I recently participated on a panel discussion on online lead generation as an approach to finding new customers, with my part focused on the planning phase. Sharing the presentation time slot with two other panelists, I had 10-12 minutes to address the audience on how to plan their online lead generation campaign... a daunting task. My goal—beyond swiftly covering the guidance I had to offer—was to make the actual campaign planning task feel a bit less daunting for my audience.

I’d like to share that information with you, the Liquid audience… and you get the luxury of digesting this information at your own pace.  So let’s get started.

Three key steps are required – and questions to be answered – in the planning phase of an online lead generation campaign:

  • Discovery – “Why are we here?”
  • Determining the right mix – “How will we pursue the objectives of the campaign?”
  • Post-launch support – “How can we ensure suspects or prospects can be converted into leads?

Discovery

A task common to most engagements with Liquid, it’s where we search for the answer(s) to the question: why are we here? The discovery effort allows us to better understand the business – its customers, its competitors, how it operates, and what its expectations are for the campaign – and, therefore, helps define the goals, strategies, objectives, and success metrics for the campaign.

On a quick side note, we find it’s important to be clear on the distinction between the three – goals, strategies, and objectives – to appropriately plan for the execution of the campaign (or most initiatives, for that matter). Your goal, or broad outcome or business driver, may simply be to grow or increase market share. Your strategy will be the approach to achieving that goal; in online lead generation campaigns, that can take one or multiple forms:

  • Informing your target audiences of the availability of your product or service
  • Persuading your target audiences that your product or service is the best on the market
  • Walking your target audiences through the next step in learning about your product or service
  • Simply filling the sales pipeline

And, finally, the objective—our measurable step(s) to achieve the strategy – is precisely what we’re planning for in this blog post: implementing and executing an online lead generation campaign.

A former colleague of mine used a single word to emphasize his ‘discovery’ message to his sales team: TOES, or Turn Over Every Stone. The same mindset can be applied to defining the aforementioned goal and strategy, and to the overall planning effort. From stakeholder interviews and competitor analyses, to surveys of current customers and data mining, there are many questions for which answers are needed.

  • What does a ‘qualified’ lead mean to the business and the sales team? Are we simply building a list, generating a sales lead through a quote or demo request, or looking to build participation in a loyalty or rewards program?
  • Who are our target audiences (prospects / customers)? What message will resonate with them? Where are they, or where do they typically hang out? And why would they be interested in the product or service being promoted? 
  • What role will content marketing play in the campaign? In other words, is there a need to be a [louder] voice heard in the market? Do we need to humanize the brand through storytelling? Do we need to position the business as a thought leader?
  • What capabilities – systems and personnel – does the company have, or need to have in place, to support post-lead capture tasks, especially if lead nurturing is required?
  • What will success look like to the business?
  • What will we measure and how will we measure it?

Determining the Right Mix

Once we have all of the questions answered and a firm grip on why we are here, we turn our attention to the right mix of tactics for pursuing our objectives? From the company website and optimized landing pages, to social media channels and Google search engine results pages, the answers to the TOES effort will inform decisions on where and how to position the campaign messaging.

The information that follows offers some tips for a few key channels likely to be part of any online lead generation campaign.

Websites and Landing Pages

If the company website is the destination for the campaign’s calls-to-action, ensure the website is optimized… not only through SEO best practices, but with a strong user experience within forms (data capture), calls-to-action and, most importantly, on mobile devices. Consider video to engage the arriving audience and if you’re undecided on what messaging and creative elements will ‘hit the mark’ with the audience, define some A/B testing elements to use within the destination page.

Paid Search

The key with paid search is to do your research. Do some investigating to identify keyword targets and to gain an understanding on monthly searches, competition, and suggested bids for those targets. (And remember: much of this keyword research will support SEO efforts.) Once you find your ‘comfort zone’, draft copy for a variety of ad groups and alternatives.

