Nov 13 2018
Basis Technologies

The Hidden Power of Intent Data: Harnessing What the Human Eye Can’t See


These days "big data" isn’t just a buzzword — it’s an integral part of the sales and marketing narrative. Data is what creates context, meaning and value for PPC advertising campaigns, while enabling marketers to generate metrics that can be measured against monthly, quarterly and annual goals. Thus, every good marketer knows the potential value of big data and its power to help achieve comprehensive business objectives. But only great marketers will know how to break it down to truly take advantage of the vast array of customer insights it offers. And one of the most important types of data for driving sales and marketing insights is intent data.

According to DemandGen’s 2018 State of B2B Intent Data Report, 35 percent of B2B companies say they plan to start using intent data insights within the next 12 months. Despite it's enormous value, intent data isn’t leveraged as often as you might think, although its use is increasing year after year as more marketers continue to realize its potential. However, few marketers completely understand the wealth of available intent data at their fingertips that can be leveraged for business insights and more intelligent marketing decisions. And as such, even fewer are equipped to harness insights from it that will increase ROI and boost conversions.

We break down how you can make intent data work for you and your campaigns.

What is Intent Data?

At its core, buyer intent data is information about your prospect’s behavior before they even enter your sales funnel. When prospects click on your ad, visit your site, read your blog, or fill out a form, you consider these as signs that they have some degree of purchase intent. But in reality, the process begins before prospects ever interact with your business.

Buyer intent data is information that incorporates what research prospects are conducting online, with a focus on determining interest in certain topic areas. For example, when a consumer reads a news article online, they’re considered interested in that topic. Sales and marketing teams can then use that data to better reach out to prospects and deliver a targeted marketing message. And marketers who know how to harness intent data are in a position to significantly improve conversions and revenue.

Buyer intent data is collected through IP addresses and browser cookies, which can be parsed into two categories: first and third party.

First Party Intent Data

First party intent data is normal engagement data that can be accessed by most marketers. Using your marketing automation platform, it’s possible to collect important information that illustrates a lead’s point in the sales funnel. This includes information like site pages visited, time on page, links clicked and forms filled -- all of which illustrate a prospect’s level of purchase intent.

First party intent data can come from known leads you’re tracking or from anonymous visitors who haven’t filled out a form on your site. Regardless of type, marketers use this information to understand what content and touch points are most important to their sales cycle. You can also use buyer intent data to create lead scoring models to illustrate which of your prospects are ready to buy.

Third Party Intent Data

Third Party intent data comes from sources other than your website, such as publisher networks. Most marketers who use third party intent data get it from a data aggregators such as Bomborda, 6sense, or Leadspace. These data aggregators also use IP addresses, tracking cookies and form fills to collect consumer behavior data from places across the web, such as product review sites, popular online magazines and blogs.

They then categorize this data into thousands of distinct topic areas that marketers can choose based on its applicability to their target audience. They then have access to information like the types of articles people are reading, site searches, and content they download, among other behavioral information. While third party intent data is used less frequently among marketers, it contains a lot of potential to drive insights so you can work toward your sales and marketing goals.

Popular Use Cases for Intent Data

Businesses that use a combination of first and third party intent data can drive insights to improve a wide range of initiatives that particularly benefit marketing and sales teams. Specifically, marketers can leverage both internal and external data insights to create more relevant content for their audience. Meanwhile sales teams who understand what certain accounts or prospects are researching beforehand can use this information to help drive them down the sales funnel.

Some common uses for and benefits of intent data include:

  • Discovering new leads: Third party intent data aggregators can track and notify businesses when people start searching for and consuming information related to relevant topics. If they haven’t interacted with your business yet, then these are unknown potential sales leads to whom you can start marketing.
  • Better personalization: Gaining new insights into related topics that prospects are researching can help businesses reach out to them with a more relevant message. Both first and third party intent data can inform blog content, email marketing, and other marketing initiatives.
  • Account-based marketing (ABM): The data insights you gain from specific accounts makes it possible to build a more relevant ABM approach. By analyzing an account’s research data and interpreting their buying intent, businesses can select key accounts to target. After targeting them with a tailored marketing message, you can also measure and test which content assets are driving accounts down the sales funnel, and which aren’t. Use these insights to adapt your ABM strategy in real time, creating a truly customer-centric approach to marketing.
  • Prioritizing leads: Most marketers are familiar with the process of using first party intent data to prioritize leads based on their potential to convert and drive revenue. Most marketing automation tools have some kind of native lead scoring feature based on this data. But by using first and third party intent data in combination, it’s possible to advance this tactic even further.
  • Third party data can help marketers measure how relevant a product or service is to a lead’s needs and interests. Their research can also provide insights into the urgency behind their buying intent. Intent data makes it easier for sales reps to accurately prioritize the hottest leads that are most likely to convert soon.
  • Improving content marketing: Intent data helps you learn more about the specific subjects and topic areas your target accounts are researching. It’s possible to use these insights to inform future content creation, as well as to better target these leads and their buyer persona overall. Intent data insights can show your content marketing teams what new topics they should be covering, as well as helping to improve your current content.
  • Enhanced automation: Intent data provides deeper insights about consumers and their position in your sales funnel. It’s possible to use this information to create rules that trigger certain actions to nurture them into paying customers. For example, once a prospect stops consuming awareness stage content and starts reading decision-stage content, marketers can trigger a change in the kind of marketing collateral they send out.

