Content + Intent Data: A Compass for Content Strategy

intent data Justin Keller
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We recently gathered 10 intent data experts and power users and collected their tips and insights in The Content + Data Connection: 10 Top Marketing Executives Explore the Rewards of Integrating Intent Data into Content Strategies.

To keep that conversation going, we’re posting a series of Q&As with those experts to share their perspectives on how content marketers can make the connection between data and content. 

A Compass for Your Content Strategy

Today, we’re taking a deeper look at intent data with Justin Keller, VP of Marketing at Terminus. Justin has helped shape best practices for ABM, multichannel marketing and the application of intent data. He’s a regular contributor to Forbes and Marketing Insider Group who’s fond of disrupting the status quo. And he warns against viewing intent signal data as a “silver bullet,” recommending instead that B2B marketers view it as a compass for content strategy.

Do you see opportunities for more B2B brands to use intent data intelligence at the foundational stage of formulating their content strategies?

Intent should be a compass for your content strategy, not a map. Intent data can show you broadly what topics your audience is most interested in. The more granular you get with data, however, the more esoteric and misleading the terms can become.

For outlining the general themes your audience is interested in, you can’t find a better source than intent data. From there, begin to shape the perspective of those audiences by tailoring content within those categories to your thought-leadership perspectives, SEO strategies or product-specific goals.

How should the different data types be applied to content strategy?

There are two primary sources for third-party intent data: research-based intent data like the kind you get from Bombora or G2, and bidstream intent data that’s effectively the exhaust from online advertisers.

Research-based intent allows you to connect who (e.g., an account) to what they’re interested in (e.g., your content). At scale, that allows you to easily connect those interested accounts in the most relevant content you’ve got or inform you where your content whitespace is so you can create fresh, relevant content.

For bidstream-based intent data, you need to be careful—not only because it’s legally dubious and likely not GDPR compliant, but because there are so many false positives created from it. If you base your content strategy on bidstream data, you’ll be basing it on out-of-context behaviors.

It’s important to remember that marketing isn’t solely responsible for content distribution. Your sales team is the most effective content distribution channel you have—and that’s where first-party intent data comes in.

The frequency and volume with which your website visitors are interacting with your content should be front and center for your sales team so that they know exactly what their prospects are interested in and how they can provide them with further information.

Last thing: Just like B2C marketers have been building psychographic profiles on individuals to serve them ads that are almost spooky-relevant to your interests, this kind of intent data is now available to B2B marketers. It may not be as useful for informing your content roadmap, but marketers who are good at targeting hyper-relevant content to companies with a given psychographic profile are going to be the first to the table when it comes to creating a new customer.

How are progressive B2B companies using intent data to inform the content they’re creating in terms of topics and formats?

In a vacuum, intent data can only give you broad information about who is looking for what. Progressive B2B companies are getting really good at layering multiple different types of intent data—research, relationships, psychographics, technographics, etc., —to reduce their “total addressable marketing” to a “total relevant market.”

In doing so, they’re able to shrink the universe of potential customers into a very focused cluster of accounts. When they’re able to focus their content efforts, progressive B2B marketers can generate much more relevant content and, perhaps more importantly, highly relevant content experiences that help shape the perspectives of in-market accounts who have just started their research.

How else can B2B revenue teams use intent data to optimize content?

Pipeline acceleration is going to become a more frequent goal for marketers. Being able to serve the right content at the right time, based on the opportunity stage and the makeup of the individuals within a target account, can shave days or weeks off a sales cycle.

Here’s the catch, though: Once an account enters a sales cycle, the amount of research that can be detected by third-party intent begins to taper off because so much of their education and buyer enablement happens between them and the sales reps.

Engagement Intent: Understanding what content an existing opportunity has engaged with helps your sales rep better frame their conversations and provide fresh, helpful resources to inform their decision.

Relationship Intent: By quantifying the relationship between the buying committee and your team, you can understand the personas that are involved in a sale, potentially highlighting gaps in your content offering you hadn’t considered. Furthermore, by providing your sales team with sales-stage and persona-relevant content, you can help them increase an account’s propensity to buy.

How do you recommend B2B revenue teams ensure their sales teams are getting the right content in front of the right buyers?

Oftentimes, a salesperson is the first brand impression a customer has from a company. If sales reps are being notified about accounts that are showing intent (they should be), they can make outreach just as fast as an automated marketing campaign is triggered based on that intent. The really good sales reps will have a strong understanding of their team’s content offerings and use it to position themselves as a trusted resource who’s there to provide ongoing education to build trust and rapport with prospects at the beginning of their research phase.

We’ve started seeing examples of product leaders actually informing their product roadmap based on short- and long-term intent data as well. Building products based on the passive demand that’s observed from intent data helps sellers put exactly the right products (or promises thereof) in front of interested buyers.

What advice do you have for brands that are just starting to apply intent data to content strategy?

This is pretty basic, but I think it bears repeating: If you’ve got a great set of content that’s germane to the intent topics that are most important to your business, and you’ve got accounts showing intent… how do you connect the two together?

The good news is that you can automate a lot of this. Build a content matrix that shows the different intent topics (fewer is probably better in this case) and the content associated with them. Figure out how you want to promote that content—whether it’s through a personalized landing page, a specific content track or even a chatbot—and present it clearly and cleanly.

Now, use your ABM platform or hack a workflow in your marketing automation platform that “hears” which accounts are showing intent and automatically start pointing all your promotional channels to your content destination. This should be pretty straightforward in an ABM platform, but if you’re limited to marketing automation it’s worth the upfront investment because of how greatly it scales your content.

Are there any use cases that demonstrate how intent data has been effectively integrated into a content strategy?

We’ve got clients thinking about intent data as the first step on a longer journey. Based on that first surge in intent, they’ve mapped out different content journeys for their audiences to go on that map to other, different intent topics.

Said differently, they’re delivering content relevant to the initial intent surge, but then get really crafty in introducing their audience to separate but still relevant content tracks for other intent topics. In doing so, they’re reducing the overall amount of content and automation that needs to be built and are creating dynamic content journeys based on how visitors interact with the content.

How do you see intent data helping B2B marketers develop content that’s customized for unique accounts and target buyers?

Personalization drives engagement. Period. Creating and curating content based on the signals a prospect is demonstrating, either passively through research or actively by interacting with your ads, website and fellow employees, is the logical conclusion.

Right now, Netflix and Spotify do a decent job of recommending content based on what they know about you. B2B marketers are chomping at the bit to do the same thing with their content. Only now are we really starting to have access to the kinds of data and promotional channels that will empower us to really do it.

To learn more about how B2B marketers are approaching intent data, listen to our recent panel discussion. In Why Intent Signals May Be the Missing Ingredient in Your Content Strategy, we discussed the intersection of intent data and content with Latané Conant, VP of Marketing at 6sense, Nirosha Methananda, VP of Marketing at Influ2, and Jon Russo, CMO and Founder of B2B Fusion Group.

For additional perspectives, read our interactive E-book, The Content + Data Connection: 10 Top Marketing Executives Explore the Rewards of Integrating Intent Data into Content Strategies and our previous Q&As with Jon Miller, John Steinert and Latané Conant.

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