Lead Generation's Value In Times of Uncertainty

This article is adapted from a Marketing Masters' Internet Seminars series in November featuring Russell Kern, Rachel Young and other marketing experts on what to do in an economy that includes layoffs, reductions and other challenges.

Russell Kern: During uncertain times, marketers must answer the difficult question of whether to invest further in marketing, when people are not spending, or wait for a change in market conditions?

To help answer this question for both marketers and senior management, I've gone to the marketing history annals. Three separate studies address this issue, including the 1947 Buchen Advertising study that tracked sales after the 1949, '54, '58 and '61 recessions. The findings suggest that companies that cut back during a recession had sales lag after the recession.

This was substantiated by a 1970 and 1979 study by ABP/Meldrum & Fewsmith, which held that companies that maintained advertising had higher sales and net income than those companies that cut advertising. Finally, the Cahners-PIMS (Profit Impact Marketing Strategies) 1982 study found the same results.

These results are in part because competitors, especially smaller, marginal ones, are less willing or able to defend their positions against aggressive firms. There's essentially two ways out of recession: spend or innovate. In uncertain times, you need both. The greater the awareness, the greater the preference.

Rachel Young: Economies always go up and down. What is unique now is not only the economy but also the world events we've recently experienced. It boils down to companies across all industries battening down the hatches and using limited resources. When you strike, it has to be right on. Your message has to be relevant, and you have to be very specific about what you're looking to get out of a particular program or campaign.

I don't think you wait to act; you plan and implement at the same time. Planning and execution are not mutually exclusive. You have to execute what you can today with the best resources you have, and plan for the turnaround to be ahead of the game.

The three most important marketing initiatives to focus on to generate leads in this uncertainty are:

· Keep a leads pipeline going.

· Nurture the leads.

· Nurture existing customer relationships.

I'm still seeing good response rates to our campaigns, and there are leads to be had.

Kern: Marketers are becoming smarter about how to use the Web and Web sites to help them achieve objectives. They're realizing the difference between a corporate, general information site, and a marketing-specific microsite.

These microsites are the central offer strategy for business-to-business and business-to-consumer campaigns. These microsites are often called value-added, responder, or eCapture sites. They have an architecture and platform that allow the marketer to track behavior and learn about site visitors' pains, needs and situations.

Marketers also are emphasizing the fundamental strategies of what motivates someone to respond to a message. They're relearning what an offer really is. Regardless if you're doing consumer or BTB marketing, to motivate a person to respond, your offer must meet three criteria:

· It must be unique, capturing emotions or filling a need.

· It must be exclusive. Single source supply of a given offer drives action.

· It must be valuable, offering time savings, money savings, emotional relief. Or, from a business perspective, it must offer access to information that fuels success, competition or insight.

When marketers run out of time or lack the resources to create a unique and exclusive offer, a let's-just-get-it-out mentality prevails. A great example of marketing done right with a reason to respond is BMW's online movie site. The movies provided were unique, the directors and actors were valuable and you could only see the excitement and action of these films at BMW.com. Of course, when you arrived at the site, a complete registration and prospect information collection routine was in place.

One of the biggest benefits of marketers relying on microcapture sites and landing pages for their campaigns is the ability to generate in-depth campaign reporting. Marketing integration also is supported.

Young: When I use the word integration, I refer to the fact that I don't look at the different marketing mediums independently. I look at how each contributes to the program's overall success, and the role each plays in the marketing continuum. As an example, a typical program might use e-mail and direct mail to capture initial interest and create awareness. We drive everyone to an eCapture site, where we get more profile information and prospects get additional value.

Web capture engines are fabulous. I'm finding a lot of value in their back-end efficiency. If you look at traditional direct mail, you enter data from a fulfillment piece or a bingo card. Using eCapture, all your information is there to access and analyze very quickly. The prospect is doing the entering, which is very cost efficient. The eCapture method has worked well for us.

For our Thunder 9200 program (data storage) for example, we created an arresting package that focuses on a specific problem faced by our target audience. Our online media supported this same strategy. The inside of the mailer has a very strong call to action and very little product copy.

On our landing page, we used PIN tracking to start the reporting process. The landing page sells the value of the site and why to go inside. One of our landing pages is a quiz page, which helps identify the visitor's problems or business issues. This is stored and used to help in sales follow-up. The site then serves as the gateway to product information and access to the Hitachi site.

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