Creating a piece of content for your content marketing program brings a sense of satisfaction and pride. The content is targeted to your ideal customer profile (ICP), is high-quality, may include a powerful call-to-action (CTA). But it is only effective if it is read by your ICP.
That is where intent data comes to the rescue. Intent data is the collection of behavioral signals that help you determine a person’s purchase intent. Not just behavior on your site, but behavior throughout the web. The more information and knowledge you have, the better you can deliver the content that is most helpful in the buying process.
A recent research study by Ascend2 and Intentsify surveyed 289 B2B marketing professionals in the U.S. with over $10M in annual revenue to discover how B2B marketers are using intent data to effectively maximize marketing output.
Intent Data Works
The first question to ask is: Does intent data work? Research shows that 70% of B2B marketers that use intent data rate their digital marketing strategy as very successful.
How about B2B marketers that don’t use intent data? Only 33% of non-users rate their digital marketing strategy as very successful. So yes, intent data does work.
Intent Data as Part of Your Content Marketing Strategy
Yes, intent data works. Yet, the value of intent data for content marketing is often neglected. Here are a few reasons why marketers may not be considering using intent data as a part of their content marketing strategy–but absolutely should be.
The “what” factor
Intent data has two main values for B2B marketers. The first is well understood; the second is less known but hugely beneficial to content marketers:
- Intent data shows you which accounts are researching relevant products/services, and are more likely to be to become a customer so you can increase efficiency by allocating resources to engage those accounts. Marketers understand this value, and this is typically the first motivation to use intent data.
- Intent data shows you what those accounts are researching, which in turn can inform you of their challenges, interests, needs, and even buyer’s journey stage. You can use this information to hone your account-based messaging and content strategy. The “what” is a powerful value, and when used, unlocks many possibilities for marketers.
Not knowing how intent data helps with messaging
The chart below highlights the gap between how these two values (which and what) are perceived by B2B marketers as the most impactful. The top 5 ranked use cases are all dependent on targeting specific accounts (which) as identified by intent signals (although numbers 1, 2, and 3 definitely benefit from understanding what accounts are researching).
You have to go to #6 on the list to get to “message selection or optimization” which is solely dependent on the 2nd main value (what). Marketers are grossly undervaluing the ability of intent data to help them with message selection and optimization. For content marketing to be successful, getting the right message in front of the right person should be a much higher priority.
Intent data is still maturing
Intent data is still a rather new and complex product category that can support marketing, sales, and customer success efforts throughout the entire buyer’s journey. It’s taking the industry time to fully understand how to use it to its full extent.
That is why it is logical that intent data was first looked at to help identify which accounts are likely to be in an active buy-cycle and now marketers are taking the next step to identify what type of content to provide and message selection.
Building a strategy is a challenge
Research shows that “Creating a strategy for the use of intent data” is the No. 1 challenge that B2B marketers face with intent data. Building a strategy that brings together intent data and content marketing takes time but is well worth it when you get everyone working together, as a team, on an integrated strategy. Plus, you create a competitive advantage when you get your strategy right.
So to get you started on building your strategy, here are some best practices for using intent data to drive better content marketing results.
How to set up and analyze intent data for content marketing
First, to effectively use intent data for content marketing, you must understand how to select and monitor your intent topics and/or keywords.
The Fundamental Differences between Monitoring Topics and Keywords
When you monitor keywords, you look for the use of exact words or phrases within a piece of content, URL, or both. Example: If an article includes the keywords a B2B marketer is tracking, and a business user reads the article, that activity then registers as an event that will help inform whether that business is showing intent.
You can also look at the entire piece of content to assess its relevance to one or more predefined subject categories (i.e., topics). Such relevance is typically identified using machine learning, such as natural language processing (NLP).
NLP is a subfield of computer science and linguistics that focuses on the interactions between computing and human language. More specifically, NLP is how we program computers to process and analyze large amounts of human language data.
Connection with the buyer’s journey
Your selection of topics and/or keywords should be based on your typical buyer’s journey. Such journey-based topic/keyword tracking is what will provide valuable benefits beyond simple account prioritization.
It’s what allows your team to uncover where prospect businesses are in their path to purchase, which issues they’re most concerned with, which messaging and content you should use to engage them, and how you should score and route leads from those accounts.
Here are the stages to consider:
Stage 1: Identifying the Problem
The topics and keywords you use for early-stage (i.e., top-of-funnel) efforts should relate to the pain points your prospective customers feel as well as the problems your products/services solve. Assume your target audience isn’t aware of your solution, let alone your brand. Their research at this moment most likely consists of trying to better understand any issues they’re having.
Let’s assume you’re currently trying to generate demand for your company’s recruiting product. HR directors at this stage will likely be reading content around how they can more quickly and easily recruit high-quality employees.
