Understanding intent data: what it does, what it doesn't do, plus four strategies you can use to make intent data work for you.
Intent data is all the rage, and for good reason - especially for those running account-based marketing (ABM) plays! It’s getting big play these days because the tech is better than ever. But even better is that it's easy to understand the concept on a purely intuitive level: targeting people who are in-market rather than those who are not just makes sense.
But you can’t just deploy your intent data strategy willy-nilly. There are definite risks (and they can be very costly) when intent data is not deployed with savvy and strategy. There is also the reality that not all intent data is created equal - like untrustworthy clickstream data, for example!
Have no fear - your intent data crash course is here. Stick around and I’ll walk you through what intent data is and how to choose it, supercharge it, and avoid making costly moves with it!
Almost 40% of businesses are spending more than half of their marketing budget on intent data & almost 70% plan on increasing spend on intent data next year
What is intent data?
Intent data is data that allows marketers to target people based on their intentions - specifically, their intentions to buy a product or service.
At the low-quality end of the spectrum, it is data from sources like Facebook and Google. This data comes from the clickstream and shows some intent and in-market interest, but it’s not precise.
You can use this data to improve upon your awareness targeting, but you can’t go much further beyond that.
Programmatic display platforms like Simpli.fi offer something a bit more exciting - you can target people based on the keywords that they have searched or the keywords on the pages that they have visited.
This is a little bit better than the targeting Facebook and Google allows, but it still doesn’t give you enough information to determine whether or not someone is in the consideration stage.
And then there are the big guns: Bombora and ZoomInfo. These platforms get their data directly from websites and platforms and can tell you when someone is researching a product not just a little bit, but a lot more than normal. Bombora calls this type of data Surge™ data.
If you want to know when someone really is in the consideration stage, this is the data to use. It can tell you when someone is researching intent topics that align with your product or service, and when they are doing so at a significantly increased clip compared to their company’s (not the individual’) search patterns.
Picking Your Intent Topics
Once you've determined that moving forward with intent data is right for you, the next thing you'll need to do is to tell your platform just what type of intent you're looking for. You do this by choosing your intent topics.
An Intent topic describes the nature of the online content you want people to see. It is derived from AI and natural language processing models that understand the content and assign the topic that’s most relevant to it.
You can think about choosing your intent topics like you might think about choosing the keywords or your campaign. But don't take the comparison too far - keywords only consider the presence of the word. Intent topics consider the context of the content – regardless of the presence of the word/phrase.
You might think about choosing topics that match your product category and the names of specific competitors, for example. If you see activity in both areas, that's a strong signal of purchasing intent!
Unfortunately, intent topics are not as black and white as your ideal customer profiles (ICPs) and value propositions.
To pick intent topics that will move the needle for your business, you need to put yourself in the shoes of your customer. Think about the problem they’re trying to solve.
Intent topics are largely viewed through a taxonomical lens. Essentially, you’ll need to find the least common denominator of the interest that you are looking to target to find the intent topics that will work best for you. Once you land on these topics, dig around a bit to make sure they're right for you. A quick Google search for the intent topic can usually give you a bit of insight into whether it are right for your campaign or not.
Unsure about which intent topics would be best for you? Get help!
If you have an agency, ask them to look into intent topics for you with their vendors. If you have your own contract for intent data, especially with G2 or ZoomInfo, ask them for a hand!
But note that if your product solves a problem that is new or that has not been solved by many other companies, finding intent topics that work might be a struggle. That said, get creative with your intent options before determining that there isn’t one for you.
Once you've landed on your intent topics, it’s time to put it to work!
Supercharging Intent with Install Data, ICP, and Other Layered Strategies
Intent data is impactful on its own, but what happens when you combine it with other tactics?
There are so many ways to combine intent data to super-charge your funnel. Let’s explore some specific examples.
I am going to use examples of what you can do with Bombora, as it offers the most flexibility when it comes to intent data. This is because Bombora is the intent topic tool of choice for G2, which means that you can do everything that ZoomInfo can do and then some in just one tool!
Target Account Lists (TAL) + Intent Data
Let's say you have a target account list, built off of your ICP. You are targeting them full-funnel like any good marketer would.
As you know, not everyone is going to activate at the same rate and move from awareness to consideration. Likewise, everyone will move to the consideration stage at a different rate. For example, one user may move to the consideration stage right away, while it may take an organization weeks or months to move to that stage.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could give personalized messaging that was relevant when an entire organization is considering your product or service? Would it be helpful to have some air cover across multiple job roles once a company is in consideration, but to not spend that air cover ad budget until they definitely in consideration? Then TAL + intent data is for you.
If you set up your TAL + intent data campaigns correctly, you can automate a pivot in your marketing strategy once a company begins actively researching your product or service and increase your chances of winning without having to run a scattershot, manually triggered campaign.
Interestingly, you can run this same play using your ICP if you don’t have a set TAL. You can let Bombora find the companies for you if you don’t have a list already. Same goes for the suggestion below.
TAL + Intent Data + Install Data
Say you have a target account list and you know what software users on this list would want to pair with your tool.
Awesome. Now that you have a TAL and the intent topics, you can layer in install data.
This will allow you to do what we did above, but with more personalization. If you know that your target prospect has a certain tool installed, you can hit their pain points and benefits with more precision.
You can call out the tool they are using.
You can clearly identify the problem that pairing your software or product with the already-installed software will solve.
You can speak as if you know that the organization is in-market, because you know through intent that they are.
