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Digital Marketing, Strategy | 18 min read time
Lead Zeneration: Generating Leads Naturally and Closing Them Effortlessly
Written by Kris Asleson

“I love the way an electric guitar sounds,” the customer said. 

“I’m talking Santana on ‘Black Magic Woman’; Dickey Betts on ‘In Memory of Elizabeth Reed’. I want to sound like that.”

The salesman smiled. “Follow me.” 

They walked to the back of the store. the salesman plugged his own Les Paul into a huge, old Marshall tube amp. “Try this.”

The customer jammed for a few minutes. “I love it. How much?” 

lead generation guitar illustration

 

But before the salesman could answer, the price tag was spotted. 

“$5,500? Are you crazy?”

The salesman started explaining how the greatest guitarists used vintage-style tube amps like this one and how even they couldn’t have achieved such rich tones on a modern digital emulator.

“Wait, you mean you could have shown me a brand new, digital amp that can model this tone–plus hundreds of others–for a quarter of the price?”

The salesman nodded, but clarified that no digital rig would ever sound as good because–

“Man, even if I was made of money, I’d have to skin myself alive to pay that price. Never mind.” 

The customer set the salesman’s guitar down on the floor in a huff and pounded out of the store without another word.

That night, the dejected salesman logged into his favorite discussion forum, “Guitar Hobbyist.” He read a post from a user named PurexSounds85:

No matter how I mess with the settings, I can’t make my state-of-the-art digital amp sound as good as Betts’s does on “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.” How did he do it?

The salesman thought of his angry customer and sighed. Under his own username, ProGearMan, he responded:

They used old-fashioned tube amps. A digital one turns your tone into computer data and then back into a tone. There’s no coming back from that. It’s fine for sampling different sounds but if you want one really good one, you have to use old-fashioned tubes. It’s more expensive that way but sadly, that’s the way it is.

While reading another discussion on the forums and drooling over the gear mentioned in it, the salesmen received a response notification in his browser:

I was afraid of that. Guess I’ll have to start saving up. I saw your username–do you sell these things? You sound like a good guy to buy one from.

How to Generate Leads Like a Person

 

“…we must not call them chumps any longer, nor marks…” Marks weren’t people to them; they were blobs of nothing, hardly seen, whose sole function was to cough up half-dollars for the take. -Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land

sleazy salesman

 

There is an inherent conflict of interest between buyers and sellers. 

A buyer needs a good or service, no matter where it comes from; a seller needs sales, no matter who they’re to. 

Buyers have gotten savvy to this over the last hundred years and are now almost always on guard.

After all, have you ever heard a human being ever use the words “lead” and “generation” in the same sentence while on a camping trip with their family?

No. Because…

Customers don’t want to be leads, and they certainly don’t want to be generated.

In the story above, the customer ends up feeling like one of Heinlein’s marks, even though he’s come into the store intending to buy. PurexSounds85 is the opposite; he enters the “Guitar Hobbyist” forum intending only to ask questions and ends up trying to buy.

What’s the difference? And what happened?

The customer feels like he’s being sold to. The forum user feels helped.

This is a pretty straightforward idea. So why do so many business get it wrong online?

Mostly, because their thinking around marketing on the web is stuck a decade or more in the past.

“Back in the day,” internet marketing just meant marketing on the internet – however you wanted to do it. It wasn’t hard to gain an advantage because the competition simply wasn’t there yet.

Now, doing bad marketing on the internet is the equivalent of putting a cheap, poorly-designed sign for your storefront and feeling great about how you are promoting your business because you “have a sign(!)”

So what do we do?

To start, we step into our superfly marketing time machine to gain some perspective.

A Brief History of Time Lead Generation 

lead generation history

 

Principles of lead generation can be traced all the way back to barter economies, and the beginning of human consciousness for that matter. 

Even other mammals understand the idea of generating interest in something you have and don’t need, in order to get something you need and don’t have.

Sales and marketing tactics, like many other trends, often march in step with diffusion of innovation theory.

This fancy-sounding idea, framed around marketing principles, can more or less be summed up as “the early bird gets the worm.”

When a new innovative idea enters the scene and gains a little traction, it begins to work wonders from a sales perspective.

