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February 28, 2022 - By Hawke Media

What Is Intent Data and How Can Marketers Use It?

We know that up to 87% of shoppers research a product or service online before purchasing. The challenge for sales teams is to reach out and grab potential buyers while they are still undecided. But how do you target and engage potential customers before they have triggered an explicit conversion, such as a demo request or e-book download, to draw them into the sales funnel? The answer is intent data, an increasingly important feature of data-driven marketing. With insight into a buyer’s behavioral patterns and preferences, sales teams can position themselves early on as a solution. Find out more about intent data, how to gather it, and where it can unlock value. 

What Is Intent Data

There’s a good reason why the terms “customer” and “consumer” are interchangeable. Before a buyer commits to a purchase, they will consume significant amounts of content from available vendors and sources. This is the point at which marketers can capture intent data. In short, it’s the information that signals a buyer’s interest in a product or service, however ill-defined at that point. Where potential leads are actively researching solutions to a problem, they are leaving bread crumbs and clues as to their next step. These implicit, rather than explicit, signals have value. Even if the buyer is not yet on your website, they are still in the market. And with that comes the opportunity to approach them with a compelling offer, the information they need, or an illustration of competitive advantage. 

How Is Intent Data Gathered?

When a potential buyer signs up for a webinar or newsletter, that is a clear indication of interest. Intent data, on the other hand, is more nebulous in nature, and more difficult to collect. Marketers have two options for gathering intent data. 

First-Party Capture

Users who visit a brand’s owned web or social media properties leave a cookie trail that can be captured by market automation software and analytics platforms. This data certainly has value, but one drawback is that it’s largely anonymous, with no clear correlation to a specific buyer. Typically, first-party data will identify an IP address. Even if a specific buyer can be identified through marketing automation software, the data gathered is only relevant to that potential buyer at a specific stage of their journey. There is no further context about the actions that buyer took leading up to their initial or repeat visit. For that reason, businesses should not rely on first-party data alone. 

Third-Party Capture

To complete the picture, many businesses will also gather data from third-party sites, usually through a trusted vendor with expertise in consolidating meta, interaction, IP address, and cookie data to build a profile. Familiar names in this space include ZoomInfo, 6sense, and Demandbase. These vendors offer tools that can gather signals across marketing channels to assist sales and marketing teams in predicting which accounts are most likely to purchase a product or service. Ultimately, these tools reveal the actions a prospect took before reaching the target website, from verified reviews they consulted to the keywords they used in organic search terms. That’s a source of essential insight, given that B2B buyers are typically 70% done with their research before they make contact with a sales person. 

Predictive marketing platforms can analyze activity across blogs, forums, comparison sites, and reviews to build a holistic view of where buyers are triggered and where they hit roadblocks in their search. By watching how customers behave without jumping in with an offer, businesses can extract crucial learnings about not just their own product but also the market as a whole. Intent data also represents an important component when it comes to building custom audiences on Facebook. By tracking users’ search history with the Facebook Pixel, it becomes easier to define Intent-Driven Audiences and create ad campaigns that are better tailored to search queries. 

A key consideration is that there must be a sizable volume of content for consumers to digest in the first place to deliver accurate insights. Intent data draws insight from consumption patterns, so it is more involved and intricate than standard metrics for PPC ads or social media campaigns, for example. Furthermore, content needs to be tagged and machine-readable for platforms to extract the intent data, so there is a certain amount of setup required in advance. 

What’s the Value of Intent Data?

The marketplace is simply too competitive to wait until buyers reach your site to engage them. With intent data at your disposal, you can intercept leads before they can consider the competition, answer their questions, assuage their doubts, and pitch them an offer they can’t refuse. It also helps develop a better understanding of customer pain points for both marketing and sales teams. That’s especially valuable in sectors with a longer sales cycle (such as insurance or finance), where a vendor might have to track the evolving intent of several decision-makers over a period of months leading to purchase. 

How To Use Intent Data To Drive Revenue

From the perspective of sales teams, up-to-date and accurate intent data provides a more informed way to target accounts for account-based marketing. Less time and fewer resources need to be spent in casting a wide net to lure in prospects, and the budget can be focused instead where it can translate into value. Typically, sales and marketing can use intent data for the following: 

  • Optimizing campaigns or site content to respond to trends or surges
  • Timing campaigns more effectively and targeting with greater sophistication
  • Delivering the most relevant message to each potential buyer
  • Prioritizing budget allocation for the accounts that fit best 
  • Driving revenue and powering up ROI with personalization

Gathering and using intent data is increasingly the foundation of an omnichannel, data-driven sales strategy. The trail of interactions that users leave across mobile and desktop platforms is too appetizing to ignore, although it’s important to note that the same considerations about consent and opt-in still apply. As any good salesperson knows, a customer is never “just browsing”, whether they are online or in a brick-and-mortar store. They are weighing up options, building knowledge, comparing prices and features, and subconsciously leaning toward a decision. With intent data, marketers can get ahead of ideas that have yet to be articulated and optimize their offer and messaging to respond. 

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