You’ll want to select topics relevant to the challenges or pain points of acquiring quality talent, like:
- “Guide to recruiting”
- “Recruiting strategy”
- “Recruiting talent”
At this stage, keywords will likely be fairly general, so it’s a good idea to use the opportunity to create keywords that aren’t available as topics, such as:
- “Talent acquisition strategy”
- “Talent recruiting tactics”
- “Recruiting better applicants”
Stage 2: Discovering Solutions
By this stage, your target audiences have likely identified why they’re having problems. Now they’re focused on finding solutions, so your topics and keywords should reflect, in general, the solutions your organization offers.
Continuing with our HR director example, you may want to select topics similar to:
- “Applicant tracking system”
- “Recruiting automation”
- “Recruiting technology”
If your solutions are more niche than what is available under the topic taxonomy—e.g., if they fall under an unavailable sub-category—use those terms for your keywords, such as:
- “Talent acquisition software”
- “Recruiting analytics”
Stage 3: Researching Products/Services
Understanding the solutions available, your audiences are now getting ready to make decisions. They’re trying to figure out whether investing in a solution is worth the cost, and if so, which vendor they should select.
This is the time to get specific with your topics and keywords, selecting those related to your company’s specific product names as well as your organization’s brand name. Similarly, you’ll want to track your competitors’ brand and product names.
For larger companies, brand and product names may be available as topics. If not, select those names as keywords to track.
Stage 4: Deciding to Renew, Churn, or Increase Investment
When it comes to account retention, the topics and keywords you select will typically be almost identical to those of Stage 3—but for very different reasons. You’ll want to track current customers’ research around topics/keywords related to your competitors’ brand and product names.
If you identify current accounts are researching competitors’ offerings, it may indicate they’re a customer churn risk. In which case, your customer success team should be made aware and take appropriate steps to fix any issues.
On the other hand, you’ll also want to monitor the research behaviors of current accounts around any products/services that you offer, but which they haven’t yet purchased. This signals an opportunity to upsell.
For example, let’s say one of your best accounts has purchased your talent acquisition product, but you’d like to expand the account with your employee learning product. You’ll want to monitor Stage 1 and 2 topics/keywords relevant to that product offering, such as “Employee development” and “Improve productivity.”
7 ways to use intent signals to inform specific content marketing efforts
1. Select the right messaging or content
Most B2B products were developed to solve an array of challenges.
Knowing which accounts care about which challenges, pain points, products or even brands enables you to segment them into like-minded groups and then select the content and/or and messaging most likely to resonate with accounts in each segment.
2. Identify prospects’ buying stage
More than just telling you what your target accounts are researching and thus interested in, intent data can also inform you of their buyer’s journey stage, which then helps you select both the right content assets and follow-up tactics to use.
For example, if the intent signals show that a prospect’s research is focused on competitor brands and/or products (rather than more general challenges), that means they’re likely pretty far into their journey. You can then select the content that highlights your product’s benefits over those of your competitors, such as product comparison sheets or case studies.
Of course, you may find that you don’t have the content you need. Identifying such content gaps is just as important as identifying the concerns.
3. Inform content-syndication strategies
Instead of simply letting publishers generate any leads matching your ideal customer profile (ICP) and personas, you should let intent signals dictate which accounts publishers target and acquire lead data from. Further, you can segment targeted accounts by research interests (i.e., those surging on similar topics/keywords) and then match the content assets you use in these research interests.
4. Select the right email nurture path
Similar to using intent data to select the right content assets for content syndication campaigns, you can also use intent data to help segment leads into various email nurture tracks–again, according to shared research activities and interests.
5. Personalize websites and landing pages to specific audience segments
Knowing what product categories specific accounts are researching can tell you how to tailor landing pages for them.
6. Arm sellers with competitive intel and content
If you know a certain prioritized account has been researching a competitor’s offering, you can then provide your BDRs with the right content needed to persuade prospects that your solution is the better option. This may come in the form of tailored talk tracks, battle cards, sales decks, and case studies.
7. Identify which customers are a churn risk
Seeing early signs of dissatisfaction allows marketers to arm customer success teams with appropriate content—such as talk tracks, user guides, and even direct mail—to address customer issues before it’s too late.
Locate accounts ready for cross- or up-sell. Competitive research isn’t always indicative of churn. If the intent data shows certain customers researching solution categories you offer (but they haven’t yet bought), you can then focus on getting the right Stage 1–3 content in front of them to expand the account’s investment.
Do you want more research on how B2B marketers are using intent data? Download The B2B Marketer’s State of Intent Data report for measurement, expected time to realize ROI, costs associated with intent data, and more.