Intent Based Marketing: What it is, Why it Matters and How to Implement It

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Consumers (including business professionals) are bombarded with marketing messages from all fronts.Due to the explosion of marketing technology and the channels through which we can reach consumers, marketers are now exposing the average American to around 4,000 to 10,000 messages per day. Radicati Group estimated that the total amount of business and consumers emails sent per day in 2017 is around 269 billion.

To understand what marketers can do to break through the noise, our CEO Aseem Badshah decided to reach out to Michael Ballard and ask him to share his experience on this topic.

Michael Ballard is a Sr. Manager of Digital Marketing at Lenovo North America, responsible for managing a team that oversees ALL digital demand generation activities and campaigns for Lenovo’s North American B2B market. This team covers areas including inbound, outbound, telemarketing, creative, web data operations and content management.

Starting a couple of years ago, Mike decided that instead of pushing messages in front of as many people as possible, Lenovo would use data to discover customers that showed signs of interest in their product offerings, and make sure all of their messaging through all channels (including ads, social media, emails) are optimized based on the behavioral data they have.

In this Q & A, Mike and Aseem talked about the following topics:

  • Why Mike wants every marketer to understand his mantra: “your customers don’t care about you until they’re ready”
  • How Lenovo is using intent data to identify their target market and forecast the potential of a market segment before running any campaigns
  • Real-world case studies of how Lenovo is using intent data to predict whether a campaign will generate a massive ROI or not
  • How Lenovo is using intent data to boost engagement across programmatic display advertising, social media advertising and email
  • How Lenovo is using Twitter and Socedo to guide its demand generation strategy and break through the noise

Watch the full video for yourself below or read on to see the edited highlights from our conversation.

Aseem: Mike, tell us more about your background and what you do at Lenovo.

Mike: Lenovo is the other computer manufacturing company that doesn’t have that fruit (Apple) on the back of its laptops. We are actually the biggest seller of laptops in the U.S.

Besides laptops and tablets, Lenovo has two other large divisions. Lenovo acquired Motorola from Google a couple of years ago – that’s a division now. Then, the third division is the Data Center division, which was acquired from IBM a couple of years ago.

My responsibility is for Lenovo North America B2B Marketing. We focus a lot on the Data Center Group.

Aseem: You’ve given other talks on intent-based marketing, and you’ve used this title “Your customers don’t care about you.. until they’re ready” before. What do you mean by this title and what does it mean that “customers don’t care until they’re ready”?

Mike: As marketers, especially when we’re in the startup world, or even if we’re not in the startup world, we are all about our company.  We want to push our product and think that everyone needs our product.

We assume that whatever we put out from a marketing perspective – whether it’s a Tweet, or a billboard, a display ad – everyone’s going to stop and read it.

When in actuality, that’s the furthest thing from the truth.

Personally, as a consumer, I’m fed up with the number of emails I receive.

Though I can’t do anything about a lot of these emails, I could do something about the emails I was getting from the vendors. I decided to unsubscribed from all the companies I really didn’t care about.

In about a week and a half’s time, I unsubscribed from over 200 different vendor email lists.

Think about the number of marketing messages we get on a daily basis. On average, we see over 5,000 different marketing messages a day. That’s a lot.

The truth is that no one really cares about your company until they are in-market. Until that point, all of what we do to get their attention just doesn’t matter.

Aseem: How do you figure out who cares about your message? What is intent-based marketing, how does it all work?

Mike: A tremendous shift has occurred in marketing in the past decade. Marketing used to be all about creatives – what’s the most creative thing you could do? 50 years ago, we’d sit in a room and brainstorm different messages we can create and push onto consumers.

Today, there’s a collage of marketing tech logos. The Martech landscape has blown up. When Scott Brinker first started covering the marketing technology landscape, there were about 150 vendors. Now, the 2017 version has over 5000 vendors. As a marketer today, I have over 5000 different choices with what to do with my market.

Now, as a marketer, it’s not about creating cool ads anymore. It’s about what technology do I have, what data do I have, how am I using that data?

Marketers are pushed into the world where we now have to love data, Excel, and number crunching. It’s opened up a whole new world for us: to access data, to process data, in how we market to people.

