalized messages and offers improves customer satisfaction and loyalty by addressing the unique needs and preferences of different demographic groups. For instance, young families might appreciate targeted ads for diapers and children’s clothing, which are tailored to their specific life stage and needs.

Practical Applications and Examples

Intent Data in Action

Consider a brand selling performance running shoes. Using intent data, the brand can target individuals actively researching running shoes, reading reviews, and comparing prices. Personalized ads featuring their latest running shoe model can be delivered to these high-intent users, increasing the chances of conversion. However, this requires constant monitoring and adjustment as consumer intent shifts. Ask yourself, is your audience a specific niche (like runners), or do you need to spread awareness to an entire demographic?

Demographics Data in Action

A luxury car brand aiming to reach affluent customers would benefit more from household demographics data. By targeting high-income households within certain geographic regions, the brand ensures its marketing messages reach an audience not just likely to purchase premium products but to have the means to do so.

The State of Data Usage

Over-Reliance on Intent Data

One of the biggest challenges is that intent data has become the default choice for many digital marketers. Over the past decade, the digital advertising industry has relied heavily on intent signals to drive targeting strategies. However, this can sometimes lead to an over-reliance on temporary behaviors rather than stable consumer needs.

Underutilization of Demographics Data

In contrast, household demographics data is less well-known among digital advertisers, despite being a staple in traditional channels like TV and radio. This lack of familiarity can lead to underutilization of a powerful tool that can provide long-term benefits. Demographics data helps in building sustained engagement with target audiences by addressing their consistent needs and preferences.

Conclusion

The key takeaway for media agencies and their clients is to choose the right data for the right task. Intent data is highly effective for targeting specific, immediate needs and behaviors, making it ideal for products like specific clothing items, or niche specialty offerings. This data allows for real-time personalization, quick turnaround, and dynamic targeting, effectively engaging consumers who are actively looking to purchase within a short window.

In contrast, household demographics data supports holistic marketing strategies and is valuable at all stages of the sales funnel. This data provides a reliable foundation for segmenting and targeting audiences based on stable characteristics such as income, education level, and homeownership status.

Ultimately, the choice between intent data and household demographics data should be guided by the specific goals of your campaign. By understanding the unique strengths of each data type, marketers can craft targeted, effective, and efficient digital campaigns that align with their objectives, driving better results for their brands.

To learn more or to ask questions contact our Customer Success Director, Jakub Skwarski – js@digiseg.io

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