Content + Intent Data: Elevating the Buying Experience

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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.

Elevating the Buying Experience

Jon Miller, Chief Marketing and Product Officer at Demandbase, offers a helpful vision into the future value of intent data and practical advice for B2B marketers eager to get started now. The founder of revolutionary martech brands Marketo and Engagio, Jon has helped develop the structures that countless B2B pros rely on for lead gen and ABM.

He expects intent data to play a vital role in the future of B2B content. Here’s how he believes intent is elevating the buying experience.

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

In a word—yes! There’s vast opportunity for B2B brands to use intent data. But let’s dive into that more: There are really two ways to look at it.

First, there’s what I call a baseline level of intent. This is where you figure out if an account is interested in the topic at hand (e.g., do they read about it?) and is useful for general content strategy. You can look at it for your entire market and say, “Hey, what topics do my customers tend to care about?” You can also look at it for a specific account and say, “What does this particular account tend to care about? And what keywords do they use to describe it?”

Second is trending or surging intent. In math, this would be the first derivative, the slope of the curve. This helps you spot changes; when does it go up and when does it go down? This is more useful for knowing when there’s a change in the account’s behavior, which might indicate a buying activity.

Each type of intent tells you something different and can be used to direct your next steps in an informed and more effective manner.

What are your thoughts about the data types and how they can or should be applied to content strategy?

So roughly five years ago, in the marketing automation world, we only really had first-party intent data. In other words, we could see if someone came to our own site or downloaded our content. But buyers today don’t really want to fill out forms, since they know it means they’ll get an unwanted follow-up from Sales. So, they’re doing more and more of their research on other sites. This means that first-party intent data we used to have access to is becoming hidden from us.

We need to therefore use more third-party intent data to see what’s happening offsite. Most intent providers only deliver the trending or surging data, not the baseline data. So if you really want to use it for content, make sure you’re also getting the baseline data.

The other distinction that’s interesting is that third-party intent data is always at the account level, because of privacy laws and so forth. You don’t know that Mike the VP is reading this specific article; you just know that people from this company are looking at articles about the topic. This is appropriate, because you wouldn’t want to be creepy and stalk people on the open web.

But first-party intent data can be tied to an exact individual because they’ve come to your site and filled out a form, etc. With first party, you’re also more likely to have access to the intent of specific people further in the buying process.

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

Companies are using baseline intent data to know what their target markets care about, perhaps even by industry or by segment. They use it to drive their keyword strategy more effectively. Google can reveal overall search volume for keywords, but intent data reveals whether their specific market cares about those words—and which ones they care about the most. So that’s pretty interesting.

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

Surging intent data plus first-party intent data is incredibly valuable to know where an account might be in its journey so you can find out the magic moment when they might actually want to hear from you. Knowing where the account is in its journey can tell you what kind of content you should use to engage with them.

For example, if you have an account that is a target for you but isn’t showing any interest or engagement, your goal is simply to engage to build your brand, right? You’re going to engage with them emotionally. It should be visceral—entertain or amuse them somehow—just form some affinity.

As you move down, you may have an account that is showing they know who you are and some level of engagement, but still with no signs of buying activity. Here is where you want to move from emotion to logic. Start bringing in educational content, thought leadership content and practical content that will help them see you as an expert and build your brand credibility for when they are ready to buy.

Then you go further. Say you have intent data that shows they’re ready to buy and are in market. Now it’s all hands on deck! How are you going to engage with that customer over every possible channel?

Another interesting usage of intent data comes with personalizing the website. So, if a targeted account comes to you and you know they show high intent on a topic, you can customize the web experience around that topic to create a more engaging experience. Or you can use what we called topic of interest campaigns at Marketo. With this approach, we would literally track what topics people would interact with.

If we saw a pattern like, “This person really tends to be interested in email marketing or social marketing or other kinds of topics,” we would then put them into specialized campaign tracks that are focused on those topics. This method actually showed 50% better engagement than the generic topics.

Are there other ways you’ve seen B2B revenue teams use data to make sure their sales teams are getting the right content in front of the right buyers?

People don’t want salespeople to reach out to them when they’re not ready. So, revenue teams can use intent data to know when they’re ready. Then, they can use user intent data to know not just when to reach out, but also what to say when they do.

Also, whether it’s an open opportunity or a customer, watch for intent around competitive keywords that can help you sell to—or retain—that customer. You can also keep an eye on a person or an account that’s showing high intent for your brand keywords that shows signs they’re an advocate.

What are some of the challenges in applying intent data in content strategy, and what would you say to B2B brands that are just starting to do this?

First, depending on the source of your intent data, the data can be sparse. For instance, the number of accounts that are showing intent at any given time doesn’t cover your whole database. This is especially common for vendors that only give surging intent.

This makes sense if you think about it. If you have 4,000 accounts, what percentage of them can be realistically surging on stuff you care about at any given point in time? So if you have a sparse data provider, you have less ability to use it—especially when it comes to individual account interest. The way to prevent this problem is to make sure you’re working with a vendor who provides both types: baseline and trending intent.

The second challenge is that, depending on the intent provider, the keyword taxonomy might not match your business or be specific enough. It might just be like, “Hey, they have interest in your category.” That’s a start, but it’s not really useful to guide your content. What you want are very detailed keywords you can use to guide your content strategy. If your intent provider lets you customize the keywords you track, that’s going to be more useful.

How do you see intent data helping B2B marketers develop more personalized content for unique accounts and target buyers?

Why do we use intent data in the first place? Well, the real goal is that we’re always trying to be more effective as marketers but, most importantly, we want to be relevant and useful to our customers. If we provide personalized, valuable content to someone when they want it in their particular stage of the buying journey, we help them succeed—and then we succeed, too. We don’t waste anyone’s time, but rather help them achieve the outcomes they want, and drive our revenue at the same time. It just elevates the experience for the buyers, and the results for us.

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 more from Jon Miller on elevating the buying experience, read our interactive E-book, The Content + Data Connection: 10 Top Marketing Executives Explore the Rewards of Integrating Intent Data into Content Strategies.

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