The Press, June 2013

Getting married is probably the most important ‘marketing’ challenge the average person faces. Matching your wants and needs with another human, in a partnership that will hopefully last for life.

As with almost any ‘buying’ decision these days, much of the time it starts online. A recent US study found that 35% of couples married between 2005 and 2012 met online.

It shows how much things have changed in recent years. At the time I met my wife 20 years ago, using online dating would more likely have attracted a hairy, overweight nerd than the beautiful, svelte young lady I met through more traditional means. The internet was then the preserve of a nerdy few.

Today it is pervasive, with few buying decisions not beginning, or at least touching, online. Before you drop every other tactic for promoting your business and focus solely online, the real story is more complicated.

A large international study from online marketing software agency Hubspot offers some relevant insights. Hubspot gathered data about marketing tactics from 3,300 people across 128 countries.

Given the focus of Hubspot, the results of the survey were likely to bias to online marketers. Which make the results all the more surprising.

Overall, what was most interesting was the spread of tactics that companies found most effective for generating leads. There was no one magic technique, almost every approach had some value.

Predictably online tactics were still strong – search engine optimisation (i.e. being easy to find on search engines) was 14%, email marketing 13% and social media 12%. However traditional ‘old’ tactics like trade shows, direct mail and telemarketing were all cited as significant sources of leads (each between 5-10%).

Small companies were more likely to get leads from social media than larger companies (18% versus 7%). Big firms were much more likely to source leads from traditional advertising (11% versus 4%) than their smaller counterparts.

There were significant variations across industries. For technology companies selling hardware products, 24% of their leads came from trade shows, higher than any other sector.

Technology companies selling software sourced 16% of their leads from search engine optimisation.

Cost per lead was on average $US43, with technology hardware companies only spending $20 and software companies $22. Ironically marketing agencies spent the most per lead, at $58.

The real conclusion from the Hubspot study is how broad the potential sources of leads can be i.e. a single-threaded strategy is rarely credible. Any marketer that wants to invest all your promotional funds in a single or small set of tactics, either needs to show very good evidence, or is putting too few eggs in your lead generation basket.

What is critical to understand is that customers will come to you through multiple routes.

International consulting firm McKinsey describe this as the ‘customer decision journey’, fancy consulting lingo for how people or organisations buys, from becoming aware of a brand through to becoming a loyal, repeat customer.

McKinsey makes the very valid point with their model that customers don’t typically travel through a linear buying process, from point A to B to C. It is often circuitous and random, and can differ markedly from industry to industry, company size to company size.

For example, I’ve recently been investigating the purchase of a new ‘wind trainer’, a stand allowing me to ride my bike in the (relative comfort) of my garage on inclement wintery days.

My “customer decision journey” has involved doing a bit of online research, securing funding approval from my personal CFO (my aforementioned wife), talking to a couple of mates about the virtues of rollers and stands, and then visiting an online store to dig deeper. The purchase is yet to be made and I am yet to have any contact with an actual retail outlet.

Studies by McKinsey show understanding the journey your customers travel can make a huge difference to your marketing effectiveness. 50% of the marketing spend of the companies they studied was not aligned properly with the buying process of their customers.

For example, a retailer not investing in a functional mobile website, when 20% of their customers are using smart phones to do price comparisons with other retailers while in their store.

Mapping the customer journey involves talking to your existing customers to really understand all the steps they typically take to choose your product, all the internal and external influences involved, who was in the decision-making chain. That should guide your spend on lead generation tactics, not whether a particular tactic is getting all the press.

Using online channels to make ‘buying’ decisions, whether it is a new pair of shoes or a new life partner doesn't mean you should ignore traditional tactics.

As former All Black coach John Mitchell liked to say it is all about the (customer) ‘journey’. The clearer your understanding of the paths a customer takes to a purchase decision, the better choices you will make on spending your promotional dollar.

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