The other trend that impacts marketing is the big explosion in social media and the kind of data we’re able to access from social media.

I speak to a lot of students these days. I always tell students that Facebook is not really free.  It’s free to sign up, but all the data you have is being sucked into the system and then sold to us marketers.

Although this may sound bad, the flip side is that marketers are buying names for the good of our customers.

For example, I may get frustrated when someone is bombing me with message I don’t care about. Or I pick the option “don’t email me until I’m in market for your product” – that’s when I am most receptive to your information.

We marketers can take this data from people’s online activities and find out what do they care about, and only market to people when they care, and show them what they care about.

Intent-based marketing is finally happening today because we finally have the data.

We have data to who actually has intent, or who is interested in a topic.

Aseem: Take us through an example campaign. How do you figure out who has intent in a certain topic or category?

Mike: We look at what the Twitterverse is saying. The keywords, bios, and conversations. Everything is open, and we can pluck it out as we need to. We’ll first look at – is there a market need for it? If there is, what’s the market size?

At a large company like Lenovo – with all sorts of products being sold – many people from different product lines will come to me asking for campaigns to promote their products.

First, I say let’s see the size the market. First, we look at firmographic data. Then, we go into Socedo and build out topical keywords around this product or solution.

As we do that, Socedo looks into the Twitterverse and finds out how many people line up with these keywords or care about these messages and lets me know who are all the people that follow the types of handles or tweets out keywords that I care about on a regular basis.

¦ Find out how Mike and other B2B marketers use Socedo to target their audiences based their tweets around interests, events, influencers and even competitors. Start a free trial.

We also use an intent data provider called Bombora. Bombora takes publisher data and search data from various content sources and creates baseline algorithms on over 3,000 different topics, looking at accounts as a whole.

Once I enter my topics, they’ll show me how many people are surging – or consuming content at a level that’s above the baseline – on this topic. We can take those surging companies and look up our market within those companies.

I can pull up company A, B, C, and see how many IT folks we have in our database. Based on the size of the addressable market and the benchmark conversion rates I have for different tactics including email, banner ads and social media, we can get a rough forecast of the ROI from running a campaign.

From all of that, I can show “Bob” – or whoever is the product manager – the forecast ROI and whether the market potential is there or not. We usually shoot for a 20X ROI.

Aseem: Can you talk about how you determine the projected ROI? What data are you using?

Mike: This is not exact science. We look at conversion benchmarks.

We can do it by industry and by tactic. For example, for every one hundred emails we send, we know the number of clicks we can expect, and that so many clicks convert into qualified leads, and so many qualified leads convert into qualified opportunities. Take the number of qualified opportunities and multiple it by average deal size gives me the potential revenue.

We have an idea of how much cash we’re going to put into a campaign, which includes media spend across social media ads, display ads and things like name purchases (contact lists). I’m not putting the cost of staffing into the equation.

Based on the potential revenue and the media spend, we can back into an ROI number.

Aseem: What do you look for to know if intent-based marketing works better? What metrics do you look at?

Mike:  We ran a side-by-side, six months bake-off between three intent data providers. For the pilot, we gave each company the same campaign and creative, we then gave them six months to execute against these and starting generating results. We ran campaigns across email, display ads and social advertising.

We found crazy engagement results that came back above our norm.

On display ads, we saw a 22% increase in click through rate. We also saw a decrease in our CPM.

On the email channel, we saw almost a 4X increase in click through rate against our benchmark, that is using intent data versus not using intent data.

When I analyzed the leads that we received through these campaigns, I saw that the large majority of generated opportunities (over three-quarters) were from customers that have never purchased Lenovo before. These are net new acquisition customers. That’s gold.

We looked engagement stats against all three companies. That’s how we chose Bombora.

Aseem: You were using intent data in different channels to reach people. What is the connection between intent targeting and the channels you were using?

Mike: In the pilot, we wanted to see how different providers perform in different channels. We actually found that it didn’t’ matter which providers you used on different channels. They all performed the same.

If you’re searching for intent data – it comes down to the vendor who can operationally connect their data to the systems you’re using.

We use Adobe Audience Manager as our Data Management Platform (DMP) for display ads – only one intent data vendor had a direct integration with Adobe Audience Manager. The other vendors either had this integration on their product roadmap or were only in the infancy stages of building this.

