Intent Data. It’s a hot (if not the hottest) topic in B2B marketing right now.
Driven by the ever-rumbling conversations about Account Based Marketing (ABM) as the saviour of B2B (more on this in our blog “3 Reasons NOT to do ABM”) and the shift away from short-termist lead gen to long-termist demand gen (which is a very good shift), it’s something on the mind of pretty much every B2B marketing decision maker.
But with any hot topic there’s danger of it slipping into buzz word territory as it gets misunderstood, misused, and misappropriated.
Is it the silver bullet that’s going to solve all your marketing woes? Or is it just the next “shiny thing” that’s getting marketers all hot under the collar right now (but will soon be forgotten when the next shiny things comes along)?
Either way it’s something we get asked about a lot by our clients.
It’s why we’ve done the digging on all things intent data and have researched all of the leading “Intent”platforms (you’ll see why we’ve used quotation marks in a minute). Basically, we’ve done all the detailed investigation so you don’t have to. Aren’t we kind?
So, we’re going to share the wealth of this research and our experience to bust some of the myths that surround Intent Data.
And in doing so give you the low down on what it is, what it isn’t, and what you need to know to use it to drive real value for you, your marketing, and (crucially) your business.
Here we go…
Intent Data: The Theory
Intent data is information collected on people’s online search and browsing activity as a means of understanding topics of interest, challenges being faced, and the content they are consuming.
Data is collected via tracking pixels placed on individual websites which is then feed back into the intent platforms and their nifty dashboards so that you can slice and dice the information gathered until your hearts content.
The theory is that this information can be used to build a clearer picture of an individual or organisations needs, wants, and desires over time, in turn giving an indication of where these “buying signals” place them on a purchase journey so marketing and sales activity can be aligned accordingly.
That’s the theory anyway.
But there are plenty of gaps in this theory and questions left unanswered. It’s why in practise and depending on which “intent” platform you use, things aren’t always as they seem (and can lead you to getting very different results from your intent-based activity than you may have been promised).
Here are some of the common myths about intent data and our approach to busting them based on the research we’ve done and first-hand experience we’ve had.
Myth 1: All Intent data is the same 🤔
There are actually 2 types of intent data: First party and Third Party.
(There is of course Second Party data too, but we highly doubt your competitors will be willing to sell you their data to use for your marketing so we’ve not included it here).
First party data is that which you collect yourself using your own website(s) and tracking activity. This will of course be the most accurate intent data you can source but depends on people actually landing on your website and interacting with it and your content in a trackable way.
This is where having proper analytics set up, a fully-fledged content strategy, and ensuring your lead scoring is in order (more detail on how to do this in this blog) is of vital importance to capture, interrogate, and make use of your own intent data.
Where’s the third party at?
Third party data is that which you can access or purchase from another party, e.g. an intent platform. However, buyer beware…
The interpretation of the term “intent data” and how this is applied by the many, many, MANY platforms/tools/solutions on the market can vary enormously. Some platforms claiming to provide “intent data” use this term in the very loosest of senses.
Many platforms are actually just scraping LinkedIn and other social networks for publicly available data on interactions (which don’t really give any indication of intent).
For example, say someone on LinkedIn posts an infographic their company has made about ransomware solutions and includes the word “ransomware” in the accompanying copy. This post is then liked by 10 people. (Probably just their friends, but who are we to judge).
Some “intent data” platforms would tag both the person who originally created the post and the 10 people who liked the post as showing intent and displaying a buying signal for “ransomware”. Which clearly isn’t the case. Interactions aren’t necessarily displays of intent.
ACTUAL intent data
Rather, actual intent can be gleaned from search history and engagement with content. If someone searches for “ransomware solutions” then downloads an e-book titled “5 things you need to know when buying a ransomware solution” THAT is a pretty good buying signal and an indicator of intent.
These indicators of actual intent can only (legally) be provided at an organisational level (using reverse IP look up), not at an individual level. There are of course ways you can track interactions/intent at a device level using cookies and remarketing, but there is no (legal) way of tying online search activity/intent to a named individual.
This is why you should be incredibly wary of “intent platforms” that provide the names/details of individuals claiming to have displayed intent. As the old saying goes, if it looks too good to be true it probably is.
Which leads us onto myth number 2…
Myth 2: Intent data pin-points decision makers 📌
As explained above any “intent platforms” that claim to be able to provide named individuals displaying intent around certain topics won’t be using actual intent signals to do so. Platforms that do provide actual intent information can only do so at an organisational level using reverse IP lookup.
Which means, if you’re using actual intent signals (and not some LinkedIn scraping tool) you’re left with a gap when it comes to targeting your marketing activity.
But this gap can be easily bridged.
Because you can track actual intent at an organisation level based on a number of key subjects/topics on your radar (which you’ll set up in your intent platform dash board) you will be able to make a more informed guess about who the individual displaying this intent will be, based on the subject being tracked.
