Commentary

Value, Simplicity, Trust -- The Keys To Online Lead Generation Success

Developing an effective online lead generation offer can be a daunting task. Consumers are comfortable clicking on a banner or search ad, but getting them to fill out a contact form with detailed personal information as well as explicit permission for the advertiser to contact them presents additional challenges.

Specifically, you must not only grab the consumer's attention with enticing graphics and text, you must also convey enough value in your offer -- and enough trust in your company -- to convince him or her to take the larger step of sharing information and consenting to be contacted. In essence, you must convince the consumer -- in a very short amount of time -- that your company is worthy of a relationship.

To help marketers overcome these barriers, I've compiled the following best practices based on my firsthand experience.

Convey value. It's been taught to every good creative designer in the offline world, and the principle holds true in lead generation. The most reliable way to ensure your value message registers is to state it clearly and concisely in the headline. (Get a free lb. of gourmet coffee.) And if you are a recognizable household brand, take advantage of that by including your brand name and logo in the headline to boost consumer interest. (Get a free lb. of Tasty Bean gourmet coffee).

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Consumers typically "scan" Web pages rather than read every detail, so restate the offer from your headline at the top of the body copy and then reinforce or expand your value message via one or two brief paragraphs (bullets work wonders) describing your company, product or offer and the consumer benefits.

Finally, seal the deal by including a strong call-to-action telling the consumer what to do next: sign up, complete the form, etc. Too many offers end up losing leads because the consumer is not provided a clear course of action.

Look sharp. Bold, appealing graphics that are appropriately incorporated into the design are a hallmark of a successful lead gen offer. At the same time, clip art, animated graphics and any otherwise gaudy image can be the kiss of death because they can remind consumers of spam. While such matters are to a great degree subjective, the key to choosing graphics for online lead generation is to communicate a quality image of your company and value in your offer. Ultimately, an actual product shot is often the best possible choice.

Again, because consumers tend to scan, design for quick viewing as a half-page ad. By keeping your creative "above the fold", i.e. the section of the page that's visible without having to scroll, you are less likely to lose time-crunched consumers who may not bother to scroll down to get your full message.

Keep it simple. Copy and graphics are only half the battle -- the next step is having the right contact form. That means keeping it as brief and simple as possible by asking only the most important questions needed to qualify the consumer for your offer. The more questions you include, the more likely you are to turn off consumers, who are hesitant to give up too much personal information and don't want to spend too much time filling out a form.

Also, stick with one or two types of question formats: check boxes, drop-downs, radio buttons and/or free-form text boxes. An overly busy contact form will lose leads.

Build trust. Trust is absolutely essential to any lead generation campaign. Simply put, no one is going to provide his contact information and permission to be contacted if he doesn't feel your company is credible and trustworthy. As such, avoid language that could be perceived as misleading or questionable, like unrealistic claims or scare tactics used to compel response.

Moreover, use disclosures to prevent any possible misunderstanding of your offer, and present the disclosure clearly and conspicuously. The Direct Marketing Association and the Federal Trade Commission have guidelines for marketers. Be sure you understand and follow these rules, or you may draw some uncomfortable reviews of your advertising.

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