This is a big deal. Part of the project was to eliminate manual processes. I want to automate everything – at much as I could.

We looked more at operational integrations by tactics rather than at the results. The results were only clear on a single provider.

Aseem: That’s a great point. When implementing intent based marketing, it is important to connect intent data back to the channel where the engagement is going to happen.

Aseem: Mike, now tell us more about Twitter, how does targeting in Socedo work with the engagement strategy you are pushing through?

Mike: Socedo is a different form of communication. It’s a new channel for us.

I was having a marketing philosophy discussion with a friend. His argument is that email is the new display ad.

We all tune out those display ads because we’ve been seeing them for the last 15 to 20 years. We now get so many emails coming through they’re just like banner ads. We’re really good at ignoring them, and catching stuff that sounds like a sales pitch in the first few seconds and hitting the delete button.

Twitter is a completely new, untapped tactic, at least for us. You have a lot more attention from people, it’s more interactive, you can track likes, follow-backs, and retweets. We get a lot deeper engagement metrics than with display ads and email.

Twitter brings in a different audience to us, a new group of people I may not get to touch through cookie-based advertising or email.

Our main purpose with Socedo is to engage with someone through direct messaging. An unforeseen benefit is our Twitter handle gets additional followers. That helps spreads my message.

With Socedo, we’ve been able to track the Twitter universe like we’ve never been able to.

In all honesty, we’re still trying to figure out what to do with the Twitter audience through other channels. For instance, when I identify someone that came in as a social lead, how do I move them to the email world?

When I first started using Socedo, I got really excited when I got  a list of new Twitter leads that just followed back with email addresses. I took the email addresses and emailed them. The problem was there were a couple of spam traps in there. The info in there is good but we’re not going to email them right away.

Now, we run the Twitter leads through something I call “dating”.

If you think about a sales funnel, our natural inclination as marketers is: we see someone we like, we run across the street, hit them with a big sloppy wet kiss and asking them to marry us. That’s what marketing is.

If I just received your name, and I’m already sending you promotions via email to buy my product, that doesn’t make sense. We need to date a little bit.

Now, we take social leads and nurture them first on social. We’ll take them slowly through social advertising, then through banner advertising through cookies. We only engage them via email when the intent triggers are in full cylinders.

Lead scoring for us is starting to go away. Lead scoring has been around for forever, but it’s becoming cumbersome to use and in some cases irrelevant.

But account scoring, tied in with intent data, can be useful. If an account has a high account score and there are intent signals firing, then I can start to email them.

Aseem: How do you think the landscape of marketing technology vendors is going to progress?

Mike: For me, it’s more about the relationship than it is the dollars. What’s unique about marketing technology is that we’re not buying widgets to put inside a computer where widget A can be compared to widget B.

The intent data providers – they all have different flavors, do things a bit different and are priced differently. I can’t do an even, side by side, comparative analysis like my procurement team would like me to.

When I look at them, I look at operationally, how do they fit with us? Do they have native integrations that work within our environment?

Honestly, I also look at how we can work together. With Socedo, they are open to suggestions from me on their product. They are open to that feedback and can take it to the product. That’s good for me selfishly because I get a product that does what I want it to do. Not everyone can do that, but that’s why I like a lot of startups. It allows us to partner together to do that.

To learn more about how Mike and other B2B marketers are using Socedo to discover and engage with their audience on Twitter, check out our case studies or sign up for a free 7-day trial.Intent-based marketing

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Written by Aseem Badshah

Aseem Badshah is a successful entrepreneur, marketing expert, and writer. He was a contributor to, where he focused on social media automation, digital marketing, and business growth strategies. is a platform that provides social media optimization, automation, and audience-targeting services for businesses. In this role, Aseem helped companies expand their online presence, increase potential clients, and improve sales performance.

Before joining Socedo, Aseem founded a digital marketing and social media strategy company called Uptown Treehouse. As the CEO, he was responsible for developing marketing strategies, establishing social media platforms, and offering diverse digital marketing services to clients.

Aseem holds a Bachelor's degree in Marketing from the Foster School of Business at the University of Washington. His unique insights into digital marketing, social media, and business development have made him a prominent figure in the field.