Powering Competitive Marketing with Intent Data

Jun 27, 2019 | Author Ed Marsh

From Competitor Product to Competitive Environment

The 2nd Annual Competitive Marketing Summit will be held in Denver, CO on October 7-9. is sponsoring the event because we believe that granular, contact level™ intent data is a powerful tool for edge use cases like public relations (PR), private equity deal sourcing and due diligence (M&A), and competitive marketing in addition to the more common applications of intent data for marketing including demand generation, ABM, remarketing, complex sales, and churn reduction.

In preparation for the event, the Competitive Marketing Summit team is producing a series of webinars to tease some of the interesting content which presenters and sponsors will discuss at the conference.

Ed joined Alok Vasudeva (@AlokVasudeva) and Ben Scheerer (@BenScheerer) recently for a discussion of how intent data can power competitive marketing.

You can register to view the webinar recording on demand at the Summit site.

A heavily edited transcript follows below. (Want all the info? Register and watch.)

Alok Vasudeva:  Welcome to our fireside chat without the fire...w'e're going to talk about what really intent data is, how does it work, how as a competitive intelligence professional you can apply it, and things to look for...okay Ed, what is intent data?

Ed Marsh: There are three kinds of data. There's first, second, and third party data. First party data is the stuff that everyone collects through marketing automation, setting cookies and observing email behaviors. Everything that happens on your own digital properties, including social channels. So that's the data that you own, and in most cases you've associated through a cookie, you may have associated an email address, and a progressively built profile with those behaviors. But that's only what happens on those sites and platforms that you have access to and control.

                        Second party intent data is probably best known in the context, maybe, of TechTarget or G2 crowd. In other words, a publishing site, or a collection of publishing sites, that have opted in subscribers who understand their terms of use are, you're going to give us access to this amazing content that you've got, we're going to give you our contact details, and we're going to give you our permission that, if you see us take action with a certain kind of content that fits with what one of your lead customers is looking for, you'll sell the information about our contact details and the actions that we took. So in that case, I think in some cases they're anonymous, in some cases they're known users, but the point is that another company, which observes and has a relationship with visitors, actually sells that information as a lead.

                        Third party intent data is what happens across 1.8 billion websites in the world, or that's the premise of it. In reality a lot of 3rd party intent data is actually limited to a specific range of publishing sites. In some cases it's obtained by reverse IP lookup, in some cases it's obtained through Bidstream or AddThis data, but generally third party intent data is anonymous. It's only collected at the account level, and often, although it purports to be the broad internet, it's a fairly limited range of sites.

Alok:  So out of those three, what is the most popular that's being used currently?

Ed:  I think great marketers are actually using all three of them....When people talk about intent data, they're kind of talking about third party intent data generally.

Alok:   How does it work?

Ed:  There's a couple technologies that drive a lot of it. One is observing anonymous behaviors with reverse IP lookup, so it allows a data provider to observe that somebody from XYZ company, they've determined, by the reverse IP lookup, is taking some action, sharing some content, liking something, following something, that matches some parameters and indicates some interest or activity or engagement related to a specific topic or category, business category or product or service, et cetera.

Another is grouping of publishing sites (publishing Coop), and often there are agreements to share data in exchange for sharing visitor behaviors. Those are, again, almost always anonymous.

Further discussion on Bidstream and AddThis.

The model actually that we use, is to mine all the unstructured data and activity around the internet. So number one, that opens up a much broader range of sites that we're watching, and a much broader range of engagements, but it's a tremendously complex technical problem. That's, I think, the reason that it's so unusual, but it also gives it some of the powerful capabilities that it has.

Alok:  There's reverse IP which is at the domain level, is that correct?

Ed:  Exactly, at the domain level, which people interpret to be at the account level, basically.

Further discussion around cookies and tracking.

Alok:  What do you think are some criteria people need to look at when they're choosing a particular solution?

Ed:  The real key is to think about is how you will actually use, or activate the intent data. Comparing data, there are four important elements to understand.

  1. Distinction between account level signals, versus actually knowing the contact. And what makes this really tricky, or muddies the waters, is there's a lot of third party intent data providers who then take an additional step and append, or affix, contact details. These aren't the people who took the action, they're contacts that match the IDP, and have no actual connection to the anonymous user who took the action.
  2. Granularity. A lot of third party intent data is based on topics...the taxonomy behind those topics is really opaque. You have no idea of what's actually feeding into that.
  3. Breadth of resources is another. Again, coming back to this question, is it a limited publishing platform, or a network of publishing sites, or is it really the entire internet?
  4. Privacy issues. Going back to this point, I think Lattice Engines keeps making it, and they're very sensible for making, privacy is obviously a big topic, and that's part of a discussion around intent data, but if you know that there are specific sources that are potentially problematic, it's really important to make sure that you vet the potential vendors that you're looking at potentially for those.

Further discussion of static lists and vendors.

Ben:  There's certainly no shortage of vendors reaching out to us to buy their lists, so it must be a pretty large demand, at least, still in the market.

