What Agencies Should Know About Lead Generation

When I attended ad:tech New York a few months ago, I was struck by the number of exhibitors offering lead-generation buys. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised. The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) lists online lead generation as the fastest growing category in online ad spending. Where there’s money to be made, new businesses shall follow. But online lead gen still struggles with reputation, education, and validation issues that make it the perfect topic for me to review.

Lead-Gen Landscape

Most lead-gen players agree that several factors are influencing the industry’s maturity: lead quality, inventory and reach, and client expectation and experience. Matt Wise, president and CEO of Q Interactive, points out his company still has to sell lead gen into agencies as opposed to fielding requests from them. “There’s a lack of mindshare when it comes to agencies and lead gen.” Advertisers already participating in lead gen include pharmaceuticals, higher education, and financial services, but lead-gen companies are also seeing more traditional brand advertisers, like consumer packaged goods (CPG) and retailers testing the waters.

Why Such Rapid Growth?

Lead generation minimizes an advertiser’s risk while developing a means by which the advertisers can remarket to known consumers. Effective lead gen provides accountability, controls costs, and generates measurable ROI (define), all things advertisers want. Jere Doyle, president and CEO of Prospectiv, believes “consumers embrace lead gen because it puts them more in control of how or to what they’re being marketed.” To even complete a form, the consumer has to be engaged and interested enough to alert the marketer that she wants more information. What advertiser wouldn’t want that primed pump?

Agency Lead-Gen Strategy

Agencies must first become educated about lead gen. Learn best practices; what questions to ask when qualifying a vendor and how to protect the advertiser’s acquired data; how to best represent the brand and generate a quality lead, and to create a solid plan to use the lead once it’s acquired.

Questions to ask when qualifying a vendor include:

  • Is the lead acquired through clear, conspicuous consumer consent?

  • Does the consumer think she’s signing up for a single inquiry or offer when in fact her data will be shared with other third parties?
  • If the consumer’s data is resold, is that clearly stated?
  • Are consumers offered an incentive to sign up for the lead?
  • Is there at least double opt-in permission given by the consumer?
  • Who owns the consumer’s data?
  • How is the data validated?
  • Have you worked with any clients similar to ours?
  • What kinds of targeting options are there?
  • What kind of feedback loop exists?
  • What happens if fraudulent leads are provided?
  • What kind of reporting or data-transfer options exist?
  • Does the provider have a skilled creative staff and statistician in-house?

So as not to frustrate the user and discourage the lead, Michael Weinsoff, president and CEO of Internet Advertising Group, advises seeking a proper balance between posing too many questions and qualifying a lead.

Common Confusions, Misconceptions, and Pitfalls

A common point of confusion lies in the differentiation between lead gen and co-registration. To some, co-reg means signing up for multiple offers at one time, perhaps with just an e-mail address, rather than giving consent for one offer at a time by answering a few qualifying questions. To others, lead gen merely involves filling out a form with specific questions.

Misconceptions abound: Lead gen equals low-quality marketing. Lead gen is only for direct response marketers. You can’t get granularity or predictability with lead gen.

Q Interactive finds the converse true: of its top 100 advertisers in 2006, it had 100 percent renewal. In fact, says Wise, “once an advertiser gets in on lead gen, they don’t want to talk about it because they don’t want their competitors to know.”

Avoid the pitfall of expecting all leads to convert; a poor follow-up plan or slow reaction by sales teams can lead to unsuccessful campaigns.

Untapped Opportunities

Most everyone believes business-to-business (B2B) lead gen has yet to gain momentum. Allan Levy, president and CEO of SilverCarrot, is just waiting for demand to pick up. Prospectiv’s Doyle says, “There is a lot of talk about the international market [and] lead gen on a local level.”

Lead gen has great potential to be part of the media mix, but agencies must develop specific lead-gen strategy and not try to wedge it into a typical display-oriented buy.

For more information about online lead generation, check out our biweekly Online Lead-Gen column.

Hollis is off this week. Today’s column ran earlier on ClickZ.

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