Distance to Engagement Determines Awareness vs. Lead Gen

This week, I’m taking a new delineation for a test ride; please comment in agreement, disagreement, disgruntlement, confusion or amusement.

I want to delineate between awareness tactics and lead generation tactics thusly:  an awareness tactic is one that requires an individual to take more than one step to engage.  Lead generation tactics are defined as single-step engagement drivers.

For instance, banner ads, search, emails and QR tags are lead generation tactics; PR, advertising and postal mail are awareness tactics.  Why?  The vast majority of engagement tactics today are online (e.g., web sites, mobile content, etc.).  If I get an email, I’m one click away from engaging with the brand.  If I see a great magazine ad (that doesn’t include a QR tag), I have to remember the URL long enough to type it into my browser.

For metrics purposes, I think this distinction provides a clean demarcation line for determining where to credit engagements.  Of course, this methodology divides direct marketing into two camps:  online and offline.  The online methods—email, SMS, etc.—would be safely in the lead generation camp.  However, postal mail would be considered an awareness tactic.  Traditionally, it has been simpler to classify lead generation as any tactic where you’re sending a message directly to an individual.  My approach says postal mail is really an awareness tactic with a higher response rate than its advertising and PR cousins.

The goal is accurate measurement and appropriate attribution of a tactic’s impact.  It seems to me that the actions-to-engagement parameter is a better classification when it comes to tracking than the traditional direct marketing vs. mass media approach.  What do you think?


A Change is Gonna Come

I’m with Sam Cooke on this one.  For over a year, I’ve been working on a project that represents a massive sea change for our agency.  A fundamental, sweeping, no-turning-back kind of change that I’m not really sure even those who have been proponents thus far fully understand.  Fortunately, our boss does or I’d just save this post for reading at my plank walking (generally, change agents rapidly morph from gurus to pariahs when the changes are implemented).

So, as I spend this weekend working on the training that will make the promise of transformation an irrevocable reality, it dawns on me that the hard part hasn’t started yet.  Sure, giving up most of my nights and weekends for over a year to help ensure we pull this off cleanly has been exhausting—but absolutely worth it.  However, the first rays of the real hard part, the “I was behind this until I realized it impacts my job” part, are just now peeking over the horizon.

The marketing communications industry finds itself in a perfect storm of a jobless recovery (if, in fact, we’re actually in recovery), the dawning of the Social Age, the rise of the third screen (e.g., smartphones and iPads) and a new inquisitor near the head of the agency selection table (i.e., Procurement).

At the agency level, nobody survives this storm on his or her own.  If we cling to that piece of turf we thought was ours, we’re doomed.  “That’s my job” or “that’s my billable hour” absolutely has to be replaced by “how can I help today?” and “what do I need to learn for us to be successful?” or we’ll never navigate our way to calmer waters.

In any symbiotic environment, the organism dies if the symbiants enter self-preservation mode.  And if the organism dies, things don’t end too well for the symbiants either.  To survive, we have to be willing to surrender preconceptions and historical responsibilities.  We have to embrace the new challenges presented and trust that, for a change, good deeds will not only go unpunished but that the rewards on the other side of transformation are worth the effort, the uncertainty, the self-doubt and the short walk off the long pier.

Agencies that reconfigure to weather the perfect storm will emerge stronger, I believe.  And the marketers we serve will be all the more successful for it.

But first, a change is gonna come.  On behalf of change agents everywhere, please check your pitchforks and torches at the door.


Bringing Knives to the Social Commerce Gunfight

When the U.S. entered Iraq in 2003—whether to avenge the 9-11 attacks, sniff out WMDs or just establish a democratic foothold in the Middle East (pick your favorite)—it was widely anticipated that superior organization, firepower and traditional warfare acumen would be sufficient to topple Saddam Hussein and return Iraq to its purported democracy-craving populace.  Someone we’ll leave nameless may have also said something about being welcomed with “chocolate and flowers.”

It didn’t quite turn out that way and the U.S. learned an extremely difficult—and devastatingly costly—lesson:  when the rules of engagement change, no amount of traditional strategy, tactics or muscle are going to override the new rules.

I was fortunate to participate in a clear bellwether that the rules of engagement for marketing communications are in the midst of irrevocable change.  On September 23, Lift Summit 2010 was held in Atlanta, GA.  The theme of the one-day event was “practical, applicable ways that social commerce drives sales,” but the real vibe came from the emphatic nature of each speaker’s tacit proclamation that the real business of marketing is shifting dramatically out of the control of marketers and into the hands of the consumer (for our purposes, “consumer” refers to B2B or B2C targets; we’re all consumers, we just wear different hats at home and at work).

From Eric Bradlow (@ebradlow), Co-Director of the Wharton Interactive Media Initiative, to Sam Decker (@SamDecker) of BazaarVoice, Erik Qualman (@equalman), author of Socialnomics, or Boland Jones of PGi, the undertone was clear:  if you want to optimize sales, you’d better get on the stick when it comes to participating in the social conversations that will drive your business (or drive you out of business).