Alok:  How as competitive professionals can we actually use this intent data?

Ed:  This is an extension of the digital toolkit that Andreas Mueller covered at your event last year and will dive into more this year.....It's part of competitive marketing coming into its own as it transitions from a simple function of competitor comparison as part of product marketing, to a sophisticated discipline of understanding the whole environment......How can you really figure out, of the things that you see competitors doing, what's actually working? What is actually moving the needle? What's actually getting engagement? And I think that that's the really interesting opportunity here, is to use this third party intent data, from the competitive marketing perspective, to actually be able to observe, from a public engagement perspective, what's working for competitors and what's not. But that comes back again to those four critical points.

In order for it to be effective, I believe that you have to know who the person is, not just the account.

I would say you gentlemen are the competitive marketing experts, so having kind of laid that out there, what are your thoughts? 

Alok:  I see two applications. First is building personas. Second is competitive can get proactive information so you can kind of know what is going on before it's even announced...How do I get that information beforehand?

Ed:  Acquisitions are actually a really interesting place to talk about it, because it's an interesting use case. I've actually spoken about the power of intent data for private equity people, for instance, and for investment bankers, to understand some of what's going on. Both to understand the market, as well as to observe what may be happening with transactions. So in different clients' intent data on different occasions, I've seen indications, for instance finance people, or legal people, taking action around, particularly, competitors or other topics, that we believe at the time indicates that there may be some discussion going on about some sort of an agreement, possibly an acquisition.

It's speculative, what you're doing is taking information, and there's a lot of analysis that's required, and you have to be careful not to over-speculate, and not to fall in love with your theory about what you're seeing...there is some really interesting opportunity to see precursor activities that you could then feed into your competitive analysis, and get some insight.

Alok:  Let's get actionable....more detail about some use cases.

Ed:  We've got to be willing to do is look at a very granular level and a very high level...There will be individual signals on a weekly basis where a critical thought leader in your industry, or a critical prospect, or a critical key executive at a related company or in a related industry, takes some action, and that specific person taking that specific action at that specific time will have important meaning to you based on this whole competitive understanding that you've woven. Like a CIA analyst watching all the data points that's going on, suddenly there's that Rosetta Stone that you see, and the whole thing falls into place.

On the other hand, at a very high level, you can take thousands of signals/month, put those into an Excel spreadsheet, and begin to create some pivot tables with them...form some really important insights about what's happening in the aggregate too.

Imagine if you were to see that most of the engagement with one of your competitors was happening at the executive level, and most of the engagement with another competitor was happening at kind of a middle management level. That would be really powerful information. Or what if you saw that one of your competitors was particularly effective engaging people who you believe are early in their buying journey, by virtue of the kind of terms that they're engaged around, the kind of information they're engaging with, as opposed to another that's engaging people much closer to the decision stage, kind of bottle of the funnel, toward the end of the buying cycle.

Which of the initiatives of your competitors are actually working? Win/Loss for instance, if you know of deals that you're losing to a certain competitor, try to work back through the data and figure out what was happening early in that process, and almost try to recreate the journey that was going on with some of those prospects that you know that you lost, or of course with those that you want as well.

There's a lot of work, potentially, with it, to match the amount of value that you extract out of it. And if you just think that you can get a spreadsheet, or get stuff dumped into and suddenly lightning's going to strike, that's not the case. You have to be willing to have different people on your team with different perspectives, be willing to go in and look at it in a very granular way, but also some good data folks with analysis capability to look at it in aggregate and see what kind of insights you can tease out of it.

Alok:  Who all belongs on the dream team within a company that could harness this?

Ed:  Demand gen...competitive marketing...senior sales...ABM...Same data, that's the amazing thing about it. The same data offers very specific benefits to demand degeneration, to ABM, to complex sales, to those that are doing retargeting, or remarketing, because they can create custom audiences with it...I shouldn't leave out the success people...observe current customers taking action as a way to anticipate and prevent churn....and up-sell/cross-sell opportunities...really across that entire customer life cycle.

Alok:  These are smoke signals.

Ed:  Most people will take this data and they'll put it directly into their CRM or their marketing automation, or at least they'll take a subset of it that they think represents a particularly important signal, current customers, pending projects, target accounts, certain profile accounts, that sort of thing. But we can also deliver it as a CSV file so you can accumulate it in aggregate. I take those files and I drop them into a folder. And when I'm working with a client, and the client says, "Geez, I wish we'd known," or, "How could we have anticipated," it's really easy. It's kind of a no-brainer hack. You can go into a GoogleDrive or Dropbox folder, search those terms, and guess what, it's going to go through all of those files in there, with all of that information, so you don't have to go through thousands of rows in each one, but you can say "Wait a minute, November 16th last year, look at what was going on." We could have perhaps known, and here's three or four signals over the course of the last three or four months, and let's do a little after action review, how could we have captured these, noted them, and woven them together to anticipate this?