Display Advertising and Retargeting

As I mentioned to my audience last month, this topic alone could warrant a 45-minute presentation. (Look for a post on this topic in the near future.) The digital marketing industry continues to advance in ways to both target and retarget audiences online through display advertising, a few of which may push the limits of ‘creepy’ in the minds of some. Regardless, many options are available to include in the mix for targeting new users and remarketing to those recently exposed to your message:

  • Audience channel and behavioral targeting
  • Geo and IP targeting
  • Contextual keyword targeting
  • Look-a-like targeting
  • Social media targeting
  • Site, search, and CRM-based retargeting

Once the channel plan is defined, it’s time to move on to building the media plan. This step is all about balance and understanding where you can get the most bang for the budgeted dollars in terms of reach, impressions, and estimated click-throughs and cost per activity. Target audience data, ad placements on websites, and scheduling when ads will appear on targeted websites, all play a role in determining the spend on display ads. And don’t forget mobile and video as two display ad channels; the opportunity to reach audiences in these channels should have presented itself in the Discovery phase.

Finally, be prepared to continually monitor, adjust, and manage the display ad elements of the campaign. Follow the Plan-Do-Check-Act process* to adjust bids, update the retargeting approach, and optimize A/B test plans.

Social Media

In addition to using the company’s existing channels to build awareness and connect with potential leads – assuming, of course, it’s an appropriate channel in the mix – also find and spend some time where suspects and prospects are active within the social media landscape. Where are they interacting with others? Sharing information? Recommending products or services? Offering feedback? Find where they are, listen and learn to what’s happening within those social environs, and subtly inject yourself into the conversations. But use caution: coming off as simply being there to promote products or services can lead to backlash from the community.

Content Marketing

If content marketing is determined to be a critical element of the online lead generation campaign, identify what intellectual capital is available to offer, or needs to be produced. From blogs and social posts to help generate awareness, to white papers, case studies, podcasts, webinars, etc., to share product knowledge, content should focus on solutions to known problems of the target audiences.

Keys to Success

Finally, as you work through all of these options to plan the right mix for the online lead generation campaign, keep these tips in mind to ensure success.

Start with a content strategy. A marketing campaign’s best friend, we like to say. Spend some time to define the overarching voice/tone, themes, and topics of the messaging. Develop a “playbook” of how that messaging looks and feels in each channel, and when it should be delivered. (Schedules and calendars are a necessity if a campaign spans multiple channels and several months.)

Consistency and integration are key. If the audience is likely to encounter campaign messaging in multiple channels (touch points), ensure that messaging is consistent, and if part of the plan is to build upon messaging from one touch point to the next, be sure to carry a similar tone/voice through each successive touch point and that each new step feels connected to the prior step.

Traditional still has a place in the mix. Don’t forget the impact of direct mail, print, radio, TV, outdoor, events, etc. Based on what was learned in the Discovery step, these traditional channels may still have a role in the campaign; they could serve as core components of your campaign or simply help strengthen inbound tactics by building brand awareness, reminding prospects who you are, or strengthening relationships with prospects.

Post-Launch Support

Last, but certainly not least, and without stepping beyond the planning phase, it’s important for the business to plan for, and be prepared to, manage the tasks required to turn suspects or prospects into leads. If the online lead generation campaign will require lead nurturing tactics to turn those suspects and prospects into actual leads – and eventually customers – having the resources, processes, and tools in place for appropriate follow-ups is imperative.

Much of this work involves messaging – emails, calls, knowledge sharing, event invites, etc. And while it should be synchronized with the overall messaging strategy, it needs to be personal, timely, and relevant to keep the interest of suspects/prospects and to drive them toward converting to a customer. Remember, we’re trying to build a relationship with a real person. 

*http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PDCA

Len O'Neal

About Len O'Neal

Len O’Neal has almost 20 years of experience in digital media, focused primarily on defining and executing digital and content strategies for a wide variety of audiences and subject matter. He leads our Strategy & Insights team, including Creative Services and Digital Marketing.

Published Jan 22, 2015