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Intent Data: Find Buyers Before They Come Knocking On Your Door

How Are Marketers Using Intent Data?

It is a well-known truth that your buyers are on the Internet gathering information about your offering long before they visit your website. Savvy marketers are finding them by mining intent data and winning them over before they even enter the marketing database.

If you’ve been hearing about intent data recently, you’re not alone. When you type “vacation in Mexico” into Google, you are signaling intent. When you read a blog post about “collaboration tools”, you are signaling intent. Increasingly, B2B marketers are incorporating intent data into their analytics to improve marketing performance. Unlike traditional demographic data, intent data are time-sensitive (“live”) and based on a specific behavior that identifies an immediate need.

Despite the formidable power of intent data, few B2B marketers are aware of how they can incorporate it into their programs. So, let’s demystify intent data and how marketers are using it.

A short history: How did we get to intent data?

Not so long ago, marketers lived in a world of data scarcity. Today, we live in a data-rich environment where modern marketers are increasingly turning to data and analytics to deliver highly targeted messages to their best prospects.

B2B marketing organizations are sitting on multiple data silos. First, there is the core marketing technology stack that includes CRM and marketing automation. Second, some marketers are looking at other internal data sources like financial or customer support systems. Many marketers also use external data sources like Dun & Bradstreet, Experian or HG Data for additional insights. The most innovative marketers have combined all of these data sources and built predictive models to determine the attributes of a company or prospect that is “most likely to buy”.

Data is the real game changer. Sure, it’s been a mainstay in marketing for years, but earlier challenges centered on data deficiency. Today’s problem is the exact opposite – data abundance. Companies as diverse as DocuSign, SunTrust Bank, HireVue and Staples have successfully harnessed the power of these disparate data sets by combining all these data, building predictive models and deploying new workflows that result in higher conversions and faster deal cycles.

We are now seeing marketers include another type of data – intent data. Intent data are collected via cookies from search engines, communities, media sites, blogs and forums about a web user that may show some intent or future action. Intent data can be incredibly helpful at identifying buyers who have a need now.

Google is the King of Intent Data

The tech empire called Google was built on intent data. It’s core business, search, is funded by marketers buying text ads right alongside search results. If you search for “business intelligence”, you see ads for Tableau and SAS. When you search for “flash storage”, ads for Pure Storage and EMC appear. These ads are effective because they are so relevant and time-sensitive. They leverage the intent of the searcher who is clearly interested in the topic they just typed. The ads are based on fresh, or “live” data, as some like to call it. Despite lots of talk about “real-time” marketing, the truth is that few marketers are actually real-time. However, when marketers use intent data they are truly operating in real-time.

Where Does Intent Data Come From?

Intent data are mined from sources like search engines, social media platforms, industry trade publications, blogs, online forums and communities. Here’s a quick overview on how it works.

Intent data from search is gleaned from the keywords that people enter into search engines. Clearly, the act of searching for information is abundant with intent. Many marketers are using search intent data to serve targeted display ads to people who searched for a specific term. You could pay Google more than $100 per click for some search ads, OR you could target them with display ads at other places on the web once they leave Google.

Intent data can also be found when people express their ideas and interests on social media outposts or forums. Perhaps they contribute to a LinkedIn group that is discussing “enterprise security” or they just tweeted “thinking about a new phone.” Facebook, of course, lets marketers target their users based on things that they have shared. There is even a way to bring search intent to Facebook by targeting ads based on searches performed outside of Facebook. On Twitter, marketers can target users with promoted tweets to people in more than 400 interest categories.

Challenges with Intent Data

It’s important to understand that intent data is just part of the puzzle. You need fit, behavior and intent data together to get a complete picture of buyer propensity. For example, that person looking for “CRM solutions” may not be as desirable as you think. While their intent data is strong, they may be a student, or live in a country you do not serve or work for a competitor. Unfortunately, intent data, if used by itself, can give you an inaccurate picture of buyer propensity. In addition, gathering intent data at scale can be a challenge because many people flush their cookies often and use multiple devices to browse the web. These behaviors can complicate attribution of the intent to a single buyer.

4 Great Uses for Intent Data


Most retargeting efforts are triggered once a person comes to your site. But there is inherent inefficiency in that strategy – many non-buyers come to your site. With intent data, you can remove waste from your retargeting programs by including their previous browsing patterns, interactions with your social channels and other intent data.

Identifying buyers before they come to you

Marketers are great at nurturing people already in their database. With intent data, you can proactively identify net-new buyers who are in-market well before they become a lead. You can reach buyers looking for solutions before competitors.

Reactivate your zombies

If you are like most marketers, the vast majority of your database has never opened an email from you or visited your website. Many of them, however, may be doing research that you cannot see. Marketers are reactivating zombie names in the database with live intent data. That person who has never responded to an email may be doing all sorts of things that indicate their intent to purchase from you or your competitor. Try giving these names to your sales team.

Improve your nurturing programs

Marketers are adding focus and relevance to their campaigns with intent data. Instead of one-size-fits-all nurturing, marketers are tailoring their nurturing programs. You can use email subject lines based on individual search terms to improve open rates and engagement. Marketers are triggering emails based on live data activity, so emails are sent much closer to the time the customer has expressed intent.

As marketers continue to embrace analytics to drive stronger performance, intent data is finding its place alongside other sources of data. Intent data is unlocking major benefits to B2B targeting efforts and propelling growth.


Written by

Brian Kardon
February 23, 2015