Content + Intent Data: Like Surveying on Steroids

intent data John Steinert

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.

Like Surveying on Steroids

Today, we continue our series with John Steinert, CMO of TechTarget. John is an incredibly valuable voice in the intent space. As a member of Forbes’ CMO Council and a frequent author on the topic, John was a true pioneer in demonstrating the possibilities of applying behavioral data in every facet of Sales and Marketing.

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

It’s always great to have real data to use at the formulation stage. Otherwise, you’re guessing much more than you should be. High-quality behavioral data is especially good for this because it can help answer very specific questions about your market at multiple levels with much more agility than legacy survey data is able to.

In essence, behavioral data from known people in a specific category is like surveying on steroids. Think about how much Netflix and Amazon know about your personal preferences and how they can roll that up to look at trending from any number of perspectives.

Your message maps need to be informed by what messages are currently resonating in the market with each of your targeted segments. If they don’t align, you need to decide whether to change them or attempt to change the segment’s mindset about you. Your personas are at best a static model of part of the buying team—they’re shorthand for what’s actually going on. Unless you’ve recently updated your approach, rather than being the decision drivers, they’re as likely to only be a projection of the constituencies necessary to sign off on the deal.

In contrast, for targeting and engagement effectiveness, you really need to know more precisely who you must gain support from across the buyer’s journey in order to successfully drive to more wins. Likewise, key account messages are good, but newer data sources get you to the nuances that will make a difference at the person level—nuances that can make the difference inside very specific functions and roles.

For example, most companies care a lot about security today, but network security and application security involve very different people who will be in-market at different times and have very different needs.

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

First-party is easy to understand because it is your own data from within your own systems. It’s super valuable and can be really useful in understanding the needs of your clients and the status of their relationships with you.

That said, it’s often hard to get at. Think about Sales emails, for example. Unfortunately, too many companies don’t get at much of their first-party data. And what’s more, since first-party is only a tiny fraction of what your customers and prospects are actually doing, every company should be looking hard outside their own walls. Because the vast majority of time, even on the topics where you’re relevant to them, your customers and prospects are interacting a lot with other information and solution providers.

Think about all the other information sources your targets have to choose from. Think about their interactions with your competitors. You can’t see any of that. Unless you can access second-party data—data that another company is collecting about the people you care about interacting with them on the topics you care about.

The most common second-party data sources in B2B are publishers, and specifically, those publishers that serve the information needs of the audiences you want to attract. They make their own data and may be willing and have permission to share what they know with you.

Third-party data providers are those who don’t make data but rather obtain it from others through reselling agreements or other less transparent (and therefore less understandable) methods. While in the contact data business, this type of data aggregation can be useful for increasing accuracy, in the behavioral data space, essentially the opposite is true. Third-party behavioral data is less accurate because of the methods involved in collecting it, and it is less actionable because it lacks both the information granularity and permission necessary to target specific people effectively.

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

Progressive B2B companies are using high-quality intent data all across their go-to-markets. They’re augmenting their strategic survey data with an intent-based view of their markets—to use in adjusting investments, coverage strategies, positioning and messaging. They’re using it to discover critical activity and sentiment present in their target accounts—to discover and prioritize new opportunities and risks. They use it to optimize their nurture campaigns. They use it to accelerate their pipelines. And they use it to inform their customer success/support and customer-focused marketing activities.

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

Let’s be clear: the value of knowing buyer stage is not because it means a lead is now qualified to send to Sales. If it’s used that way, Marketing is putting Sales in a difficult position late in the game.

Intent should be used as an early warning system to “marshal your forces” around. Instead of waiting so long, signals like this mean that the content that Marketing or Sales should be sharing with the prospect should be late-stage, journey-support content—content that helps the buyers make a decision.

Before late-stage, intent data about exactly who is already involved points you to the types of content those roles need to support their journey research. And those early advocates will welcome material that they can use to champion their opinions to their higher-ups.

Think of the members of the buying team who come into view as a conduit to the eventual decision-ratifying committee. Think about how you can market through them with materials created for them to share with others. Think about asking them for input on what you could provide to help them move through their process, and then make sure you craft material that will meet their needs and their various senior constituencies’ needs.

