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Incentives can fuel the idea

Through the years, I have worked on many lead generation programs at Jacobs Agency, but I did not grow up in a direct agency, nor does Jacobs Agency purport to “be” a specialized direct agency. However, I think this has worked to our advantage, particularly when we look at solving lead generation and prospect nurturing challenges for our clients. We approach each lead generation effort asking, “How do we connect with the target emotionally, relevantly and with impact? How can we push mailing formats within the client’s budget to improve open rates? How can the format reinforce our message or idea? And finally, how can we ask for that meeting or sale through an engaging and relevant incentive?”

Incentives are often the lesser concern when developing a direct marketing campaign, but can help companies make headway in getting in front of prospects. For years, it seemed that direct agencies were singlehandedly pushing Apple products into the market, first with the iPod, then the iPhone, iTouch and now the iPad. But if you want to break through, how can you do that if everyone is offering the latest iPad? The end result is to get your message to resonate with your target.

Something to consider first: Does the incentive fit relevantly with your message? If competitors are offering the same thing, will your message and offer break through? Some direct campaigns are successful because they are creative and relevant without even offering an incentive.

If you do offer an incentive, aligning that incentive with strategy and creative is vital. Often it can be a breakthrough or help round out the main message you are trying to deliver. It may be the last thing that pushes for the desired action. For instance, when developing a direct mail piece for an HR outsourcing firm trying to recruit from the Silicon Valley, we developed a piece that included a hand-crank cell phone charger. This was not only hip and green and resonated with the tech company recipients, but it also reinforced the idea behind the direct mail campaign. We wanted to communicate that what really powers technology is “people power” and that our client could help create the right employee benefits program to compel those people.

Trendy gadgets do work well, but if used, they need to fit with the strategy behind the direct marketing effort. Incentives for the sake of incentives are just clutter. When developing a high performance server campaign targeting the oil and gas vertical, we recommended our client offer an outdoor GPS alongside messaging urging recipients to find oil faster using a new server solution. The GPS device fit with the campaign as an incentive to “explore” technology options by requesting a meeting. We have also used noise-canceling headphones as an incentive for a national cable company to demonstrate that amidst all the problems and issues an organization faces, they are available to listen and offer solutions to these problems.

Finally, sometimes budgets are better put towards “skin in the game” or decision-making tools for the prospect. Thought leadership content such as white papers and webinars, online tools, apps or a complimentary consultant’s assessment are more relevant, effective and useful. This approach establishes a brand as a partner and thought leader. By providing insightful information, brands can lead a target audience towards a sale.

Incentives can be an important part of a lead generation effort — however, it’s important to determine whether the latest gadget, or perhaps a thoughtful white paper, will be the most relevant and effective means of communication to encourage a prospect to take action. Apply creative juices towards that piece of the puzzle and you will have a campaign that not only breaks through the cluttered communications landscape but will also further engagement.

Flora Caputo is VP, executive creative director at Jacobs Agency in Chicago.

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