Alok:  There's something in the competitive world called key intelligence topics...when you get enough density of those things, that leads you to understand some things. Terms to use, terms to popularize, terms to avoid because everyone else in the market's using it....when you talked about exporting it into a CSV file, and then you could import that into a BI tool, and that has a lot of power, the visualization aspect, to see what is actually going on.

Alok:  Let's talk about your technology, in a bigger world, how you envision how this can make for a better technology world, or a better vision for a company.

Ed:  In my consulting work I work with companies where I just live that real frustration of marketing departments and sales departments and success departments being really disconnected from each other. And that doesn't do anybody any good. Of course there's legitimate reasons, we all understand from an organizational perspective, a resource perspective, somebody has to be responsible. We understand why it was created that way, but it doesn't make it good. It doesn't make it good for anybody. Particularly not for our end users, the customers, that end up having a disrupted experience as they're handed off from one to another...We're all working toward the same goal, so I think the power of this intent that it applies across that entire customer life cycle, because there's value for marketers, and for sales, and for success, from a single tool. That creates an opportunity to actually begin to bridge those gaps

Alok:  So let's summarize today's takeaways. Why should intent data be part of the digital toolkit?

Ed:  Going back to this vision that Andreas Mueller presented to your attendees last year and will again this year, if you want to move beyond just recapping the stuff that's spit out by your competitor, and understand how it's impacting the market and where people are engaging with it, you've got a variety of tools, like SEO related tools, but then taking a step further with the intent data tools to really see what's working and what's not.

Alok:  And the critical differences between different types of products out there, or service offerings?

Ed:  Make sure that your data is giving you what you expect it is. So if you really want to know who the people are taking action, as opposed to the account, make sure you're getting true contact level data, and not just some account level data that just has contact information appended to it. Make sure you're comfortable with the source of the data so you don't have a privacy concern. Make sure it's coming from as broad a range of sources that you need, and make sure that you're getting the granular detail so that you can actually do the sort of analysis that you want to.

Alok:  How about some use cases for competitive marketing?

Ed:  The ability to see what of the competitors' initiatives and their content are gang traction, and to observe, kind of for the market in aggregate, where the persona is approaching based on where they are in their buying journey, and what level they are in management.

Alok:  We have a little bit of time for some audience Q&A.

Q - Does this work better for certain industries?

Ed:  The short answer is yes. It can work virtually for any industry, but the more engaged an industry's participants are online, the better it works.

Q - How much can you do in the account level info? So let's use the delta, account level info versus user level info. The delta, let's think of it as two columns, account and user.

Ed:  If you're selling to 15 person accounts, it may not make as big a difference for you. If you're selling to middle market or enterprise, and there's 1,000 or 50,000 employees, it's almost fruitless to only know that something's happening at the account level. Now even if it's a very specific signal, even if somebody's researching ABM, which you then believe means that you'd have to talk to the CMO or the VP of marketing, it's still a very big assumption. And particularly without the granular information, if you don't know where they are in the process, in the buying journey, you won't be able to make much headway with it. So having the contact information lets you know if it's a valid signal, or if it's just noise. It lets you determine where it is in the buying journey, it lets you determine how significant the opportunity is.

Contact level information from the real contacts, not just imagine contacts, but from real contacts, also enables effective retargeting...When people think of retargeting as only being limited, traditionally it's only been limited to people that have hit your site, and then you could retarget them. But now you could essentially retarget the people that have engaged with a competitor. You can retarget people that have engaged around a certain topic. We can retarget people by a number of different criteria. So that contact level information is really important in that regard.

Alok:  Contact level is the most granular level, right?

Ed:  Right. With actual content details. For the real person that took the action, with their name, title, email address, main phone number, company, et cetera.

Q - So I know reverse IP gives you the domain so you know what company. How do you collect the info, how do you know their name?

Ed:  That's the secret sauce...t's a really tremendously complex technical problem, and a good friend of mine, actually Johns Hopkins classmate of mine, a data scientist that figured out how to do this, that's the essence behind it.

Q - Can you tell if someone is searching?

Ed:  That's an interesting question, and that is an important semantic difference...The short answer is, you can't tell if they're just searching, but we believe that the fact they're taking action not only lets us observe it and report on it, but indicates a much stronger intent signal anyway.

Q - We're competitive professionals, we like to know what the other competitive folks are doing. Can you tell if a competitor is using this approach on you, or your company?

Ed:  That's a fascinating question. Nobody's ever asked me that one before. I'm going to pause for just a second while I think about it. My quick reaction is no. I can't think of any way that you'd be able to know that, so I guess the flipside to that is, you have to assume that they are, so maybe it's important for you to begin doing it as well.

Alok:  Let's talk about the competitive marketing summit. Day one is on the 7th of October, and it's workshops. Then 8th and 9th are general sessions..three workshops we're offering, we choose two of the three, one in the morning and then one in the afternoon. Topics include Andreas Mueller talking about digital marketing, Alan Armstrong talking about collecting user stories, and Robert Zeas will be talking about pricing intelligence, and how you can monetize it=. 


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