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

Absent a dedicated sales enablement team, content marketers need to consider expanding their focus to include material creation that will help Sales once an opportunity is identified in the CRM system.

Content marketers need to become comfortable with the needs of buyers as they enter the later stages of their journeys. Likewise, content marketers need to study the buying “jobs to be done” by the decision ratifiers and find ways to anticipate their needs with materials designed for those who may not appear at all in the data but are certainly known to be involved in typical deals. These are materials that can be shared by either Marketing or Sales, and either through visible team members or directly to deal-ratifier persona or both.

Of course, these materials are buyer’s journey support materials and should not be confused with demand identifiers or lead qualifiers. To gate these types of materials only makes getting them onto the right desks that much less likely.

In companies that do have a robust sales enablement function, those colleagues of course also need access to the data, and they need to use it for opportunity acceleration by building better materials in support of early-stage opportunities that might otherwise founder because Sales doesn’t have the time to interact with them enough.

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

Prospect-level intent data can be overwhelming to content teams because there’s so much of it and it can be so granular. The first most important thing to do is to change your mindset from one that is primarily backward and inward looking (backward looking here means looking exclusively at past success and inward means only prioritizing that which you can see in your own systems) to one that is open to a combination of what you can see in your systems and that which you’re getting from external sources.

First, make sure you open your minds. Second, look to make two kinds of simple adjustments. One is to see how you might better personalize your content at a basic level—things like subject lines, asset titles and things like that—places where your new insights can at least communicate that you’ve heard what the data is telling you about your targets’ interests and needs.

The second immediate action you can take is to look for major gaps between what you’ve already got as assets for your prospects and what they’re telling you about their specific buying team. For example, if there’s a member of the buying team you haven’t yet crafted anything for—a particular role or function—fill that gap. If there’s a major topic-of-interest thread in what your market wants that you aren’t speaking to with your nurture material (and you are able to thoughtfully), add that thread.

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

Right now, thousands of salespeople are using our intent data to guide who they reach out to and what they talk about. These sales professionals are becoming the sharp tip of the spear in agile intent-driven content marketing.

Likewise, we ourselves use the data to power our AI engines that drive the content marketing we do for our clients, whether it’s to promote written assets or relevant video. The intent data tells us both the buyer’s journey status of an account and the people within it and their specific topical interests. We serve up the most relevant content we have that matches this. Our client marketers do the same with their own stacks, but at a smaller scale.

Our research and analysis have shown that when both targeting and content are adjusted based on intent data inputs, clients can achieve as much as 16x improvement on marketing outcomes, more than 2x improvement in pipeline creation and incredible growth in revenue-engine productivity and yields end-to-end.

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

There are two basic end goals we focus on with clients: more revenue in the short term and more revenue in the long term. The first goal is, frankly, more dependent on or more affected by changes in behavior and messaging coming out of Sales. That’s just a reality about where the biggest impact and change can be implemented out of the gate.

That said, many clients have deployed our data first in Marketing. Probably because marketers are quite comfortable with new sources of insight, they’re willing to experiment and they’re often very innovation oriented. Out of the gate, marketers get huge value from the data through targeting efficiency and conversion effectiveness.

But that can’t translate into revenue without Sales getting on board. The truly huge impact we see on long-term outcomes is when Marketing becomes an intent data champion and a major driver of collaboration around changing how the various teams in the go-to-market organization each adopt the data as a key foundational input into their plans and their actions—whether it’s their strategies, the outputs they produce, the accounts and people they pursue, or the messages they put into their materials for and conversations with their buyers.

In our recent panel, 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&A with Jon Miller.

Holly Celeste Fisk is an accomplished marketing pro with 20+ years of experience in B2B and B2C. She’s responsible for Content4Demand’s internal marketing efforts, managing everything from content creation and email marketing to events and sponsorships, blog publishing, website management and social media presence. When she’s not working, you’ll find her sliding into third at softball, buried in a book or practicing her Italian. 


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