Marketing for Loyalty, Not Leads

Marketing 101 Each of our clients has a unique set of problems or conditions we help them to deal with to accomplish their goals; but the end game seems to always be “sales.” As advertisers, we have been happily charged with that responsibility: delivering strategic messaging to the target audience, creating leads, and eventually, sales. It was golden when we as marketers were able to use consumer marketing techniques to create leads. The days when we persuaded the target audience to notice or prefer a brand, interact and become comfortable with that brand, and eventually test out the product or service.

What the heck is a lead, anyway?

But recently, it seems that expectations have been altered. Companies have become driven by instant gratification, which in turn altered the definition of a lead. For us, a lead can be anything from a consumer visiting a web site or walking into a brick and mortar store location. It’s someone who feels comfortable with a brand or has interacted with a product. But for some, it now seems that a “lead” is a line item in a database – a name, phone number, email address, etc. In some cases we’ve become responsible for immediate spikes in the lead and sales numbers. Unfortunately, this forces us to alter the ad strategy, creating a much more direct response approach. This can be extremely detrimental to the power of the brand long term (e.g. – in desperate need of a giant spreadsheet full of leads, I’m forced to give away something for free to get the lead pipeline flowing, but the brand is not a discount brand).

I’ve seen it firsthand.

In 2010, my conversations with colleagues, vendors, media reps were all the same. Everyone is feeling the pressure of not just creating brand awareness, loyalty, buzz, or Word of Mouth, but cold, hard leads. More than ever, marketing directors seem unconcerned or unimpressed with general metrics like site traffic or top of mind awareness. Sure, they want people on their site, but more than anything, they want phone calls, completed web forms, and people walking in their door. Don’t mistake anything here: those things have their place. But as much as I understand that leads convert into customers who create a sale, we can’t ignore basic marketing techniques that create those leads. If we do, we might sacrifice actual qualified leads and potential brand loyalists for a quick hit to the call center.

Who’s to blame?

Don’t get me wrong – all this “lead” talk might be a sign of the times. Maybe surviving the economy was hard enough for companies. Maybe the recession has made us desperate for anything tangible. But as the smoke clears, I’m hoping that 2011 brings back the true nature of consumer marketing: using good strategy to accomplish traditional objectives, qualify leads, connect with consumers, and bring in those sales, the good ol’ fashioned way.

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