Predictive lead scoring and your targeting stack – making sense of the options for reaching your target buyer

Targeting. Retargeting. Firmographic… demographic... behavioral… psychographic... targeting.

We see more and more technologies and techniques to reach a target audience emerge, seemingly by the minute.

The crossover between these different options is becoming overwhelming – how are they the same, how are they different, and how should a demand generation marketer figure out which ones to use?

I set out to bring some order to this mish-mosh of targeting options that demand generation marketers have today. And here’s what I got (so far).

Why has targeting become all the rage?

While there at least a dozen solid reasons, here are four I see driving it:

1. Content marketing best practices are demanding it

As companies build personas and target strategies to specific roles and verticals, the next logical step is to build programs that reach those target audiences in the most efficient way.

2. Email isn’t enough

Email is just one marketing channel and has significant limitations, the biggest one being that you can only email those you have in your database. Additional marketing channels are required beyond email to reach new audiences, extend your reach and meet demand generation requirements.

3. Closed loop marketing systems optimize for effectiveness

As marketers build closed loop marketing systems, they can hone in on the elements of what makes their most effective marketing investments. This drives the insights that feedback additional targeting requirements to make future investments more effective.

4. Vendor innovation

VC investments in marketing technologies continue to grow  -- many of the companies mentioned in this article have received significant investments as they look to capture their share of the marketing budget.

What are the different ways to target?

I have split these out as five techniques to reach an external audience, three techniques to target visitors on your website and then a final emerging category all to itself.

External Audience

1. Retargeting Via Cookie

How it’s done:  Visitors to a website are cookied and then targeted with banner ads as they visit other sites.

Advantages: Tend to be cost effective compared to other techniques.

Disadvantages: Limited to those who have already visited your website, so it’s really a method of conversion optimization and not reaching a net new audience.



2. Targeting Specific Database of Prospects, through Publishers

How it’s done: Provide the publisher with your prospect database and then target programs to those specific individuals. 

Advantages: Can supplement active nurturing programs to laser target those participating in nurture streams with additional content impressions in a credible context – reach your audience where “they spend their time.”

Disadvantages: Limited only to those only in your database, so it’s a method of enhanced nurturing not reaching a net new audience.


I could not find specific examples but I have to believe publishers today are offering this by requesting “house databases” from marketers; in addition I wonder if any of the social networks allow for this 1:1 targeting. If you are aware of specific offerings that fit this profile, please share that info in the comments section and I’ll update


3. Targeting via Demographic (e.g. Vertical)

How it’s done: Marketer provides target information and programs focus in specifically on those targets to take best advantage of spend.

Advantages: Now we are getting to the sweet spot of this list where the targeting capabilities should offer significant advantages to marketers.

Disadvantages: Not so much a disadvantage, but if leveraging display ads you will need to invest in message/creative for the display ads and the content for the landing page conversion to maximize the effectiveness of these investments.



4. Targeting Via Named Account

How it’s done: Supply a specific named account list to a publisher, and run programs directly to that set of companies.

Advantages: Phenomenal way to align with sales programs by targeting to the specific accounts sales is going after and supporting outbound efforts – so for example we have a outbound calling/email program targeting the same named accounts supported by targeted display ads to those accounts – integrated with a capital I!

Disadvantages: I haven’t seen these programs offered with a role-based targeting overlay, so they tend to target via company and some level of page content but not guaranteed to be reaching the right roles within your segmentation.



5. Targeting via Contextual Content

How it’s done: Targeting an audience based on contextually relevant content, Google has been doing this for years with ads through their content/display network, and now the latest fad has evolved to distributing blog & article content via a similar manner.

Advantages: Can be a cost effective way to reach a new, relevant audience. In the case of the contextual content promotion, it provides a means to grow traffic to supplement traditional SEO efforts.

Disadvantages: Google’s content network has long been plagued with quality issues, and that same issues applies to contextual content promotion. Marketers can grow their traffic but is it above your quality bar?


  • Google’s Display Network – banner ads based on page content
  • Reactor Media – editorial posts as “you might also like” boxes based on contextually relevant content  
  • Outbrain – contextual content promotion via publishers through


On Your Website

6. Targeting Anonymous Visitors by Industry or Company

How it’s done: These companies have mapped IP addresses to companies and then categorized those businesses by industry to allow for real-time targeting of content by industry or other company based demographics such as revenue.

Advantages: For a first-time visitor without even being cookie or registered on your site, content relevance by industry can lead to significantly higher engagement and conversion.

Disadvantages: Not so much a disadvantage but a challenge – requires close work with content creators to ensure the right industry-specific content exists to leverage these capabilities. You can create industry-specific versions of your website – messaging, case studies, content and offers all industry specific.



