Intelligence is an overused word in the marketing industry. We talk about ‘customer intelligence’, about ‘business intelligence’, about ‘market intelligence’ and now we have ‘artificial intelligence’ to factor into our planning and thinking, too.
Marketing intelligence, however, is different. Marketing intelligence elevates the way we think about market data and analytics to help us think smarter. Marketing intelligence gives us an invaluable steer in a world of budget pressures, influencers and content overload. So, surely, it’s worth investing time to ensure you have access to the right intel to support your day-to-day marketing decision-making?
What is marketing intelligence – and how can you use it to your business advantage?
In short, marketing intelligence brings together relevant, timely and structured information – much like military intelligence, really – that can help you make decisions about your products and services, commercial strategy, product development focus, promotional messaging and other key business challenges.
Factor in an understanding of competitor offers; the current market perception of your brand and offer; and the market dynamics in which you operate. You can now make better decisions about your brand positioning and marketing strategy to win hearts and minds, and minimise the risk of failure.
Where to start? Here’s the who, what, when and where.
Whose role is it to collate and control marketing intelligence within a business? And to then ensure that the relevant information makes it into the right hands?
Marketers are generally well-placed to fill this role due to their conditioned approach to gathering research and insight. They’re also often uniquely equipped to see all the customer and prospect data flowing into their organisations through sales, CRM, social and analytics platforms and other forms of market engagement.
An experienced marketer should have the knowledge and skillset needed to interpret disparate threads of information and make business sense of them. The best data analysts, however, aren’t always the best marketing strategists, so it’s important to have somebody within the business who can crunch the numbers, as well as having a ‘left brain’ approach to interpret meaningful marketing intelligence into actionable outputs. This could well be two very different people, with two very different mindsets.
Not every business is large or lucky enough to have a dedicated data analyst sitting within the marketing department or wider business. But it’s important that all marketers have some basic understanding of how to interrogate data, as well as being able to identify what’s important to focus on when dealing with big data or disconnected pockets of data.
Larger businesses may of course have the funds to invest in customer-research analysts, data engineers, data scientists and other emerging job roles where data is a key business driver. For smaller marketing teams with less specialist resources, making friends with accounts, customer services and frontline sales-teams can be a savvy move to get access to any rich data sitting outside of your cross-business information system. And the accounts-team Excel gurus are usually a good starting point for help in figuring out how to master cross-worksheet data analysis!
You just need to be clear about what it is you’re trying to achieve with your data, and make sure you have a clear picture of the data fields that you need to assimilate and cross-tabulate. Endless requests to run reports never go down too well with any internal department, and this can also make a data-mining exercise unnecessarily complex, with an overabundance of data structures and version files to reconcile.
What information should you be collecting, collating, cross-tabulating and analysing to steer your marketing decisions?
There are some core things that every marketing department should seek to understand about customers and their behavioural traits, in order to help to identify future customers – or ‘opportunity pockets’ – to drive future revenue growth. Account-based marketing (ABM) was founded around this very principle, hence why many view ABM initially as a data analysis and profiling exercise, as it is.
Useful marketing intelligence is about being able to understand complex data in a simple way, to guide decisions and to help agree marketing priorities. Good sources include:
- Proprietary data
The data that you collect directly from your audience or customers. This might include behavioural information showing the average conversion from contact to sale, or purchase-trend information from your sales-order processing system, flagging a possible ‘selling period’ seasonal bias. Often held within your CRM or accounts system, this data is marketing intelligence gold.
- Third party data
This is often purchased to overlay or feed into your own proprietary data, in order to help you model or profile it, and therefore make sense of it. It could be customer turnover figures to see what size of companies are best responding to your offer, or detail highlighting the total number of overseas customer sites by country, to help you spot a niche geographic market opportunity.
- Interaction analytics data
This is any data relating to engagement with a brand touchpoint across your business. Website analytics are key to understanding how people engage with your offer pre-sale. Customer portal analytics can give you razor-sharp focus about product and service development potential and areas for improvement.
Equally, paid media can be a great acid test to help you shape your marketing messaging, and to work out what resonates best with which types of customers, segments or personas. Email and landing-page analytics can give you a good steer on the timing of your marketing distributions, and split testing can help you figure out which offers or calls-to-action perform best to drive contextual advertising.
As a starter for ten, having the following information at your fingertips could really help to shape your marketing and customer communications strategy:
- Most attractive business sectors by product/service offer; most profitable accounts by business sector
At their most simplistic, clusters can be identified by cross-tabulating sales revenue profitability by customer alongside industry sector. Where you don’t currently hold industry-level information, you can use data companies such as Experian and D&B to quickly and cost-effectively add in such fields.
