Don’t follow lead gen over the cliff

12-02-13-Paul-Millerby Paul Miller, CEO, UBM Advanced Technology Group (UBM Electronics, UBM Channel, UBM Canon Media)

From new software “Apps” for mobile devices to social media powerhouses promising anything from peer recommended buyers to local augmented reality solutions that will show you which of your friends are eating in a certain restaurant and what they are thinking of their meal (check out the Oink App!), we are bombarded with new ideas for interacting with customers.

As someone who has spent an entire career in the tech media space and most of that in electronics, I have had the opportunity to see what technology can and will do to many industries from consumer electronics to the factory floor, from communications to medical solutions, and media is not immune. Indeed, information industries are likely to continue to be the most affected by the convergence of computing, communication and consumer technologies. Today, in the b-to-b space, this technology lead disruption is experienced in the areas of “Big Data,” marketing automation and the “democratization of information production” (think blogs, communities, forums, etc.).

These technologies have offered the marketing community a route back to the board room, out of which they were unceremoniously dumped in the late 1990s as the profession was unable to provide accurate measurement for the dollars spent on creative brand building campaigns. With the rise of Google, it was “simple” – you only pay if someone “clicks” on your keyword and ”hey presto” you have an “interested customer”(why else would they come to your website?)

As the “noughties” decade rolled on, it just got better and better for marketers as they could reach customers via the “free” social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Then came the revelation that we were simply driving people to a website that didn’t work well or provide a great customer experience. Millions of dollars of focus group research with sophisticated eyeball tracking and integration of websites with back end CRM systems promised to solve the problem. However, by 2009, the world economy hit a major speed bump and we realized that all of the websites looked the same and all of the “leads” we were generating were hard to measure in terms of quality. Again, technology promises to solve part of the problem with the advent of marketing automation software solutions from Eloqua and Marketo (and a stack of others).

It turns out that strong brands with great content targeted with the right information at the right time with the right software can help us “score” visitors to the website. With the right amount of attention and care, marketing pros can nurture the lead through to sale (and beyond!) – for each dollar invested in marketing we can drive $5 of sales…marketing is back!

However, as always, the overhype of each new technology is bound to be followed by a trough of disillusionment. When I have seriously questioned customers on if they can truly measure sales of marketing dollars and, if they can, how about we media companies get to see two dollars for every five we are measured to create, it turns out that the measurements are pretty rudimentary despite all the technology- who gets the credit in a complex BtoB purchase? Is it the first generator of the lead of the last click?

The analogy I often use is that this holiday season, I was at the movies with my family and we saw the trailer for the new Peter Jackson film – The Hobbit – which will hit cinemas in December. No doubt we will see further trailers, film reviews, advertisements, billboards and, eventually search on Fandango for local showings and, buy the tickets. What marketing tactic actually created the purchase of four tickets to the show??Which has the most influence? Does Fandango get all the credit? What if my trusted friend tells me that he saw a pre-release version and it is awful and I decide not to see it after all?

The part of the story that I have missed in this blog (and the part that is nearest and dearest to my heart) is that “traditional” b-to-b media companies have been written off as “yesterday’s thing” – in response, the industry’s approach has been to (over)promise leads to its ever hungry customer base. In my opinion, this has been done at the expense of the audiences we serve – bombarding readers with e-mail invitations to webinars that they do not want to go to or for products in which they have little interest. This focus on generating leads for advertisers risks destroying the one thing we have as an industry – the trust of our readers.

Of course, generating leads is where the money is today, so none of us can ignore the revenue potential, BUT there is so much more to our offering than bludgeoning our database to death with offers they don’t want (maybe even our own products!). We are experts at creating content on subjects that our customers dearly need help with, we can sell our expertise on our readers to customers and help create products that the reader and advertiser benefit from and, even if these fail, we can join with our customers and sell our readers products directly – now that’s lead generation with immediate payback!

I expect the chaos to continue, content to remain king and engagement as queen – I also expect that technology will continue to offer solutions connecting buyers and sellers – however, destroying the relationship that we have with our audience is simply a disaster waiting to happen, and this article in Fast Company really captured the value of trust for me.

Paul Miller was appointed Chief Executive Officer of UBM Advanced Technology Group which is comprised of UBM Electronics, UBM Channel and UBM Canon Media in January 2012. Prior to that Miller served as CEO of UBM Electronics and UBM Canon (Publishing) following the acquisition of Canon Communications LLC in September 2010. UBM Electronics was formed by the merger of UBM’s EE Times Group with the Canon Communications electronics business. Miller also served as CEO of UBM’s EE Times Group, a global leader in media and marketing services for the electronics industry. In addition, Miller is a board member of the eMedia Asia Joint Venture (a Global Sources and UBM joint venture producing EE Times print and online and events in China, Korea, Taiwan and ASEAN) and a board member of Design & Reuse, an IP Catalog information company headquartered in Grenoble, France.

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