In the relatively short history of online media, b-to-b marketers have hoped that lead-generation metrics would validate their decision to invest in the media brands they intuitively knew helped drive sales. At the same time, publishers knew they facilitated the complex process of obtaining specialized, often high-priced, business-oriented products and services, but they weren't necessarily able to translate that value in terms of sales leads.
In spite of its obvious downside, the recent recession may have pushed business media companies to accept the idea that they must play a role in lead generation in order to satisfy their customers' intense need to document ROI at least partly in terms of leads. But doing that, they've also learned, requires changes in the way they operate.
Kevin Maloney, who until recently was VP-sales and marketing for Reed Business Information's RB Interactive, developed and executed the lead-generation strategy for the 3-year-old unit. Many b-to-b media companies went wrong, he said, when they built campaigns based on what they thought they could sell rather than what the customer needed.
“A lot of times, they were pushing the wrong type of lead-gen,” Maloney said. “If the client says, "I've got a $75 product and a low-cost telemarketing team,' you shouldn't try to sell them a program that will cost $25 per lead at the end of the day because it's packaged with reach and exposure [elements] the client can't afford.”
At the same time, “marketers have been focused on leads at the expense of branding, but they are learning that an unbranded lead is often not worth much,” said Tony Uphoff, CEO of United Business Media's TechWeb. “We're starting to see a blending occurring, which we call "branded response' or "performance marketing.' These programs allow companies to present a brand narrative and drive some form of response in a way that's highly integrated.”
Uphoff added: “Most of us in technology [media] have unlocked the lead-gen model so that it's actually quite profitable for us. But we've gone through hell and back to understand the balance between lead generation and traditional marketing tactics and how all the elements work together to drive performance.”
Even companies that have not yet had the same level of pressure to produce leads as the IT media are gearing up to be able to fill new requirements they know will become essential as marketers in their sectors become more sophisticated online.
George Fox is president of Advantage Business Media, which has more than 20 brands in the high- and low-tech manufacturing, industrial design and scientific sectors. Although Advantage has seen dramatic growth in its online media business, Fox said that “being able to use content to drive lead generation and use metrics and analytics to support lead-gen will be critical to our success in the long term.”
Fox expressed concern about the company's current reliance on e-mail marketing to drive leads and said he closely monitors the number of requests from audience members to unsubscribe. “We walk a fine line between registering new leads and losing subscribers,” he said. “The next step for us is to use analytics and metrics to monitor the individual user's consumption of content on our sites so that we can harvest the types of leads that would be of value to the advertiser without being intrusive to the user.”
Michael Alic, who was VP of the electronic media group at Advanstar Communications before recently being named VP-strategic planning, also has his eye on improving his company's ability to nurture leads, which he sees as a different skill set from turning over the contact information of “a possible suspect” who has interacted with a piece of content. “It's not that interacting with a piece of content has no value, but it's not a lead to me until a person has expressed interest in buying a product,” he said.
Equally critical to success in lead generation, Alic said, is the media company's ability to communicate with the client. “You need to have that account management/client services function; otherwise, you just can't do lead-gen,” he said. “You have to be connected to that advertiser and that campaign.”
“How a media company services campaigns has to change to do lead-gen,” said Sean Griffey, president of FierceMarkets, a division of Questex Media that was founded as an online-only media company and later added live and online events to its repertoire.
“In the print world, a sales rep would make a sale, and the insertion order would be thrown over to traffic to fulfill the campaign,” Griffey said. “Lead-gen and integrated campaigns have to be monitored and updated. At Fierce, our marketing solutions group is charged with helping drive business results for our advertising clients. This may mean suggesting changes to creative, developing new ads or making changes to campaigns in mid-flight. This is critical to successfully handling lead-gen campaigns in scale.”
Michael Friedenberg is CEO of IDG Enterprise, a unit formed in April 2009 to bring together IDG's b-to-b brands, including CIO, Computerworld, CSO, InfoWorld, ITworld and Network World.
“We are decentralized by brand on the editorial and sales sides, but there are areas of expertise within our organization that benefit from being standardized. One of those is lead generation,” Friedenberg said. “Our online operations group is centralized within IDG Enterprise so that best practices such as SEM (search engine marketing), SMO (social media optimization) and SEO (search engine optimization) practices, as well as analytics, extend across the enterprise.”
One function that has been driving growth for IDG Enterprise is custom media, which is now centralized. “We certainly have our bread-and-butter white papers, podcasts and other lead-gen, but our custom business is growing quite dramatically right now,” Friedenberg said.
With less scale and fewer resources, small media companies face a unique challenge in executing lead-gen programs, but some are finding ways to commit those resources lest they jeopardize the future of their advertising-based revenue.
As Jack Beaudoin, VP-content and COO of MedTech Publishing, put it: “For smaller companies like MedTech, the danger is that the heavy lifting required to produce this new style of lead-gen programs will be passed to already overburdened editorial, sales and marketing people,” he said. “To combat that, we're in the process of restructuring and creating a team that is responsible for the sales, marketing and content required by our lead-gen clients.” M