Applying Intent Data to Advertising

It’s well established that intent data is already widely used to improve content marketing and other lead nurturing initiatives. But its benefits for advertising are often overlooked or underutilized. Each action a person takes online is a data point that advertisers can potentially leverage to create a more relevant and precise targeting strategy.

Here are just a few of the many ways advertisers can harness intent data to boost performance:

Better Keyword Targeting

Long-tail keywords have long been an important asset for search engine marketers to target because of their relevance. Among other things, they’re more descriptive, so they do a better job of implying buyer intent. But traditionally it’s been difficult for advertisers to target long tail keywords because they tend to have a much lower search volume. In order to achieve the same ad visibility as they would with high volume keywords, brands would need to target and optimize for an exponential number of long tail keywords.

That said, automated bidding technologies have become the perfect solution to the problem, so use your third party intent data to understand what kind of long tail keywords your audience is searching for. At the same time, first party intent data is an often overlooked source of relevant information. As such, dig into your own website analytics to find relevant, fresh information for keyword research.

From there, use this information to target keywords and create more relevant ads. Automated bidding makes it possible to target large numbers of long tail keywords and make minute adjustments to improve campaign performance at scale. The right technology will also offer flexibility to help you automate changes based on your preferred PPC benchmarks — revenue, conversions, or other relevant metrics.

Automate Ad Personalization  

Marketers can use intent data to create more relevant ads for their audience, whether they’re known leads or anonymous prospects. Intent data aggregators make it possible to identify qualified leads based on things like device ID and domain, among other factors. You can then use this information to place the right kind of ads on user devices, for example.

Advertising can also benefit from the same automation processes mentioned above. When you use intent data coupled with AI technology, it’s possible to both better understand your audience for targeted advertising and automatically trigger relevant advertising campaigns to reach them.

For example, if your intent data shows an account is researching a specific keyword, you can automatically customize an advertising campaign related to that topic. While it is possible to make these kinds of adjustments manually, automation gives you the benefit of speed and precision, delivering your relevant advertising message before competitors can do the same.

Optimizing E-commerce Performance

Intent data carries a lot of power to help boost ecommerce performance when leveraged properly.

That said, the ecommerce customer journey isn’t what it used to be. Instead of centralized shopping, consumers are turning to resources across multiple channels and platforms to make the best buying decisions for themselves. And while the journey is fragmented, it’s full of data points that businesses can harness to optimize their strategy. Intent data used with the right technologies can help improve advertisements, retail efficiency, and profits overall.

Taking Full Advantage of Intent Data

Intent data has a lot of potential to help improve different areas of marketing. But to take full advantage of it, marketers need to approach it with the right perspective.

Most marketers today already have access and utilize some of their first party intent data. So when they decide to harness third party data, it’s common to start ignoring these internal insights. But information you gain from your own site visitors are just as important and relevant as from other sources. Thus, the key to success in your SEM strategy will be to combine first and third party intent data to drive more informed insights. This will help improve your targeting of individual accounts as well as your overall marketing strategy.

There’s only so much you can do within account based marketing to personalize your targeting strategy. As a template, it already needs to be highly targeted. So focus on using intent data insights to flesh out and better understand your target personas in general. If you focus all your energy on targeting the accounts you can see, then you might miss out on prospects that don’t show up in your data stream.

In the same vein, harnessing intent data isn’t just about targeting low hanging fruit. Sure, it can help you identify new qualified leads that are warm to your products and ready to convert. Giving them the final push across the finish line is an easy way to drive revenue for your business that you attribute back to your intent data insights. But don’t let that be the main focus of strategy.

Turning Insights into Action

The last challenge that stops marketers from taking full advantage of intent data is scalability. Yes, it’s possible to use intent data to better understand individual accounts, review the insights, and then make choice marketing decisions by hand. But that’s rarely a scalable strategy.

That’s what makes the applications of intent data to advertising so compelling compared to its other use cases. With the help of automation, it’s possible to create rule-based changes to your advertising initiatives based on intent data insights in real time. Not only can you create more targeted ads, you can also make bid adjustments based on data insights. This can help increase your ad visibility while reducing wasted ad spend in the process.

Ultimately, the keys to getting the most out of intent data insights include:

  1. Making full use of both first and third party intent data to inform short and long term marketing initiatives.
  2. Using the right processes and technologies to do so at scale.

Tools that use data science and machine learning to automate actions based on deep funnel insights are uniquely positioned to help businesses fully utilize all of the advantages that intent data has to offer.

In Summary

Of all of the benefits intent data offers to your PPC program, it likely goes without saying that you’ll have access to a host of new opportunities and insights about customer behavior -- all of which you can leverage to create more focused, targeted campaigns that produce higher ROI. Capturing new insights has copious advantages that you likely haven’t even realized -- and many of them will give you a big leg up over competitors.

When used correctly, intent data can open up a wealth of insights into new leads, better personalization, improved content marketing, better lead prioritization and myriad other benefits that will only make your campaigns stronger, more profitable and sustainable going forward. The rewards for accessing intent data are numerous and undeniable. And like a hidden treasure, finding out how to dig them up and keep them at your fingertips so that they can work best for your PPC campaigns will be your next step.