In the 1960s, communications theorist Marshall McLuhan announced that "the medium is the message," which gave rise to the idea that the channel has as much impact on the intended audience as the actual content. This heralded a new yin and yang of business communication: Reaching out to customers with a compelling lead generation message is crucial, but choosing the appropriate lead generation channel to carry that message is equally important.
Which channel is right for your business?
A channel is effective if it leads directly to the hearts and minds of the target audience.
The long list of lead generation channels includes print media, broadcast/electronic media, display ads, direct-response advertising, PR vehicles, and word of mouth referrals. So which should you employ? Many small businesses struggle with their lead generation activities because the choices are simply overwhelming, and they don't know how to strategize.
To illustrate, I recently received an email from Elena, whose mortgage business is a year old:
"I hired a telemarketing company to make cold calls, bought a yellow page ad for $500, and am considering buying billboard space at $350 a month. The problem is, I don't know if these are good channels to use or not. Please help."
I suggested that she avoid the flawed channel selection approaches that many small businesses take, and instead concentrate on a specific objective and subjective criteria to direct her decision-making.
Don't follow these flawed channel selection approaches:
- The usual way: Choosing the channel that everyone else in your industry uses.
- The scattershot way: Trying a little of this, then a bit of that, with no strategy to quantify results.
- The traditional way: Advertising as you always have, even when the results are unknown.
Do concentrate on the following objective criteria:
- Reach: Will you reach enough of your target market for a good return on investment?
- Attraction: Once the message reaches a target customer, will they pay attention and be attracted to it?
- Cost: Have you done a cost-benefit analysis to estimate required frequency of exposure? It'll take more than one exposure for customers to "know" you.
Knowledge of your market's preferences is key, so when it's time to finalize your choice of channels, consider the following subjective criteria:
- Target market fit: How well is each channel suited to those you wish to attract? Are they more likely to respond to a personalized letter, or an online banner ad?
- Company fit: What image do you want to project, and what is your company's ability to respond effectively? A radio ad running at noon is useless if your workforce is at lunch and unable to staff the phones.
- Emotional impact: What feelings does the channel itself elicit? Do your customers hate telemarketing but love discount coupons?
- Credibility: How much confidence do your customers place in the channel? Would your ad be more credible to your market if it ran in the National Inquirer, or The New Yorker?
- Intimacy: To what extent does the channel "speak" to your customer?
Choose channels wisely
Clearly, choosing the appropriate lead generation channel to carry your messaging is an important decision, not least because the correct choices will expand the value of every dollar you spend.
As I suggested to Elena, start by evaluating and documenting the pros and cons of all likely channels, including your expectations and predicted results. Avoid flawed selection approaches, and carefully contemplate the objective and subjective criteria. All of these channel selection factors must be considered together when constructing the most effective lead generation strategy for your business.
- The right channel is as important as the right message.
- Successful channel selection begins with a thorough understanding of your customers' interests and preferences.
- Take time to think strategically, fine-tune your message, and evaluate the pros and cons of all channels.
- An effective channel selection strategy involves understanding objective and subjective criteria.