(One aside:  I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to attend a conference that wasn’t filled with Marketing 101 speakers; the Lift Summit was definitely a graduate course.  It moved quickly and demanded more than a cursory understanding of the social landscape from attendees who, based on the plethora of in-conference tweets, seemed to be eating it up.)

I won’t recap the conference here (you should check out #liftsummit on Twitter or visit an excellent blog recap at http://blog.liftsummit.com/ for more info), but it did completely reinforce how catastrophically wrong it is for marketers to ever accept a traditional marketing plan ever again.

As marketers, we’re literally bringing a knife to the gunfight that is social commerce today.  It’s time to fully embrace that traditional advertising, PR and direct marketing are now merely support tactics for social engagement and nurturing.

We can complain about it all we want, but the marketing funnel of our future is a social graph.  We still need traditional tactics to create “aha” moments and fill in the knowledge gaps that will undoubtedly be created by the less-than-expert UGC opinions that will surround our brands, but—for better or worse—the shopping mall just got razed.  In its place is a bazaar that’s more rave than flea market.  So grab your glow stick and dive in; the only way to understand this world is to immerse yourself in it.

PS:  Don’t confuse “social media” with Facebook and Twitter.  They may be the best known to the masses, but this revolution is way, way bigger.  Oh, yeah, and the fastest-growing social interaction device also makes phone calls.

Intellect is Not Your Enemy

My son, a Senior in high school, was recognized with his classmates during a marching band event last night.  Each student was asked to list the universities to which they are applying (our “home show” came early in the college application season this year) and their anticipated major.  I was distressed to hear only a couple of state schools when my son’s submission blared over the PA system.  Not because they weren’t perfectly fine (and affordable) institutions, but that his real application efforts are directed at schools like MIT, Dartmouth and Princeton.  He’s certainly got the academic credentials to be seriously considered at all three and will likely attend an Ivy League or similarly prestigious and rigorous school (if that’s what he really wants).  But here’s the distressing part:  When I asked why he didn’t at least include them in his list, his response was that he didn’t want his classmates to think he was a pretentious elitist (he actually used a slightly more colloquial and off-color phrase, but his subtext was the same).

This is frightening on a number of levels.  Evidently, to be academically gifted or at least perceived as intellectually superior to one’s peers gets you the same scarlet letter Emma Stone has donned this weekend for “Easy A.”  President Obama is labeled an “elitist” and an “intellectual” derisively by the Fox News-devouring masses (on a side note… I’m not a Republican, but if I was I would be very, very afraid that my party was being overrun by fear-mongering simpletons and that “Red State” is becoming increasingly synonymous with “Red Neck”….).  I won’t retread an excellent essay Joel Stein contributed to Time Magazine a few issues back, but the United States didn’t become a world leader by rewarding and regaling the left side of its IQ bell curve.

The same thing is happening in marketing communications these days (in case you were wondering if I’d be reeling this week’s post back to our usual topicsphere…).  Today’s marcom landscape is incredibly complex, wide-ranging and fluid.  Every message we deliver has even less of a chance of reaching and impacting the intended audience than the ones we delivered last week.  We are sitting at the nexus of shrinking marketing budgets and expanding competition for mind share.

And yet, many marketers are getting increasingly impatient when their agencies respond to requests with intricate, multifaceted solutions.  “I just want something easy” or “we need to start small” are frequent responses.  I promise you, the marketer that wants to solve their business problems by only focusing on tactical band-aids won’t last long.  Marketing is getting exponentially more difficult as social media and mobile channels entrench themselves.  Now that you have fairly instant access to everyone and everything, how much harder will it be to get you to focus on any thing, much less get you to concentrate on that thing I want you to do.

Now is the time when we need to embrace the systems thinkers in our industry (it would be cool if we could embrace them in all aspects of society, but first things first…).  Complex problems require critical thinking to uncover the best possible use of your limited marketing dollars.  Don’t hire Sexy; don’t let your procurement office talk you into hiring Cheap.  Hire Smart.  Surround yourself with thinkers and you’ll save enough to execute cost-effectively and return enough to your bottom line to maintain your employment status.  If enough of us embrace inspiration over perspiration, maybe the intellectuals in our industry can come out of the self-imposed exile necessary to “just get along” and join us at the table.  Marketing is hard enough without killing our companies and our careers looking for the “Easy” button.

Billable Hours and the Flat Earth

For years after mariners sailed beyond the horizon without plunging to their deaths, the question of the Earth’s shape was hotly debated.  Reality be damned; we’ve survived perfectly well on this giant table – who needs a Big Blue Marble, anyway?

It feels like the marketing communications industry is in the midst of a similar debate.

