Personas, Insight, and Intent Data

Aug 07, 2019 | Author Ed Marsh

This article originally appeared on

About me

  • I drive a 2009 Saab 9.3 sedan
  • Ride my bicycle >2,500 miles/year
  • Work in the marketing technology sector
  • Report to a woman business leader for whom I have great respect
  • Am a CRO
  • Have been most influenced over the last year by Ann McNeill, a black, female, entrepreneur
  • Enjoy sampling beer at local microbreweries
  • Have worked extensively internationally, including starting a company in India and lots of time in Nigeria and Brazil
  • Am married to a foreign national
  • Live near Boston, MA
  • Read a lot including Wired, The Economist

About me v2

  • I also drive an F250 Super Duty pickup and plow my own driveway
  • Ride my Harley Davidson Road King Classic (when I have time)
  • Have spent most of my career in industrial manufacturing — mostly in sales
  • Am a former Ranger qualified Airborne Infantry Army Officer (a grunt)
  • Served as a VFW post commander
  • Have three sons, all of whom have served in the military
  • Think individual responsibility is underrated

About me V3

  • I never seem to have much time for hobbies but am fascinated by model trains
  • want to learn photography
  • think Bonsai is cool
  • hate email
  • like meatloaf
  • dislike golf, but love the golf course, nature, and connections that are made over several hours
  • enjoy activities more when I do them with my wife

So How do I Fit Your “Persona”?

Probably not very well. Each version might fit some bucket. The combination, though, likely doesn’t.

I’m weird. That’s OK.

I’m also normal in that we’re each complex creatures.

In general, personas are simply contrived projections of how marketers like to imagine their buyers. They become more limiting than empowering. (I contrast this with Adelle Revella’s Buyer Persona process that focuses on how individuals and groups research, evaluate and reach buying decisions. Those insights are quite powerful for B2B revenue growth teams.)

So why are these artifices so prevalent? Because looking at the total addressable market is simply overwhelming. We need some shorthand to help us distill the TAM into a manageable, familiar group for communication.

Personas are simply a shorthand for whom we think we should be talking to. And they’re often wrong.

Intent Data — Insights not Guesses

If personas are fabricated guesses, Contact Level™Intent Data is verified insights.

Rather than creating a contrived fictional character to whom we try to appeal, intent data lets us identify the people who are taking the actions online that we believe manifest intent. Further, it provides granular context so that we can tailor our marketing and sales outreach not based on presumed degrees, gender or offspring, but on the actual business problem they’re trying to solve, outcomes they seek, or competitor with whom they’re engaged.

Does this obviate personas? No. In fact, the empathetic aspect of persona creation needs fostering. Many companies fail to create adequate sales enablement content for the various buying perspectives of CEB’s 6.8 member complex buying team. We need to step into the shoes of other pertinent perspectives, not just practice dramatic character creation.

A mid-level digital marketing director will have different priorities than a CMO who will have different priorities than the VP of Customer Success.

When we use personas to target demand gen marketing we create lots of waste.

Waste is unsustainable.

As the economy slows, finance will cut marketing budgets.

Guessing is expensive and inefficient. Programs built on guessing will be cut.

Knowing who’s actively in market provides marketers and sales teams an opportunity for enormous efficiency. The old adage says “I know I’m wasting half my marketing dollars — I just don’t know which half.” Contact level intent data says “I know who’s taking action as though they’re ready to buy, and I know what they’re doing. Let me focus my resources on helping them.”

Intent Data Insights, Not Necessarily Answers

I spend lots of time on various online content regarding intent data. I take lots of actions with that kind of content.

Therefore a casual observation of reverse IP activity or account level surges would likely conclude that I’m researching and perhaps preparing to buy intent data. Of course, that’s absurd. At we sell data and help companies with activation and orchestration. I’m not in the market to buy it.

Often in data sets, we’ll see engagement with competitors or target accounts that we can dismiss as unrelated business development activities. (i.e. A sales leader at a company trying to sell payroll service to a competitor — not an activity that indicates the target is actively looking for intent data. Of course, that would be valuable insight if we were in the payroll services business. Competitive marketing is a great use case for intent data.)

Intent data must be activated effectively and used responsibly. There’s a continuum of content intent and purchase intent.

Marketers who are elastic thinkers naturally intuit the varied use cases and opportunities, in addition to the rigor of analysis they must bring to intent data.

It takes work.

It’s also vastly more efficient than basing costly, complex marketing on poorly informed “persona” assumptions.


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