Online advertising lessons learned

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Over the years, we've focused on helping our b-to-b clients capture more leads-and eventual sales-from online marketing. In each case we found that if you map the message, offer and media to each stage of the customer's purchase continuum, you drive a higher volume of qualified leads at the lowest possible cost. Here are a few of those lessons:

1) Use lead-generation programs, but then move on. For some reason, a lot of marketers rely only on white paper postings and search marketing for their entire online marketing mix. Sure, this can be an inexpensive and effective way to reach the target audience and capture some leads. But these methods don't necessarily scale well. If you have more money to spend, invest that money in generating awareness and demonstrating relevance. This is the key to scaling lead generation over the long term.

2) Awareness works hard. B-to-b marketers often overlook the value of creating awareness among their target audience. Awareness isn't a bad word-or even an expensive one-anymore. One of the most effective and cost-efficient ways to create awareness is to go vertical. Larg-format ads fit the bill. Practically all top b-to-b publishers, including the big ones such as and, offer vertical targeting. The trick here is to understand that the money you spend raising awareness doesn't have to translate into immediate leads. Raise awareness with the top influencers and they'll order the right person in their company to become your lead.

3) Actively create relevance. Once you've created awareness, you have to make more people understand how your product is relevant to their needs. Contextual ad placements such as Google Ad Sense and Vibrant Media put your message amid content that demonstrates the relevance of your product to the reader. If someone is reading an article that pertains to your offering, a link beside it screams, "We're relevant." A greatly expanded keyword list is the key to making search marketing communicate relevancy.

4) Nurture the interest you've created. Just because people are interested doesn't mean they're ready to digest 50 pages of your best engineer's writing. Nurturing interest is what marketers do best. Once your target is aware and has expressed some interest-say by clicking on a contextual ad-give them the information they want in a compelling format. Web demos, online seminars and case studies can solidify interest and encourage potential customers to dig into your offering. If all they can get from you at this point is a deluge of phone calls and data, they might just find an easier alternative.

5) Harvest more leads. Once your interested person becomes a true prospect, they need detailed white papers, data sheets, product comparisons, interaction with your sales team, direct mail and maybe a nice lunch. It's now part of the prospect's job to seriously consider purchasing your product. That means he or she wants more than your white paper and is ready for, say, a free trial. We classify people at this point as a "sales opportunity," which is much more valuable than a simple lead.

6) Apply the right value to your efforts. You have to expect that generating a solid sales opportunity is going to be more expensive than generating an average lead. In a short sales cycle, you may be able to attribute revenue generated to each lead. However, if you're like most b-to-b marketers with longer sales cycles, this may not be practical. The key is to determine the cost-per-sales opportunity rather than cost-per-lead. Most b-to-b marketers employ sales automation software capable of reporting which leads drove what sales opportunity. This provides you with a better metric than cost-per-lead, but in a timely enough fashion to optimize your online advertising.

Andy Sims is director of interactive marketing services for San Francisco-based sf interactive, a BSSP company. He can be reached at [email protected]

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