The Iceberg of User Intent

Jan 28, 2020 | Blog, User Intent | 0 comments

Understanding user intent has become a pivotal asset in today’s marketing world.

In order to sell products and services, we need to pique the interest of potential customers. How exactly is that done? With the Iceberg Model of Intent. This model has been developed using fifteen years of research and thousands of data points, boiled down to what you see now as an easy-to-understand iceberg. 

Before diving in, it’s important to define “user intent” as a whole. User intent is the underlying reason behind an individual’s actions. We make decisions all day, every day, without even realizing it. Learning about the different types of user intent will help you better understand your customer, along with what they truly need. You may even learn some new things about yourself along the way! 

Before we begin, take note that the iceberg model is broken down into four different sections: Visible, Surface, Submerged, and Deep/Hidden. Take a look, the tip of the iceberg is our first stop. 

Visible (impulse)

Visible intent is exactly what it sounds like: the decisions you can clearly see and identify. To make things easier, let’s imagine you are a store owner. Your store is called “The Turtleneck Emporium” and you sell fine, trendy turtleneck shirts. You see a customer walk past your store and examine a classy gray turtleneck through the store window. They stop in, feel the soft material, and hand over their credit card; thus completing their simple, quick purchase. This would be an example of visible intent: they saw something they liked and bought it. Piece of cake! 

For another example of Visible intent, let’s examine the same scenario with a gray turtleneck. This time, a customer enters your store, sees the turtleneck, tries it on, and falls in love with how it looks! It flatters their curves, complements their eye color, and fits perfectly. They purchase it with excitement, imagining the many outfits they can pair it with. The customer bought it because they liked how it made them look and feel; it sparked confidence! For the next level of intent, we dive a little deeper. 

Surface (logic-driven purpose)

Surface intent requires us to look a little bit deeper. Because it resides on or just below the surface, it’s not always as easy to figure out. This level of intent has a bit more built-in logic as the decision is based on a need. Back to our favorite gray turtleneck scenario: your customer’s boss wants to switch their company uniform from black t-shirts to gray turtlenecks. He thinks it will offer an “approachable yet sophisticated” look for his employees. Your customer goes to the mall and buys a sophisticated gray turtleneck because it is now the mandatory uniform. This decision to buy the turtleneck was based on necessity: your customer needs this for work, so they have no choice but to buy it. In other words, there’s a purpose behind the purchase. 

Submerged (emotional)

Submerged intent is more difficult to figure out, yet it is also much more valuable. This intent could really mean the difference between a successful sale and a closed door. Let’s say your customer is in the market for some new clothes. The cold winter months are approaching and they’d better dress accordingly. They roam around the mall and spot a gray turtleneck just like the one their grandma used to wear when they were a kid!

They know they have to buy it. It brings back memories of homemade hot chocolate and grandma’s sugar cookies. Anyone else would see a plain, gray turtleneck. But not your customer. They see their grandma again. Submerged intent doesn’t always tug at the heartstrings like this, but it always entails a deeper meaning to the purchase. 

Deep/Hidden (subconscious)

Deep/hidden intent is the most difficult to figure out, but it is also the most powerful intent of all. Although this intent may lie deep in our subconscious, it still has a very real effect on the decisions we make. In other words, even though we may not recognize it, deep/hidden intent is shaping and guiding what we do every day. Your customer sees the gray turtleneck and feels compelled to buy it as a gift for their sister. Even though she is on a tight budget and stretched very thin at the moment, she maxes out her credit card to purchase it.

On the surface, this seems like a nice (if not ill-advised) gesture for a close family member. Deep beneath the surface, however, we find the hidden intent actually driving this decision. The last time your customer saw her sister, she borrowed her car and ended up getting into a fender bender. Hoping to avoid disappointing her like that again, and possibly making up for that past blunder, your customer acts irrationally and buys their sister a fancy gray turtleneck they can’t really afford. They think the turtleneck is just a wonderful gift, but their purchase is actually driven by much more than that.

Back to Sea Level 

These different levels of intent are crucial to both attracting and keeping customers and clients. If you understand the hidden intent, your marketing tactic will be unbreakable. Customers aren’t robots, they’re humans with feelings, needs, and, most importantly, intent. Being able to identify the different levels of customer intent will help you create a much better experience for your customer and, ultimately, increase sales. Want to learn more about User Intent? Check out the Intent Project and take the test to learn what kind of decision-maker you are!



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