That is a lot of precision and power that you can bring to your campaign!
TAL/ICP + Install Data
Ok, but let’s say that you can’t find an intent topic that works for your product or that you really want to find new prospects based on the software that they use - this is the strategy for you.
In this example you would combine either a target account list or an ideal customer profile with software install data to drive awareness and demand for potential customers who may not even know your solution exists (which is why we aren’t using intent data here).
Have a product that works well for HubSpot users? Target them with TAL/ICP + install data! Have a product that hits home at the pain points of using a competitor product? TAL/ICP + install data can put you in front of users who might jump ship and head straight for your product.
G2 + Intent (+ TAL for the technically inclined)
G2 gives you some great intent data. You can target those who have viewed your page or have seen your sponsored content on someone else’s page. You can target those who viewed your category. You can target those who compared your product to another one. You can target those who looked for alternatives to your product.
This is powerful stuff.
Now, imagine combining this data with intent topics.
Yes, this is possible and is very powerful, especially if your product category is not a perfect match or if your product solves many different problems and you want to be specific and personalized in your messaging.
Someone looking at your category tells us that they are searching.
Someone surging tells us that a company is surging for a specific topic that relates to your product. Think of a professional services company surging for a project management solution topic, for example.
These two combined allow us to be personalized and hyper-targeted.
Given that G2 will connect directly to your HubSpot or your Salesforce instance, you can deploy these audiences into specific campaigns for automation and powerful personalization.
As you can see, there are a number of ways to combine your data for maximum impact.
But...Understand that Intent Data is not a Shortcut
Intent data is great, but don’t get carried away: it can’t replace the old school effort spent on your audience at the awareness phase. Try to skip the awareness process by using intent data to only go after those in-market and it can really come back to bite you.
As nice as it would be to pocket your awareness-stage dollars and just target those who are in the consideration stage, it doesn’t work in practice.
Here’s an example to demonstrate why this is the case:
You have had your eye on a Subaru Forester for 3 years. You are aware of that car.
Why are you aware? Because they have amazing commercials with dogs driving cars and honking semi horns, that’s why! They show you commercials that tell you not only about their vehicles, but about their values.
So in the end, it’s not just that you like the Forester, you like the Subaru brand.
But when you start searching for deals, features, reviews, and pricing, you begin seeing ads for Volkswagen.
These ads are super sharp. They call out what makes VW a better option. They show you a deal. They highlight safety ratings.
So when you're on the car lot, will you look at the VW? Probably.
But does that change the fact that your heart is already set on a Subaru? Nope!
It is easy to forget how emotional purchases of all types are, B2C or B2B.
Branding and awareness matters. Winning the game before it starts matters. Value propositions can only take you so far. It's hard to trump relationship. That's why you shouldn't put all your eggs in the intent data basket. VolksWagen only came in once you were surging, and by then you already had your heart set. This isn't a perfect example, of course, because we've all seen great VW ads for buyers in the awareness stage. But you get the picture: if you show up only once someone is primed to buy, you're leaving yourself open to losing deals because others were there at the earlier stages building relationship and brand awareness.
Use intent data to super-charge your mid-funnel targeting, to automate, and to be nimble with your air cover. Don’t use it as a substitute for the top of the funnel.
Lastly, make sure you are really careful with intent topics. Get professional help. Google your topics. Ask others, without providing further context, what the topics mean to them or what they bring to mind.
Well-curated intent topics can grow and accelerate your pipeline. Scatter-shot or short-cut intent topics can do the opposite.
Get your intent data strategy set and then leverage the power of automation to amplify the power of this strategy.
Automating Your Intent Data
The automation possibilities seem endless when it comes to building closed-loop intent-data processes.
While I can’t run through all of them with you, I'll cover a few below!
Bombora TAL/ICP to Surge with Hubspot or Salesforce
Bombora connects to both Hubspot and Salesforce.
You can input your ICP and push those contacts without intent into your Hubspot or Salesforce.
You will then push those audiences into your top of funnel campaigns and sales efforts.
Once a target account is showing intent, you can update the company record via workflow automations. This update to the company record can then be used as a trigger/filter to send the surging contacts into different campaigns and expand the targeting for air cover.
This movement can also trigger a notification to your sales team that a company is now surging, alerting them to shift their outreach strategy with cold contacts or maybe a single warm contact that has opted-in but is not able to make the purchasing decision on their own.
When a company is no longer surging, the company record can be updated again so that you can trigger/filter a workflow to send them back to another campaign that suits where they are at in the buying process.
Because you have a custom property for your surging companies, you can report on deals closed for those who are surging against those who are not. This will tell you how your intent data is performing for you.
This setup does not take any developer skills and can automate your ABM and regular B2B targeting!
Layer in your ICP and target account settings in your CRM to help supercharge and align your sales and marketing teams!
All of the Above + G2
If you have the correct G2 subscription to leverage their intent data, then you can go even further.
If someone is surging and they have compared you to a specific competitor, then use your workflows to push them into a campaign that will serve them custom content that aligns with their interest.
If someone is surging for a complementary software, automatically segment them and put them into an ad audience and email nurture that calls out the amazing functionality of your integration with that other software.
That's it! Intent Data for the Win!
The automation options are plentiful and when you combine intent data with solid marketing operations, the sky truly is the limit.
Yes, you have to choose good topics and remember to mind the top of the funnel, but if you can remember those two things and then craft highly personalized, nimble campaigns to go with it you will surely drive more customers at a better price point and be the hero of your company’s revenue operation!