Gayle Guzzardo serves as chair of the lead generation committee of the Interactive Advertising Bureau. As senior vice president, product management, of Q Interactive, an online marketing services provider, she is responsible for the strategic vision and product development of the company’s online lead generation, email network and analytics teams and its media division, which includes the company’s branded Web properties, including Cool- Ms. Guzzardo holds an M.B.A. from the University of Michigan Ross School of Business and an undergraduate degree from Northwestern University.

PERFORM: First, how do you define online lead generation?

GUZZARDO: In the simplest terms, online lead generation is the act of the consumer filling out a contact form and giving explicit permission to be contacted by the advertiser. Typically, consumers registering on a publisher’s website are presented with one or more lead generation offers. They select the offers they’re interested in, and are then shown a series of forms describing the offer in more detail, with additional fields for them to fill out. If they complete those fields and are still interested in the offer, they hit Submit on that contact form. If they’re not interested after receiving more information, they can hit a Skip button at the bottom of the form. All the data points being shared with the advertiser should be clearly disclosed to the consumer.

PERFORM: So it’s obviously more than just registering to be able to read the content on a website?

GUZZARDO: Yes, typically there will be additional offers and details so the consumer can determine if they’re interested. If so, they take another action or two and give permission to share their data with the advertiser. The traditional payment structure is cost-per-lead, and the publisher hosting the offer will be paid for every valid lead submitted. After the consumer submits the completed form, the publisher collects the data and sends it to the advertiser in an encrypted format.

PERFORM: How big is the online lead generation market, and how quickly is it growing?

GUZZARDO: Online lead generation is the fastest-growing online ad vehicle. I’m quoting May 2007 data from a report by the IAB and PricewaterhouseCoopers, which said that online lead generation revenue comprised 8 percent of yearly revenues, or $1.3 billion in ad spending – up from 6 percent in 2005, a 74 percent growth rate year over year in the category. What’s even more interesting is that it’s growing faster than search. There’s so much press about how search is exploding, but online lead generation is actually growing more rapidly. Search was up 32 percent during that same period.

PERFORM: Is online lead gen included when people speak generically of the growth of online advertising?

GUZZARDO: It should be, yes. The IAB and PricewaterhouseCoopers track online lead generation as a separate category and have done so for the last two years, so they’ve really worked hard to establish its name in the industry. The category is definitely taking off, as evidenced by the large increase in ad spending year-over-year. Online lead generation should be part of the vocabulary of any media buyer, or marketer or agency, just as search or display should be.

PERFORM: What are some possible customer acquisition opportunities with online lead generation?

GUZZARDO: What’s important with online lead generation is you’re actually getting a lead or data for which the consumer has specifically said, “I’m interested; contact me. Here’s my data in order for you to do so.” That’s very different from – let’s take search again – where advertisers pay for a click, which is anonymous. You don’t know anything about that consumer, and if they leave your website after clicking on a link, you don’t have permission to contact them again. That’s why online lead generation is so effective – because the consumer is giving explicit permission to contact them.

PERFORM: How can advertisers incorporate that into their other online marketing efforts? What should they look for in a lead-gen partner?

GUZZARDO: There are providers that specialize and have developed an expertise in online lead generation, and there are certain qualities advertisers should look for when working with these partners. The first is targeting and optimization. The more the offer is targeted to the relevant consumer, the better the quality of leads the advertiser will receive. Providers should also be able to develop custom look-alike models, for which the provider analyzes the characteristics of the advertiser’s leads and creates a targeting model to find additional consumers who fit that same profile.

Secondly, consumers should be able to give explicit permission to share their data, and advertisers should only work with publishers who agree not to share that data with other providers (reselling leads and personally identifiable information without the consumer’s knowledge).

Thirdly, data validation or verification: meaning a consumer may fill out a form, but that lead is only as good as the data within it, so publishers should check for a valid physical address that’s CASS-certified [Coding Accuracy Support System] by the U.S. Postal Service, that the phone number is valid, the phone number matches the name and address provided and the name has been screened for anything bogus or profane. Advertisers should only work with providers offering those services.

Lastly, it’s key that the advertiser can test and optimize their creative. My company has a creative services team of 12 people, whose focus is to create and optimize advertisers’ campaigns in order to improve their ROI.

PERFORM: What are some challenges the lead-gen space faces – say in regulation or best practices?

GUZZARDO: I think the biggest challenge facing lead generation today is consumer disclosure, meaning publishers should disclose all the personal information they are collecting from the consumer. The consumer should fully understand the data they’re sharing will be passed to the advertiser or third parties in some cases. The consumer should understand how their data will be used and by whom; they should be allowed to skip offers easily if they’re not interested. They shouldn’t be forced to complete forms. The publisher should also be able to provide lead codes, meaning if the advertiser is looking to optimize their campaign, the publisher should be able to track where those leads originated from and be able to optimize the campaign according to those lead codes.

Overall, the biggest issue facing lead generation today is probably disclosure to the consumer of how their data is being collected, how it’s used and how it’s shared – and being very up front about it.

PERFORM: Is anyone in the lead-gen space working to establish standards and protect consumer privacy?

GUZZARDO: Yes; the IAB Lead Generation Committee is the preeminent organization that’s been taking a leadership stand in establishing such practices. Last year, we published an IAB Marketer and Agency Guide to Lead Quality. At that time, generating a quality lead was the biggest issue facing lead generation.

Data verification and real-time data delivery are also key to generating the highest-quality leads. In August 2007, we published the IAB Data Transfer Best Practices, outlining proper formats and security requirements for files sent from publishers to advertisers. The committee is now working on a publisher best-practices document, focusing on consumer disclosure. There have been some concerns raised in the industry by the FTC. We’d rather have the industry self-regulate, which is why the IAB is taking the initiative to publish these best practices, hoping the industry will follow.

PERFORM: Is online lead-gen missing any components you would expect to see emerge in years to come?

GUZZARDO: I’m really excited about the future of online lead generation. I am confident that over time, more and more companies and big brands are going to participate and realize the value of it. It’s going to continue to evolve over time and grow and I predict double in size year-over-year and become just as big as display advertising.