- Enquiry source
How do your customers find you? Sales or customer-services teams can help here on a basic level, by asking each new account how they came across you and then recording this in your CRM, if you have one. Tracking codes and offer codes can be used for inbound lead monitoring, but this is usefully overlaid with new customer information once a quarter to compile a more rounded view.
- Customer lifetime value (CLV)
It’s useful to identify accounts of strategic value to the business to shape your CRM strategy. Effectively, this is a forecast of profit from the day a customer starts trading, taking into account the net profit generated across a predicted time period that it’s estimated your business will have a relationship with the customer.
Knowing your average customer lifetime-value and assessing this every six months or so can help you calculate how to allocate your marketing investment in terms of working out a reasonable cost-per-lead calculation by size of potential opportunity.
- Competitor pricing strategy
Up-to-date information regarding competitor pricing is often best sourced through your sales team or a mystery-shop exercise. It is also useful to speak to new employees joining your company from competitor businesses to gain and to update this type of information.
- Brand awareness ratio
It can be useful to benchmark how your brand awareness is being impacted by your marketing activity, more as a trend than in absolute terms. One really simple way of evaluating this is to track the number of times that your brand (or product-level brands) are used in Google keyword searches each month.
You can calculate this as a ratio alongside the total number of searches across your keyword categories to give you a month-on-month comparison. We actually use this for all campaign measurement here at Upp – we call this the B2B Brand Barometer.
- Customer product or service purchasing patterns
Any intelligence around customer buying behaviour is invaluable in helping you to forecast ahead. Customer purchasing trends can also help you identify possible triggers for purchase, i.e. a well-timed offer, a marketing communication or a regular and recurring seasonal pattern.
Your marketing can greatly benefit from understanding the ebb and flow of purchasing behaviour, especially in terms of planning timely and relevant communications to drive intent. Knowing your customers’ end of financial year, for example, is good marketing intel to hold. This gives you the opportunity to focus your communications and offers around key date triggers, i.e. when budgeting is likely to be taking place, when new budgets are available, and when customers are looking to use up remaining budgets in the last financial quarter.
- Customer journey analysis
Many large businesses are investing in technology to give them a single customer view (SCV) of interactions with their brand across multiple channels. This can be of great benefit to your marketing efforts, as it can give you vital intelligence about customer product and service interest; levels of service satisfaction; and potential up-selling opportunities using predictive modelling.
The SCV is, however, something of a holy grail. Many companies are struggling to connect data silos to give them meaningful marketing intelligence. Customer data platforms (CDPs) are emerging to make this process easier to implement, but a well-structured CRM can be a solid starting point.
The sheer volume of transactional data available across a business can be overwhelming. So when looking for valuable marketing intelligence, keep it simple at first, raising the level of sophistication once you have the basics in place. Every business will differ in terms of what intel matters most to shape its marketing strategy and execution, and working out how often to ‘pull’ data for analysis can be a useful exercise.
Some intelligence is useful to review annually as part of your wider marketing planning process, in order to help you build a picture of trends and insights to inform your proposals. Other intelligence will suit a quarterly, monthly or weekly review to inform your ongoing decision-making.
Mapping out your available or desirable marketing intelligence in a simple grid (as below) may help to steer your thinking.
|Key accounts by spend
Why? Profile ideal client for ABM programme
|Sales revenue report
|Source of new accounts
Why? Evaluate tactical marketing impact and
|Monthly new customer summary report
|Average value of marketing qualified leads (MQLs)
Why? To assess if your marketing is hitting the right target market.
|New customer spend for first 3 months
Knowing your way around your internal systems and information structure is invaluable if you want to use marketing intelligence to your marketing advantage.
Whilst many businesses above a certain size, or stage of development, operate a cross-business information management system, data ’silos’ still exist within businesses, and even within individual teams. People can be precious about the data they hold locally, so you may need to build internal trust to get access to the data that you need.
Accounts systems, order processing, sales systems, CRMs, automation platforms, analytics reports and any customer-facing systems are a good place to start, along with any industry intelligence you can access. Think carefully about the information you need before you dive in, and be clear about what you need it to tell you. Also keep the data ‘owner’ in the loop about how you plan to use the data and who you plan to share it with.
Intelligence can be an incredibly powerful tool – but it’s only as good as the person analysing it. As humans we use our instinct to spot trends and patterns, assigning them meaning within the context of a wider business view. The right intelligence can absolutely focus your marketing efforts, improving your success rate and ROI. It can help you to spot emerging opportunities and get ahead of the market. It can even alert you to the fact that something within the business isn’t working, or that your marketing isn’t connecting to your audience in the way you’d hoped.
So the big question is: can you afford not to have marketing intelligence driving your marketing?
Max Clark, MD at UPP B2B