7. Targeting Known Visitors

How it’s done: This requires a personalization engine to be directly connected to the marketing automation platform holding the lead specific data. So for example, if you had customers identified and wanted to communicate with them a certain way on the website. The possibilities are endless.

Advantages: Truly powerful, only limitation I suppose is that you need to have the individuals cookied via your marketing automation which means having them click an email from you or fill out a form to get the cookie down.

Disadvantages: Again, not so much a disadvantage but with all the possibilities need to have strong internal know-how to prioritize what you are trying to accomplish and manage it.


  • Marketo Real-Time Personalization (formerly Insightera and now referred to by Marketo as "RTP") – Individual personalization based on lead record data from the Marketo Lead Management platform. RTP syncs this data to enable real-time personalized website content based on that known lead’s data. (I confirmed this with David Myers, the Product Manager for RTP).

8. Behavioral Targeting

How it’s done: An engine which collects history of click patterns by prospects and connects it to at least one outcome (e.g. Page View, MQL, Opportunity) to then determine relevant related content or next action for future site visitors  

Advantages: Can be a powerful addition to a website to drive engagement based on past data

Disadvantages: Behavioral targeting based on past click patterns (e.g. most popular next content from past visitors to a specific piece of content) does not connect the viewing of that content to a positive outcome, so the most effective engines will also factor in attaining a marketing goal such as MQL or Opportunity.


  • Marketo Real-Time Personalization (formerly Insightera) – This can be accomplished both with the content recommendation engine as well as leveraging the RTP platform for targeting rules. For example a targeting rule could be based on behavioral segmetns e.g. clicks, visits, referral, search term or specific page visits - powerful stuff.
  • Evergage – Also Website Personalization- although hard to tell exactly how they do it from their website and what the targeting is based on - need to learn more about these guys.
  • I’m sure there are more out there but I can’t place any right now, so this is another area where I’d welcome feedback


Predictive Lead Scoring

9. Predictive Targeting aka “Predictive Lead Scoring”

How it’s done: Such a hot topic that I gave it a category all to itself, these “big data” vendors are collecting some aforementioned data (marketing automation, CRM, website) and coupling that with additional data sources including product usage logs, customer support history and social websites to then predict high probability qualified leads for targeting purposes. At that point, what happens? Most likely the data is then fed into a marketing automation tool to trigger a campaign or program to target that lead or in some cases these vendors own web personalization engine to target web content based on these predictive models.

Advantages: Instead of guessing at a lead scoring model which ultimately misses many key factors, the promise of these systems is achieve the benefits of lead scoring to your demand generation without the pain and hassle of building your own model.

Disadvantages: If these leads are being handed off to Sales or Teleprospecting team, need to build confidence in the “black box” so that these predictive scored leads are pursued with the same belief in the leads as others.

Examples: These companies are all “talking the talk” and at the same time SiriusDecisions is seeing adoption of these technologies accelerating.

Conclusions & key takeaways

Having sifted through this, three key points stand out:

#1 – Options are plentiful, consider your needs and choose wisely

The more integrated your solutions, the more you will be able to ensure you are managing a closed loop system with clear measurement and reporting. It’s okay to use multiple platforms but where you can, standardize on a smaller set of vendors, and ensure you have a marketing automation platform which can serve as the hub of your targeting tools.

#2 - Marketo Real Time Personalization stands out as an emerging player

Looking at the options for web personalization in this way helped show the true potential of Marketo’s Real-Time Personalization platform, formerly Insightera. Tying web personalization to the Marketo database can be a truly unique capability, and on-site behavioral targeting based on content consumption is another area where Marketo can stand out.

#3 - Predictive Lead Scoring will become a must-have for mature marketing automation users

I don’t love the name, but when you consider that these companies can serve as an engine incorporating many of these aforementioned targeting criteria – web history, content consumption, demographic data plus purchase data, product data and social media – the possibilities are powerful. One of the questions I intend to explore here is understanding how these vendors enable targeting actions – is the standard to simply feed information back to marketing automation that indicates the lead is a key target, or do the capabilities extend beyond that? It may turn out the predictive lead scoring systems only specialize in the data processing and predictive targeting, and that information then feeds into the targeting mechanisms we’ve outlined here.

This is a rapidly evolving space, so please leave additional ideas, comments or corrections via feedback, and I’ll continue to update this post with the latest information.

Marketo’s Latest & Greatest - a Tale of Two Products a.k.a. Some lead and some follow

At the August 12, 2014 Boston Marketo User Group (BMUG) meeting, Marketo representatives shared two areas of their latest product development – Real-Time Personalization (RTP) and Marketo SEO. 

