While there are many cogs in the consumer media machine, marketing is the gas that generates the buzz and hum of the moving gears. That’s why we’re taking time this month to talk about strategies that marketers use to convince you to buy more, more and more. We think that once you understand some of the nuts and bolts of marketing you’ll be empowered to self-exit the consumer marketing machine. At a minimum, you’ll have the knowledge that you need in order to make informed decisions about whether you’re buying something because you need or want it or because marketers played with your instincts and desires and neural wiring to get you to buy it. Today, we’ll be talking about lead generation, which is part of the marketing funnel and an essential step in almost any form of commerce.

So What is a Lead?

Not everybody out there in the world is going to be interested in buying your product. That’s a good thing – but it also means that there’s a challenge for marketers. Marketers all have budgets, and they’re all tasked with selling more product than they spent on their budget (except at Postconsumers of course). So if they market out there in a “wide net” manner to, well, everybody in the world, they’re unlikely to do that. A person with a pet cat isn’t likely to buy dog food, after all. So marketers want to establish “leads.” Leads are people who not only fit the demographic profile of those the marketer is trying to reach but who also have shown some kind of interest in the product or brand that the marketer is working with. In the case of our dog food example, the demographic would be pet lovers or dog owners, and the lead would be somebody who is looking for a new brand of dog food or has shown an interest in your brand of dog food.

How Do Marketers Collect Leads?

Marketers collect leads in a number of ways. While some lead collection happens offline (you purchase a product and sign-up for a rewards card that gives people your information), much of it happens online. Have you ever followed a social media account or submitted an email in order to get a discount coupon sent to you? Then you’ve willingly identified yourself to a marketer as a lead. Marketers in general “give you” something in order for you to let them know that you’re a lead. They may be giving you rewards points toward their product at retail stores. They may be giving you offline or online coupons. They may be giving you free content that you have an interest in. If you take a moment to sit down, enjoy a cup of tea and think about it, it’s likely that you’ll think of lots of instances when you gave up a mailing address, a phone number, an email or a social network connection in order to get something. And if you continue to think about it, it’s likely you’ll realize that you also started “getting” certain communications in return.

What Do Marketers Do With the Leads That They Acquire?

Well they contact you and promote their product, of course! How they do that depends largely on what information you’ve given them and how large their company is. Some of the ways in which they’ll contact you will be obvious, and some will be obvious contacts with less obvious ways of your data being used. For example, if you give the dog food company your email so that they can send you a coupon, then they’ll only be contacting you via email. They’ll also be doing that in a “funnel” method that means that you get the coupon. Then shortly after you get a series of other emails designed to get you to buy the dog food. Then if you don’t buy the dog food, you’ll still get emails but they will be less frequent in nature. Everything there is transparent. You gave your email to get a dog food coupon, and then you were emailed coupons based on the request for dog food. But not every use of leads is that transparent.

Let’s say that you sign up for a rewards card at a store that sells a lot of brands and that a requirement of the rewards card is that you give up your email. You notice shortly after that you’re now receiving emails from the store. Alright, that’s all pretty transparent. But what you may not realize is that the store is using data about what you purchased that’s tied to your rewards account to craft the emails that they send you so that you’re seeing the brands or items that are most likely to get you to come back and make another purchase. That part isn’t as transparent, because you likely didn’t think about the fact that you were also giving the store and their marketers purchase and demographic data just by signing up for a rewards program.

Can You Avoid Becoming a Marketing Lead?

In truth, it’s pretty hard to fully avoid becoming a marketing lead. You’d essentially have to never give up any information at all. Or visit any websites (if you’re not familiar with how just your browsing activity can turn you into a remarketing lead, we’ve got an article discussing that as well). But you can make choices after you become a lead that will minimize your exposure to marketing messages. The most important one is to unfollow any social media accounts and, most importantly, unsubscribe from any emails. Any company or brand that sends you emails legally also has to give you an option to unsubscribe or opt-out of their email list. You can usually find the link to unsubscribe in the very small print in the footer of the email. Email, even in the era of social media, is still the number one revenue channel for most marketers. If you remove yourself from the list, you’ll remove yourself from most of the most highly effective ways that they can communicate with you.

Lead generation is one of the staples of good marketing, and how leads are generated has changed over time. But the essential core remains. Marketers are trying to figure out how to identify that you have an interest in their product, get contact information for you and then communicate with you about their product. How much of that information you allow them to have or keep and how you respond to their communications with you, however, is largely within your control.

Did we miss a way that lead generation is impacting the consumer machine? Tell us about it on the social media channels below.

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Photo Credit: Wes Schaeffer via Flickr