In this stubborn b-to-b recession, lead generation has never been more criticalâfor both marketers and the media that carry their advertising.
"Thereâs a greater emphasis on leads than Iâve seen in my career," said Tom Stein, president-CEO of New York-based ad agency Stein Rogan + Partners, a member of the Interpublic Group of Cos. Inc.
Metrics like brand recognition no longer satisfy b-to-b marketers, as they did during the Internet era. Now, b-to-b marketers want qualified leads that result in sales. More than ever, marketing departments need to show top management a return on advertising investment.
The situation has left b-to-b media companies scrambling to provide leads and struggling like never before to prove their value to advertisers. In print and on the Web, b-to-b media companiesâsuch as CNet Networks Inc., International Data Group and Penton Mediaâare creating new ways to add value to the leads they provide advertisers. These new methods include developing ultra-niche Web content and using pop-up sites or other "filters" to collect information on viewers; this information is then forwarded to advertisers.
The efforts are gaining some positive reviews, but there are pitfalls. "In the last few years, a number of publishers have set up either filters or barriers in some form or another to capture leads," said John Dobbs, VP-client services at HSR Business-to-Business, Cincinnati. "Typically, these filters actually get in the way, and they add little value to the advertiser and almost no value to the prospect."
Not like the old days
In the past, b-to-b publications relied on reader service cardsâ"bingo cards"âto process leads for their advertisers. With these cards, trade publications controlled all of the lead data, and advertisers often didnât receive the information their salespeople wanted until four to eight weeks after prospects filled out the cards.
The rise of 800 numbers gradually placed more control in the hands of advertisers. Then the Internet suddenly shifted control away from media companies and into the hands of advertisers. Instead of filling out bingo cards, prospects now type in advertiser URLs.
"The reader service card is pretty much dead," acknowledged Joseph L. Angel, publisher of Summit Publishingâs Packaging World magazine.
The result is that in an era when leads are more valuable than ever, b-to-b publications have less control of them than ever.
"Generally speaking, the control of the lead is in the hands of the marketer, and the [advertising] agency serves as a facilitator of that," Stein said.
Acknowledging that lead generation, for the most part, has moved online, media companies have developed intriguing methods to add value to the leads they do generateâindirectly and directlyâfor their advertisers.
Exploiting the Internetâs ability to target precisely, TechTarget has created such ultra-niche sites as searchstorage.com."If you go to searchstorage.com, itâs not an accident," said TechTarget CEO Greg Strakosch. "You never go to that site twice unless itâs your job."
The targeted content TechTarget creates for the site is enough to attract the type of visitors sought by storage companies such as EMC Corp. Asked the reasons for using the site, Brian Fitzgerald, EMCâs director of integrated marketing, said: "No. 1 is pure leads."
EMC has advertised white papers on TechTarget to attract visitors to its own site. "They stack up very well," Fitzgerald said of TechTargetâs ability to generate leads. "Every year weâve increased their role as a partner."
ZDNet, CNetâs b-to-b technology site, doesnât focus on controlling user information; it focuses on sending its users to advertiser Web sites.
The key, explained Kevin McKenzie, senior VP of CNetâs commerce services, is information. On Web page after Web page, CNet and ZDNet place detailed information about competing products side-by-side and let the customer decide what to do next. If a customer visits a marketerâs Web site, CNet tracks where traffic from its site goes next and gets credit for generating leads.
McKenzie said the control of the lead lies neither with the media company nor with the marketer. The customer is in control. "Itâs all about product information," McKenzie said. "The Internet has made the customer powerful that way."
Traditional tech media companies are taking similar approaches to generating leads for their clients. The best way to produce a qualified lead is to provide the informationâas in-depth as possibleâa prospect would want.
For instance, International Data Groupâs Accela Communications Inc. (formerly known as ITWorld.com) produced a marketing program for 3Com Corp. that revolved around a Webcast and guaranteed a specific number of qualified leads. "Fresh content can be one of the best lead generation tools," said Frank Cuttita, an IDG senior VP.
Featured in the Webcast was 3Comâs embedded firewall security product. The Webcast delivered 59% of the leads guaranteed by Accela for the five-month program in the first four weeks. "Itâs not about the volume of leads," said Bill Reinstein, Accelaâs president-CEO. "Itâs truly about the quality of leads and being able to prove that quality."
IDG offers its Lead Evaluation and Delivery System (LEADS) program, which processes leads in real time and forwards them to an advertiserâs customer relationship management software. Viewers of its Webcast fill out questionnaires detailing what products they are interested in, how soon they plan to buy and approximate budgets.
CMP Mediaâs InformationWeek also uses questionnaires to glean data from its subscription base of 440,000 readers. In a program that is only a few months old, InformationWeek queries subsets of readers on their planned IT spending. If respondents indicate that, for example, in the next 90 days they plan to purchase database software, they are asked if they would welcome contact from specific vendors. If respondents answer yes, they are placed on a list that is offered to the vendors indicated.
"Vendors say itâs OK if you own the lead, as long as we get access to the demographic," said InformationWeek Publisher Mike Friedenberg. "The more qualified the lead the better."
Non-tech b-to-b media companies also have found new and creative ways to generate leads for their advertisers. Hanley-Wood, publisher of Builder and other construction industry magazines, has created ebuild.com, a product search Web site that catalogs appliances, plumbing fixtures and other construction industry staples.
The site is designed to put advertisers in direct contact with contractors, who can link directly to vendor Web sites. They also have the option to enter their contact information, which ebuild.com will forward to the vendor. This option places ebuild.com in control of certain visitor data and ensures that the site gets credit for generating leads.
The site, however, is careful not to become a roadblock between contractors and vendors. "Itâs a principle of online: We donât want to put up a barrier that our users donât want to be there," said ebuild President Mitch Rouda.
On its Web site, packworld.com, Packaging World has developed Packworld.tv, which enables advertisers to post paid product video releases that appear in conjunction with paid search strings. Visitors to Packworld.com can either link directly to vendor Web sites or type in their information on what Packaging World calls a "reply strip." This lead information is then forwarded to the advertiser.
Penton Mediaâs New Equipment Digest, a tabloid that chronicles new-product launches for the factory floor, also has developed new programs to generate leads for advertisers. One is a product launch program that begins generating public relations for new products before their official launch date.
But New Equipment Digest still generates the large majority of its inquiries via the bingo card. Publisher John DiPaola said the reason for the bingo cardâs tenacity is the simple fact that many of the tabloidâs readers donât have easy access to the Internet on the plant floor. "The bingo card is not dead, not in NEDâs world," he said.