When you think of lead generation, do you think of:

  1. A co-registration checkbox that appears on the sign-in page of a website?
  2. Receiving a weekly file with the name and basic contact information for potential customers?
  3. Uploading those names into an e-newsletter database and then moving to the next item on your to-do list?
  4. All of the above?

If you answered a., b., c. or d., you’ve missed five years of evolution in the lead generation area. And if you’re just using lead generation for cheap and easy newsletter sign-ups, you’re missing out.

More sophisticated strategies, backed by more powerful technologies are enabling marketers to hone in on their target audiences in ways that were unheard of five years ago. As never before, there are immense opportunities for marketers to use lead generation strategically and in a way that deepens understanding of consumers, increases acquisitions, strengthens brand loyalty and enhances customer retention.

Robust Profiles

The integration of behavioral data and traditional lead generation data can help marketers generate robust consumer profiles that go far beyond name and email address and allow marketers to expertly reach their ideal consumer. Let’s say a consumer’s Web use reveals interest in both alternative medicine and online degree programs. In this case, an online university might decide to place a lead on a website that sells herbal remedies. Not an obvious strategy, perhaps, but one that is being used increasingly as it becomes easier to leverage so-called “segment” data.

There are scores of off-line data companies that comb through public records, surveys and warranty cards to amass databases with a treasure trove of consumer information: household income, marital status, ages of children, home ownership, educational level, travel histories and so on. This creates the ability to gather highly predictive consumer data on behaviors, interests and lifestyles. Furthermore, the information can be sliced and diced into dozens of micro-demographic groupings. Lead generation firms can leverage this type of consumer profile to enhance the data they send back to their clients or to target advertiser offers in their network more accurately. Marketers can leverage this information across multiple customer touch points, including websites, call centers and email campaigns.

It’s also worth noting that this type of consumer information is continually updated, so the data remains fresh and actionable. This gives lead generation firms and co-registration companies tools for increasing offer acceptance rates.

Well Scrubbed

More sophisticated technology has dramatically increased the ability to generate lead data that is accurate, valid and free of duplicates – in real time. This means that marketers pay only for leads whose mailing addresses have been verified through the U.S. Postal Service and whose email addresses have been verified through a third-party database. Again, scrubbed and validated leads can be provided instantaneously, so consumers can be contacted while they are still interested and receptive.

Lead generation can be a powerful tool if it’s part of your overall marketing strategy. This means that good communication is critically important between lead generation providers and marketers, including discussion of your conversion targets, how you plan to follow up on leads and whether this follow-up can be customized. The more information you can share with your lead generation partner, the more opportunity there is to develop a sophisticated, cost-effective solution.

Here’s an example. A travel site wants to generate leads for its offer, “Get a Free Family Travel Planning Guide.” The target audience is mothers, 25 to 45 years old, with specific behavioral and psychographic attributes. The travel site places its ad, and positive responders are asked to provide answers to questions about desired destination, budget, number of family members and their ages, and timing of the trip. Answers to these questions can generate a very rich lead profile with several crucial data points.

Now suppose the travel site has a call center that can accept real-time leads and can tailor its script to customer responses. The center can instantly follow up with a phone call based on unique user information – families with very young children, families that want to travel to Europe or any number of other attributes. Being able to reach consumers in such a personalized way vastly increases the potential for converting to sales.

Privacy Please

There is a flip side to all of these new capabilities, and that is the issue of privacy. Our ability to dig deeper into people’s behavior also raises concerns about protecting consumer data. Advertisers and publishers are taking the cue from the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) best practices guidelines for data transfer, which spell out how advertisers should be collecting consumer data so that it is protected. Furthermore, the IAB is working on additional best practices and guidelines that will ultimately form the game rules for how the interactive lead generation industry functions and services its clients.

Our future success is contingent on earning and maintaining consumers’ trust. So it’s important for lead generation providers to ensure a consumer-friendly environment where users are explicitly asked for permission to be contacted by advertisers. And advertisers must require their publishing partners to send data to them encrypted, according to IAB guidelines.

Today’s lead generation players use vastly more sophisticated processes than even just a few years ago. This offers great opportunities for us to work together to use data collected online more effectively, creatively, strategically and responsibly. When you plan your programs, know what’s available, what’s new and what’s coming down the pike – both in terms of technical capabilities and best practices. Overall, staying ahead of the competition means staying ahead of the curve, and the next generation of lead generation is no exception.