Identifying Digital Purchase Intent

What’s the biggest thing missing in CPG marketing? Real intent. In generations passed, intent encompassed little more than identifying large swaths of qualified demographics and then targeting those, say, MidWestern moms with grocery store endcap displays. But in the digital age, as we know, intent can be identified in countless, fascinating ways. 

So, we thought it would be useful to walk through a couple solutions that marketers use to find intent, explain why they don’t work for CPG, and also consider the innovative solutions that ARE working for CPG brands. 

Classic Retargeting

We’ve all seen those annoying ads on Facebook or around the web. They remind you about some product you’ve been thinking of buying on Amazon or another site. For me, it seems to always be L.L. Bean fishing rods. (Do I really look at the L.L. Bean fishing section that often? Guess so.)

This space, what I’ll call "classic retargeting" for ease, is led by companies like Adroll and ReTargeter. Their businesses are simple: install a pixel on a retailer's website, including product-specific pages, and when someone visits that page but doesn’t buy the product, remarket to the shopper as they move around other sites and pages. Some people find this practice creepy (especially when one of these ads show up on your mobile Instagram feed when you were shopping for the product on your laptop), but it works exceptionally well for verticals like electronics and clothing. However, this kind of advertising isn’t a good fit for CPG.

First, people don’t really buy grocery products online in the same volume that they do books, electronics, and clothing. The online grocery market in the US is still incredibly small--just a few percentage points of the total sales.

Second, grocery shoppers simply don’t visit grocery retailer websites unless, maybe, they're looking at recipes. Sites like or are not part of the normal shopper's journey to buy groceries. I've even heard, in conversations with industry experts, that less than 3% of grocery shoppers visit retailer websites before their trip.

Search Retargeting

The best way to know if someone is a potential customer for your brand is to understand their intent to purchase. Search retargeting tries to capture this intent by marketing to consumers that are literally searching for specific keywords. It’s basically exactly how Google Adwords works, except instead of the ad showing up on a search results page, (in most cases) the ads follow you around just like with classic retargeting.

This is an amazing marketing tool for some verticals. For example, if I’m going to be buying a new car soon, I’m going to be doing a ton of product research--searching all over the place on, Autotrader or Kelley Blue Book.

Every time I perform a search like, "newest Mazda models," I’m essentially raising my hand to car marketers and telling them the following:

  1. I’m probably in-market for a car.
  2. I’m interested in buying a Mazda.

Car marketers pay a lot for this kind of search data and use companies like Magnetic and Captify (newly entered into the US market) to reach those consumers. Just like with classic retargeting, the advertising method of search retargeting presents fairly large problems for CPG brands looking to find intent.

Simple question: When is the last time you wrote down the following into a search engine "where to buy chicken near me?"

Grocery shoppers rarely explicitly search for the product they’re going to buy. The product research aspect of grocery shopping, and CPG products in general, is very different from how it works for other industries. Even a search on a recipe website for "chicken recipes" might tell you that the shopper is looking for chicken but what about the other ten items they need in order to get cooking?

With search retargeting, CPG brands are missing out on over 90% of the "hidden intent data" that I'll talk about below.

Search retargeting probably works best for emerging brands or categories that require some education prior to purchase. When consumers search, they're querying, and wondering things like what the heck is this brand? where can I buy this product near me? or how much should I be spending on this item? It's tricky business determining what qualifies someone as "raising their hand" and showing they’re in-market for a particular good.

Hidden Intent Targeting

Finding real intent for CPG products is elusive and really, really hard. How do we know when someone is truly in-market for batteries or chicken or olive oil or paper towels?

Instead of relying on a visit to a product page or an explicit search you have to dig deeper: you have to understand not just the page that a consumer is on nor what they're searching, but what that page means to a consumer and how that consumer is interacting with the content.

From an analytics perspective, companies like Chartbeat have been pioneering this kind of thinking about content and intent for the last few years. They look at metrics like content interaction, time spent on page and time spent looking at specific content on the page to determine the value of a page beyond just its number of visitors.

Technical nuances aside, it essentially boils down to one key concept: wtf does your audience care about?

What's Next

Chicory unlocks hidden data around recipes to determine what consumers are in-market for right now. For example, instead of Barilla messaging anyone who interacts with a pasta recipe (or searches pasta or visits a pasta page on we can actually message them based on what type of paste the want to buy.

Penne, manicotti, linguine, lasagna… a unique message for each unique consumer based on ingredient-level intent.

We identify these users not based on searches or page views, but based on interaction with the page--intent signals like the time a consumer spends looking at the ingredient list--that we know from user tests indicate a strong likelihood to go shopping. After all, unlike grocery retailer sites that get less than 3% of shoppers, over 70% of women use recipes to add items to their shopping lists.

In the food and CPG space, recipes equal purchase intent and with Chicory’s unique way of unlocking that hidden intent, CPG marketers can finally find truly in-market consumers.