Intent data: what is it and who are the best providers?

It’s not an easy time to be a B2B marketer. Gone are the days when you could put a load of content out there and wait for your customers to bump into it. The volume of content being produced is simply too high. Coupled with this, marketers are under increasing pressure to demonstrate the business value of campaigns and cut down on activity that doesn’t deliver results. In response, marketers have had to become more and more targeted in their approach. Making use of intent data is one way that we’re helping our clients do this.

What is intent data?

Put simply, intent data is information gathered by tracking an individual’s online behaviour. It takes into account factors such as the sites they are visiting, products or services that they are researching and the level of purchase intent they are exhibiting.

Marketers can use this to establish the following things:

  • To see which businesses (or individuals) are expressing an interest in products or services that they offer
  • Or, if they have already defined key accounts they want to target, to establish whether or not those key accounts are in-market for their products or services
  • And if they are, to learn more about where they are in the buyer’s journey and where they need support

For instance, a company that sells cloud computing solutions may use intent data to identify businesses that are researching cloud computing. Having identified these businesses, they can then drill down into the content they are consuming to see whether they are researching at an early stage (ie. product benefits) or later stage (ie. deployment specifications).

Some intent data providers (such as Tech Target) might even be able to provide contact data for specific in-market individuals. The cloud computing firm could also model the content that they are producing to align with the content that their key accounts are engaging with.

1st and 3rd party intent data

You may not realise it, but if you’re running marketing automation software then you’re already gathering intent data. ‘1st party’ intent data is information that companies gather on individuals that visit their site, tracking page views, lead scoring and assessing their readiness to be contacted by a member of the sales team. For most B2B marketers, this is familiar territory, so we’ll leave it there on the 1st party data and focus on 3rd party data, which is data provided by an outside source on users that may or may not have had any direct contact with your business.

Known vs anonymous intent data providers

You can split intent data providers quite neatly into those which gather data on an ‘anonymous’ basis or a ‘known’ basis.

‘Known’ providers rely on users exchanging personal data in return for information hosted on their site in the standard inbound fashion. The owners can then make the contact data available to customers that want to reach users who are exhibiting a high level of intent. As mentioned above, Tech Target are an example of this type of provider.

‘Anonymous’ providers can’t offer contact data but they can track the IP address back to which company the user belongs to. The upshot of anonymised data providers (such as Bombora) is that they operate on a cooperative basis – they gather data from a range of sites that they don’t necessarily have to own – meaning that their data is more wide-ranging. To offer a comparison, Tech Target gather data from 140+ sites, Bombora from 3,500+.

Is intent data worth the money?

This will vary by client and the platform you choose. According to SiriusDecisions, prices between platforms can vary a lot. Their recommendation is to approach providers with a set budget in mind and a clear idea of what you want to achieve and see what they can do for you.

Setting aside the exact cost, the more fundamental question is whether you want to allocate a (potentially significant) portion of your monthly or annual marketing budget to data. This is something that a lot of clients still struggle with.

For one reason or another, the idea of spending your marketing budget on something as intangible as data (as opposed to campaigns or content which can be seen and shared internally) still makes some clients uncomfortable.

An analogy I often use is that spending money on data is like spending money on a brand new, extremely fuel-efficient car. Yes, it costs money, but it saves money too. And over time, the money saved will be greater than the money spent. If this weren’t the case, there wouldn’t be a market for these platforms.

There is another, less immediately apparent benefit.

Clients that start spending money on a data platform feel obliged to use it. Over time, it becomes second nature. They stop relying on hunches. They stop launching campaigns that aren’t backed up by insight. Soon, data is foundational to everything they do.

Sometimes, you just have to take the plunge.

Who are the best intent data providers?

There are plenty of providers but for the purposes of this article I’m going to focus on the ‘big four’ – Bombora, Tech Target, The Big Willow and IDG. Which partner is right for you will be dependent on the brief, the budget your willing to spend and who you’re targeting. This being the case, offering a like-for-like comparison is really hard. Our recommendation, much like SiriusDecisions’, would be to define the brief and contact them directly. For more information on each, you can find links to their websites below:

If you’re interested in using data to fuel your demand generation or content marketing efforts, just get in touch at connect@2018.harveydavid.com.