Leaving the session, I was struck by the stark contrast between the two:

  • How they fit into Marketo’s DNA
  • Their origin & motivation (my guess)
  • Their positioning of Marketo as a leader or follower within the category

Product Functionality #1 - Real Time Personalization (in the “Lead” Category)

Marketo’s Real-Time Personalization came across as THE natural extension to everything we have seen from Marketo so far. Take Marketo’s ability to capture user specific data and deliver relevant content, and evolve that from email nurturing streams to contextual messaging during a website visit.

I also envision this evolving even more in the future to incorporate personalized ad retargeting and social marketing, either via further Marketo product development or partnering or purchasing someone like Demandbase, ReachForce or Bizo (although not Bizo themselves because they were just purchased by LinkedIn).

These are just two of the use cases that seem possible (disclaimer: I am concluding this from a 45-minute large projector demo standing in the back of a poorly ventilated second floor of Papa Razzi, not from actually using the product).

Greatly improved targeting of anonymous traffic – The strongest broad use case for anonymous traffic initially is industry-based targeting. Marketo identifies the anonymous visitor’s company based on IP lookup and categorizes them by vertical, so page content can be tailored by vertical.  Banner messaging, case studies, content and calls to action can be tailored by vertical, without asking for anything from the site visitor. This relevant content should lead to increased engagement (lower bounce rates), deeper site visits (assuming the content to support it) and higher conversion rates.

Tailoring of content for identified users – For any identified traffic (you can become identified based on filling out a form or -- don’t forget, Marketo users -- clicking an email from Marketo), whereby a cookie ties that visitor to a lead record.  Making this connection means marketers can now tailor web content based on any information they have captured around the visitor. Some ideas that come to mind here which can be made possible based on ‘tagging’ users based on their content consumption from previous program interactions:

  • Tagging users based on Key Topics /Issues, so banner messaging can be tailored to solutions to those issues
  • Tagging users based on Buying Stage, so content offers can be tailored by stage (offer an Educational asset to Early Stage; a Solution based asset to Middle Stage; and a Trial Download offer to Late Stage)
  • Categorizing role data and tailoring content by role

We could be gone from the days of rotating five banner messages to see which ones is relevant – as now we already know the primary topic of interest of the site visitor.  And gone are the days of guessing which call to action is right, as it can be tied to their stage based on past behavior.

The excitement in the room was palatable as the Marketo team walked us through these features. The story they told as they presented flowed naturally, and for me it seemed that this product development strategy HAD to be driven straight from Marketo founders Phil Fernandez and Jon Miller. Not only is it a natural extension of everything Marketo has done to date, it matches concepts that Epiphany (Phil and Jon’s previous company) brought to market in the late 1990s when Web Personalization was first introduced.

The difference between what Marketo has now, and the Epiphany pre-Millennial engine is that this Marketo web personalization product can be run by the masses of marketers.  Once tracking code and content deployment code are installed on the website, then the personalization rules can be managed via a user friendly rules based interface that Marketo administrators are used to.

I really like how Marketo is NOT trying to place in the CMS market here, and rather presenting their content targeting more like embed code that marketers use in appropriate sections of the website for messaging, content offers and calls to action.

This has leadership written all over it and I see this extending into retargeting, social marketing and more.

Product Functionality #2 – Marketo SEO (in the “Follow” Category)

Whereas the RTE discussion was vibrant and natural, as the presentation shifted into the SEO topic, the “story” became forced. Should the Marketo folks be educating around SEO vs. SEM? How should they be advising customers to deal with issues like backlinks that are oh-so-important but oh-so-critical to handle correctly? Is this SEO tool to replace other SEO tools or is this an SMB starter kit? A good proof point of the Marketo approach towards this is one of the reps commented “This may be not be for you if you’re using tools like CloudEdge.”  Um, ya mean BrightEdge?  Let's just show it didn't show much understanding of the market they are playing in.

While the RTE presentation told an integrated story, this SEO walkthrough felt disjointed, a periphery tool to Marketo’s core capabilities. Do keywords have a place on Marketo landing pages? I suppose, but very low in priority since we know that the SEO value of sub-domains that Marketo landing pages usually reside on is very limited vs. core website content.

So why did the Marketo build this?  Here’s my guess:

Whereas RTE is driven from the founders and company DNA, Marketo SEO is driven by request from the sales organization.  “We need that checkbox in the features comparison”. They don’t want to show up with a blank in a column where HubSpot has a solid checkmark not to mention owning the concept of Inbound Marketing, and as the two lone marketing automation soloists continue on a Purple vs. Orange collision course, Marketo management wants all i’s dotted and t’s crossed.

So I do get it, it’s just that the contrast struck me hard. One Marketing Automation Platform, 2 Hours of Demos, 2 Product Feature Sets – 1 a strategic platform development, and the other a “me-too” tool.

And whereas I get why Marketo built the SEO tools, especially with INBOUND 2014 around the corner, I just wonder how much investment went into it and could that have been better spent on leadership and not a “me-too” product checkbox.