Intent and the Customer Journey

We all live in two worlds, each on either side of our skin. Our success in either lies in how we manage to navigate the balance between them. I have been mapping the correlation of the external to the internal for some time now.

The “From Axons to Actions” is a primer on how nothing can take place until we are sufficiently motivated to do it. Motivation itself however is made up of four elements: Attention, Goal Commitment, Feedback and Reward.

In order to act on something it has to be important to us. For it to be important it must matter. If it matters we are paying attention to it. If we are paying attention we value it. If we value it we begin to prioritize it. This is all human behavior, but we don’t behave arbitrarily nor do our actions occur in a vacuum. We behave according to possibilities offered by our environment and in direct result of the stimuli we receive from it. Our actions are filtered through our expectations and perception.

This is where things get interesting. In theory, we should be able to look at someone’s actions and divine their values, priorities and intent through a ‘simple’ process of reverse engineering. Human behavior however is multi-faceted. ‘Intent’ becomes apparent only through averaging the actions of hundreds of thousands and (when it comes to search and digital marketing) millions, of users. ‘Average’ is an indicator but its usefulness in correctly predicting or even understanding a particular action at a particular time is severely limited.

So, is our struggle to understand intent in the customer journey doomed to failure? Well, maybe not quite.

From The Outside, In

Mentalizing, literally “thinking about thinking” provides glimpses of what motivates us to take action in particular settings given specific stimuli. This is the context effect. Context always changes the value of data. Context changes the meaning we ascribe to data which then, in turn, changes its value to us.

This is confirmed in study after study in the real world. 

This means that in order to better understand intent in the customer journey we need to, first, closely map the external world to the internal. We exist in both. Context and perception are the interface. But it is only after we have understood how the outside world correlates to the inside one can we begin to understand how the data we observe corresponds to the decision-making processes we can't see that guide the choices we don't see that lead to the actions we can observe. What you see here are the well-known 4Vs of Big Data mapped to the 4Ms of Mentalizing.

Mapping Data to Mind


The 4Vs are, of course, at the heart of semantic search. They determine, on the whole, how search works and why data, despite it always being available, needs to be organized differently in order to make sense at the moment it matters most.

The 4Ms are at the heart of the brain’s operating mode. They determine how the data that our sensorium collects is analyzed, organized and prioritized for a response. Volume, Velocity, Variety, and Veracity map, almost exactly, onto: Mind, Meaning, Morals and Modality.

Is there a problem in this then? Yes, there is. While we can capture the data of the external world and map it onto the corresponding elements of the internal world we can only understand the impact of the former on the latter we can only do so in what in epistemological circles is called “a priori.”

This is because one world is invisible to us and it’s accessible only in retrospect, through observation, which means that any value judgement we make is now suspect. Have we, for instance, truly discovered the cause of an action that truly denotes intent or have we simply correlated a cause we can hypothesize with an action we have observed and made it fit our theoretical framework so it makes sense to us?

Hopefully, you see the problem.

That problem now pervades everything. As technology permeates and informs every human action it is human decision making, intent and motivation that deliver the results we seek when it comes to achieving desirable outcomes.

The formula is the same whether we are talking about marketing, data analysis, real-world events predictions, or real-world decisions.

To cover up our inability to understand how external cause relates to internal effect that leads to external action we say “the real world is messy.” “Messy” stands for imprecise, vague, uncertain and ambiguous. Welcome to the VUCA world of the modern-day military. So, have I led you down a rabbit hole without escape? A mental cul-de-sac? Not quite.

From The Inside, out

What does the world look like to you when you look at it from behind your eyes? It’s a simple enough question that delivers various answers: messy, imprecise, confusing, frightening, unpredictable, fluid, complicated, complex, indeterminate.

These are all emotional responses to the fact that our brain, right now, struggles to do the one thing it has been designed to do: predict the next moment.

Uncertainty scares us because when we don’t know how to handle it, it ties up and freezes the responses of our brain. A brain that can’t respond properly makes our perception of the world even more messy, unpredictable and frightening. We can, then, easily become locked in an ever tightening downward spiral.

That will happen virtually every time we feel small, alone and powerless. Because we lack the cognitive, emotional and psychological resources to deal with the world alone we have been hardwired to recruit the skills, abilities and strength of those around us.

Social cooperation and empathy are neurobiological responses that allow us to conserve energy and achieve more with less they are actually key to our development and the secret of our success.

I am going to forego, for reasons of brevity, the way this affects us at a personal and social level and ask instead how does this now affect search, marketing and our understanding of the customer journey? The success of the customer journey that converts a prospect into a customer relies on the perception of human qualities: convenience, trustworthiness, reliability, trust. These can only be created by standing in the boots of your prospective customer and feeling the need that drives them which, in turn, you shall strive to fulfil.

Simple, right? Well, not quite but it is deeply human. How you create the perception of humanity across your business approach, branding, marketing messaging and website experience is what will enable you to succeed where others fail.


Go Deeper: 

Intentional book by David Amerland The Sniper Mind by David Amerland
Take Control Of Your Actions.    Make Better Decisions.