If you can see that Company X is displaying intent around “Hybrid Cloud Solutions”, for example, it’s a safe bet that it’s someone in a technical role who’ll be behind those searches. Using a contact information database (like a Cognism, Zoominfo, or Slintel) you can then identify the CIO, CTO, or whoever to then feed into and tailor your marketing activity accordingly.
So, whilst actual intent data can’t help you pin-point decision makers exactly, in combination with a solid database tool it can help you make a well-educated guess.
Myth 3: Intent data predicts exactly when someone is ready to buy 🎯
Not quite, but it can give you a pretty good indication.
The theory is that by using Intent data you can plot someone’s location on the buying journey based on the type of searches they are making. If someone’s searching for “What are Kubernetes?” then it’s a fairly safe bet they’re in the early stages of a buying journey.
Whereas if someone is searching for “Kubernetes management solution pricing” it’s equally safe to assume they’re further along that buying journey and considering their options for purchase.
Intent data is time sensitive as it’s related to search activity and what someone is interested in at a single moment in time. If you can see a linear progression in search terms over time and/or a spike or higher concentration of search terms, then it can be assumed that buying signals are getting stronger (which you need to jump on and do something about).
That’s why actual intent platforms enable you to look at activity over various time horizons (last week, month, quarter, year, etc) so you can scrutinise activity and look for patterns.
People don’t really do things in a liner fashion and nice, neat patterns, no matter how much we’d like them to. Although you may be able to extract some information that points to someone being at a certain point in the buying journey people are often strange, unpredictable, and illogical creatures.
For instance, someone may be researching a topic and download ALL of the information they can find on it in one go so they can take it away and digest in their own time. Have they gone from the beginning to the end of the buying journey at lightning speed? No.
So, make sure you scrutinise what your intent data is telling you and take a logical approach to understanding the illogical behaviour of people.
Myth 4: It’s expensive 💰
Yes and No. Whether anything is expensive or not is really all relative.
If you’re looking at actual intent platforms – the likes of Cyance, Bombora, and 6Sense that actually provide meaningful intent and buying signals – these will set you back a minimum of £20k per year but can scale up to £100k+ if you want global coverage and you’ll be tied in to at least an annual but more likley 2-year agreement.
Plus, to make real use of an intent platform you’ll also need to factor in:
- A contact data solution so you can do that cross matching of intent to individual mentioned above so you’ve got something actionable to work with
- Someone – either a sub-team/person internally or an agency partner – to proactively manage, monitor, and make sense of the intent data you have access too.
- Someone else to knit together your intent platform with the rest of your MarTech stack to automate activity (as required). And someone to build that automated activity.
It’s a chunky investment that is beyond the means of most organisations.
Which is probably why so many other platforms claiming to provide “intent data” have sprung up at much lower price points. Some you can access for as little as a £50 a month with no tie in to a long-term agreement.
But as with anything you get what you pay for.
Whatever route you take it all boils down to how you use the data you can access through the platform and how you drive ROI as a result.
If you make the chunky investment in an actual intent platform + a contact data solution + the people required to make stuff happen but use it land a multi-million-pound deal as a result, then it’s a sound investment.
But if you go for the cheaper alternative you could end up with a load of junk data that is no use to man nor beast, and you’ve wasted your precious budget. “Buy cheap, buy twice” as the old saying goes.
Key here then is to understand exactly what you need to deliver for your business and how intent data can support this so you can make the necessary investment to deliver the required returns. If it’s not going to do what you need it to then you’re better off investing budget elsewhere.
Myth 5: Intent data will solve all your marketing problems 👍
Come on now. Don’t be a silly sausage.
You should know that there are no silver bullets when it comes to marketing. If there were everyone would be using them, and no one would ever have a problem with marketing ever again.
But that’s never going to be the case, is it?
Intent Data can help unlock certain things with your marketing and make what you do more focused and targeted, but it will never in and of itself do everything you need to “solve” your marketing woes. [See our blog on Lead Gen Silver Bullets for more of the same here].
Intent Data [or you can insert any other buzz-wordy term here… “growth hacking”, “performance marketing”, “Social Selling”] isn’t the answer.
A properly defined, strategic approach to marketing (that aligns with your wider business strategy) that is then articulated through a well-defined brand (and all its multiple facets), underpinned by content/assets that your audience values, and delivered to market in a timely and high-impact fashion is the answer.
And you’re not going to get all of that just by investing in a shiny new data platform.
Hopefully the research we’ve done into the world of intent data and our busting of the 5 myths above has opened your eyes to things a little more and helped you think in greater depth about whether intent data is the right fit for you, your business, and your marketing.
You’re welcome 😀
And, we’re not saying, “do it”. We’re not saying, “don’t do it”. As with anything and everything it’s always horses for courses.
But what we are saying is don’t get sucked in by “shiny new thing” syndrome.
Take what we’ve provided here as a jumping off point and do your own digging to arm yourself with the knowledge to make the right decision for you.