With automation, brands can see tomorrow’s market

From tiny fluctuations to seismic shifts in demand, understanding what matters to people — and creating meaningful messages at scale — has always been a critical marketing challenge. Automation gives brands the ability to be ready for what’s next.

Sweeping shifts in the way we shop,1, 2

manage our lives,3

and seek entertainment were underway well before the pandemic.4, 5 But this year saw many of us changing our habits.

We’ve found ourselves spending more time online, using more digital resources, as we look for ways to meet our new needs. Asking questions like, where can I buy toilet paper? And what exactly do I need for a virtual date?

As a result of all this planning, our decision-making grew messier and more difficult to understand. That complexity is a mandate for marketers to rethink what it means to be ready for what’s next.

The “messy middle” of the purchase journey lies between first impression and final purchase, within a labyrinth of searches, ads, links, clicks, and video views. That’s a lot of data, not all of it useful.

Throughout this part of the journey, people cycle back and forth between two mental modes: exploration, when their consideration set expands, and evaluation, when it contracts.6

But the way people explore and evaluate their options has changed. No longer relying on search simply to compare prices, they also use it as a tool to compare more abstract qualities against a rubric all their own.

Take the terms “cheap” and “best.” While “cheap” can be a matter of opinion, it still has a singular meaning, whereas “best” may refer to price, popularity, or another metric.7

Being present during this upper-funnel phase of deliberation ensures you’ll be top of mind closer to purchase. But ads that address the often unspoken needs behind a user’s actions can cut through the clutter and resonate.8, 9

Dynamic messaging is only a first step. To be ready to scale as demand constantly shifts involves unlocking insights from the context of millions of interactions per minute.

Buried in the plethora of touchpoints are significant signals. Like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, they’re more meaningful when considered together.

Automation tools identify the signals that matter — the ones which tell us what a search term means in context.

Change the pieces, and you get a different picture.

By making sense of the pieces, automation tools can infer what really matters to people and how they can be helped.10

Great advertising has always found ways to speak to our collective hopes and aspirations. Now, with the ability to interpret and respond to cues through automation, it can creatively appeal to what matters to each of us.

We wanted to know how people respond to marketing informed by signals. To find out, we designed ads that leveraged mounting levels of simulated data complexity, starting with static copy, adding more signals with every iteration.

Inferring connections among as few as four simulated Google signals drove higher purchase intent while also improving gut reactions and CTR.11

Current customers who saw more relevant ads based on better signals were pleasantly surprised by their messaging.12

But the ads were especially effective at piquing the interest of those who hadn’t previously considered the brand a top choice.13

Ads that showed a deeper understanding promoted higher brand love and trust overall, suggesting that driving purchase intent is only one benefit of automation. Fostering emotional connection, important to long-term equity, is another.14

During periods of disruption, keeping track of shifting priorities is business critical. But staying attuned to demand is important even in calmer times.

By leveraging automation, brands can acquire the agility and build the strong customer relationships they need to be ready for what’s next.

1. Google Trends, Global, Sept. 15, 2019–Sept. 15, 2020.

2. Bank of America, U.S. Department of Commerce, ShawSpring Research, 2020.

3. Google Trends, Global, Sept. 15, 2019–Sept. 15, 2020.

4. Ibid.

5. ARI Bespoke Research: whyVideo.

6. “Decoding Decisions: Making sense of the messy middle.” Think with Google. July 2020.

7. Google Trends, Worldwide, 2004–July 2020.

8. “Decoding Decisions: Making sense of the messy middle.” Think with Google. July 2020.

9. Ibid.

10. Google Internal Data, 2020.

11. Google/SKIM, Rethinking Readiness Study, U.S., (Gen Pop 18+ n=4,461), March 20, 2020–April 3, 2020.

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid.

14. Ibid.