In one camp, we have the Purveyors of Basic Math.  An assignment is considered; the number of hours estimated are multiplied by either the various hourly rates of the team members to be involved or blended into a single rate that makes the math even easier for the prospective client.  In theory, it makes for an apples-to-apples comparison between agencies.  Clients can determine how well they like an approach within the context of the estimated amount and cost of the labor involved.

In the other camp, we have, well, lots of other camps. But one rising unifying principle seems to be compensation based on value, either perceived or derived. So, we’ll call this camp the League of Extraordinary Admen.

The League looks at an assignment, determines level of effort and solution’s potential value.  The solution is then priced and provided to the client, along with a Statement of Work that clearly defines deliverables, timelines and performance criteria.  Clients can then determine if the solution offered is worth the price quoted.  Hourly rates aren’t required in the quote; all the client needs to do is decide what they’re willing to pay for the solution.  If the quote is $100,000 and the agency can deliver the solution in an hour, then the hourly rate is $100,000; if it takes 100,000 hours, the hourly rate is $1.00.  It’s up to the League to make sure achieved hourly rates are delivering the best margins.

To-may-to, to-mah-to, you say?  In both scenarios, hours are being calculated and multiplied by the hourly rates of the team members involved.  The only difference is client transparency, right?  Actually, there are a couple of subtle but important differences.

The first difference is internal.  If you’re billing hours, you’re incentivized to use all available hours to complete your task.  If your productivity is determined based on your billability and there’s no backlog, you have no incentive to deliver your greatness as expeditiously as possible.  You’re also necessarily concerned about bringing others into the mix, because billable hours are perceived as a zero-sum game (an hour for you is an hour I don’t get anymore).  In an increasingly interdependent, multi-channel world, we should be rewarded for connecting minds, not worrying about putting ourselves in hours-deficit situations.

In a project-oriented world, efficiency and collaboration are rewarded.  Get the best ideas delivered quickly and everyone profits.  I’m not suggesting cutting corners; I’m saying that incentives should be tied to ecstatic clients and solid margins, not racking up billable hours.

The second difference is external.  The sourcing pendulum has swung away from strategic partnerships between marketers and agencies; we’re suddenly being referred to as suppliers and spending more time with procurement spreadsheets than helping clients enhance their businesses.  We’re being beaten up by number-crunchers who have little to no interest in winning the hearts and minds of an increasingly distracted marketplace; their compensation comes from helping companies manage the expense line, not enhancing the top or bottom lines.

If we’re going to survive, we can’t just compete on hourly rates and nuts-and-bolts efficiency.  We absolutely have to deliver more with – and for – less until we can prove to our real clients that what we do is worth more than Basic Math.  Customers are won with Extraordinary Admen.  Our best shot is to incentivize our teams to drop jaws and deliver results that are truly valued by business owners.  The next generation of Mad Men will be led by talent that shares in the profits that result from creating passionate customers for clients while maximizing the margins derived from value-based pricing.  We are only worth what we believe we’re worth – and the results we’re capable of delivering.

Speed Dating in the Age of Reputation

I’m wandering past our direct marketing specialist’s desk last week and he tosses out a great line: “I wonder if, maybe, email prospecting is dead.”  We’re close enough to the long weekend that I swim away from the bait, but the comment is worth further examination.

Email prospecting feels a little like trying to find your soul mate by speed dating.  If my brand gets in enough faces, surely one or two will find me attractive.  If I just find the right subject line, creative hook or offer, surely I’ll get some phone numbers.  Or, maybe we’ll just hook up for a quick white paper….

Unlike other forms of online lead generation, unsolicited email violates our personal space.  We can ignore banner ads.  Searches are our ideas.  But email pierces the thin veil of virtual personal space we call the inbox.  No wonder response rates are falling, while the cost of renting decent names is rising.  Maybe it’s actually worse than speed dating.  It’s more like calling everyone in the phone book and asking if they’d like to catch a movie.

We didn’t mean to spam; in fact, we created very strict(ish) rules to set ourselves apart from the spammers.  But maybe we were just kidding ourselves.  Maybe email wasn’t just postal mail without the printing, postage and fulfillment costs.  Our potential customers have to walk to their mailbox before they toss out our slick, oversized postcards; with email, we’re interrupting their trains of thought every time Outlook announces our uninvited presence.

So, as the Age of Reputation takes hold, we have to think extra long and hard about every impression.  Yes, if those potential customers are only made aware of our great brand promise, surely they will bring us willingly into their worlds.

But maybe the manner of impression matters more now.  Perhaps one of Marshall McLuhan’s famous utterances can be slightly amended – maybe, in the Age of Reputation, the modality is the message.  Hot modalities are those that draw us closer to potential relationships (like social media and opt-in conversations, such as Twitter or requested email); cold modalities, like unsolicited email or poorly designed contextual ads, at best annoy and at worst alienate.  A marketing drink in the face, if you will.

Maybe if we want to create lasting relationships, we need to stop speed dating and build our reputations in a way that get our customers to set us up with their friends.  Then, when our email hits their inbox, it might just be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.