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Uncovering the goal mindset: Is your search advertising too narrow?

For the last decade, advertisers have been hyper-focused on personalization and relevancy. How do we deliver the exact thing that a consumer is looking for, at the exact moment they’re looking for it? Better yet, how do we know what a consumer wants before they know? Usually, this translates into serving an ad for an item that the consumer is searching for. However, with the importance of inclusive consumer behavior and Microsoft Advertising’s commitment to Marketing with Purpose, we teamed up with the Intent Lab Research Unit, a partnership between Performics and Northwestern University, to understand a question: is being relevant to what consumers “ask for” enough?


In this latest research from Microsoft Advertising Insights, we conducted an online survey with 2,391 consumers that looked at their likelihood to select an ad result based on their consumer mindset. We focused on three categories: travel, makeup, and fitness.

We’ve found that when consumers come to search, they come to search with either a goal or an item in mind. If they’re goal-focused, they’re coming to search with a task that they want to accomplish, not necessarily with a specific item in mind. For example, a searcher with a goal-focused mindset might be searching for “how to build muscle.” Whereas a consumer with an item-focused mindset would approach search looking for a specific item, such as dumbbells or protein powders.

Our goal was to determine if consumers in a goal-focused mindset prefer seeing more variety in their ad results than those who are item-focused. To do this, we showed consumers either “limited” ad results (status quo) or “expanded” results, which included a related product. For example, if a person were shown the limited results, they would see 4 ads for protein powders. The person who saw expanded results would see 3 ads for protein powder and 1 ad for dumbbells. Before showing the results, we had already determined if the person was in a goal or item-focused mindset.

This study gave us three very important learnings:

1. More than 50% of consumers are approaching search with a goal mindset.
Chart view of goal mindset vs. item mindset percentages in three search categories: makeup, fitness, and travel.

Over half of consumers in two of the three categories were in a goal mindset. While lower, 43% of travel consumers still identified as goal oriented. What this means, is that by limiting your ads to those who are specifically searching for your item, you are missing out on a large portion of consumers who may be looking for products associated with yours. By being inclusive in your keywords and broadening your focus to goal-oriented consumers, you can potentially attract them to not only a single item, but also to items associated with that goal.

2. New consumers to your category or brand have a higher likelihood to be in a goal mindset.
Chart view showing that when targeting the goal mindset, there’s a 27% higher chance to acquire consumers who are new to your vertical or brand.

Based on our research, when targeting the goal mindset, there’s a 27% higher chance to acquire consumers who are new to your vertical or brand. This gives your brand the opportunity to forge a relationship with consumers earlier in their journey.

3. Consumers with a goal in mind have a higher likelihood to keep searching, instead of clicking on any of the ads (vs item searchers).
Chart view of data showing that 54% of goal mindset searchers vs. 39% of item mindset searchers will keep searching when they’re not finding what they need.

Consumers in a goal-oriented mindset are significantly more likely to continue searching because they’re not finding what they need. This decreases their overall satisfaction with search and their perceptions of its usefulness. Our study found that 79% in a goal mindset found the expanded results useful, while significantly less (72%) found the narrow results useful.

So, what can you do?
  1. Continue to give those in an item-driven mindset exactly what they’re searching for, but also find ways to include related products. Oftentimes consumers are switching between goal and item-focused, therefore giving them related or bundled suggestions increases your ability to create a more relevant experience.
  2. Ensure that you’re creating experiences to capture those in a goal-oriented mindset. To do this, you will need to map the right products and services related to that goal. You can test associated products on their own or you can test bundles of products that would work to fulfill that goal together. By doing this, you’re no longer waiting for that direct signal from an item search. Instead, you’re predicting what they might need and assisting them earlier in their journey. 
It’s the marketer’s job to ensure relevancy and personalization, but it’s important to avoid the misstep of only giving consumers the thing they ask for. This means learning more about potential goals related to your products and services, then working to ensure that you’re also serving the more than 50% of consumers who are searching without a specific item in mind.

The holidays are rapidly approaching. To take advantage of other rich industry insights, consumer trends, and product updates, make your way to the Microsoft Advertising Retail hub, which has launched in the U.S.U.K.CanadaAustraliaGermany, France and Spain.