The market is wide open and unsuspecting

Over time, everyone starts doing it until supply outpaces demand, and the strategy dies. The cycle then repeats once a new platform emerges.

diffusion of innovation graph

What happens when that next idea is something known as…the internet?

On the Punctuality of Birds

 

When the internet was first invented, it was such a quiet room, so to speak, that you could hear anything that happened in it. 

Users clicked on banner ads for the sheer novelty of it. “Look, it’s a whole different website! Ooh, is that for sale?”

It was the dawn of the internet–the part of the day when almost everyone is still asleep and even the people who are awake can’t really see anything yet. 

It didn’t take long, though, for advertisers to figure out the game and flood this new web of the wide world with tricks and pleas for sales. 

And as a result, these early birds happily spent the first days of the internet gorging on new kinds of worms. 

By the time the rest of us came around, there were fewer worms and more birds. 

And just like that, the internet became like everything else–overcrowded with ads and other low-value content.

lead generation early bird

The First Banner Ad

 

It all started in 1994, when hotwired.com ran the internet’s first fourteen banner ads. 

Some of the brands involved were MCI, which was still a phone company, Zima, which was still a clear beer or something, Volvo, and AT&T. 

The AT&T ad has been adopted by history as the representative “first internet ad ever.” 

It was an all-black rectangle in which big letters said, “Have you ever clicked your mouse right here? YOU WILL.”

first banner ad hotwire

Clickers were taken to a very grey page that linked to, from top to bottom, a directory of art museums, a page on which to learn about “the latest in technology from AT&T”, and an adorable comment card: “You want a valuable Internet experience, we’d like to deliver one. Please use the following space to tell us what you’d like to see AT&T do on the Internet.”

If you clicked on the “latest in technology” link, you’d find a menu of more links, two of which were, “Home Page: All you ever wanted to know but were too afraid to ask…” (about AT&T?) and, “800 Directory: The entire toll-free directory, online!”

At one point, 44% of the people who saw AT&T’s ad clicked on it

By the time we hit 2020, the average for banner ads in general is less than half of 1%.

Red and Blue Oceans

 

If your goal is to cause the customer to willingly give you her attention, isn’t the solution obvious? You must offer her a thought more interesting than the thought that currently occupies her mind. This does not require shouting. It requires art. -Roy H Williams, The Wizard of Ads

red and blue oceans illustration

AT&T got almost half of its ad’s viewers to click on it, just by asking them if they ever had. 

Can you imagine? “Hi, The Internet. May I have some eager, curious leads, please? Thanks!”

The folks behind AT&T’s ad really wanted to make it stay that way. “We came with the attitude that this was a sacred ground. The rest of advertising had been ruined and dammit, we weren’t going to let that happen this time.”

Except it did get ruined. 

As we users kept clicking these newfangled ad thingies, we caught on. “Oh, that’s all they do,” we said. 

The big, blue ocean of, “Here are some free phone numbers! What else can we get for you?” had been stained by the familiar chaos of commerce–not to mention viruses. 

This reddening of peacefully empty, blue space has always happened. For example, in 1835, there was one billboard in New York. It was 50 feet square and, presumably, awe-inspiring:

billboard example

But by 1870, there were something like 300 billboard companies. There was even at least one trade association for full-time billboard professionals by 1891. 

Whereas staring at a giant picture of someone’s face may have been awe-inspiring in 1835, today, we practically avoid turning our heads toward a billboard. “Don’t bother me with that mess!” 

It’s not enough anymore for a billboard to just exist. That ocean is too red. 

Obviously to some, not so much to others, we’ve crossed that threshold in internet marketing now. If you’re a small business owner and you want to take or improve your marketing online, you have to get savvy about it or hire someone who is. 

In addition to being much prettier than AT&T’s 1994 website, you’re going to have to get interesting

It’s the same with internet marketing. It used to be enough to just show up and wave your arms. But today, that’s only enough to get waved away. 

Of Selfies and Selflessness

 

So, if a brand could get into a bunch of regular people’s Instagram selfies, it would undoubtedly be good for that brand. After all, any publicity’s better than none, right?

This is what Wheat Thins thought when they rolled out a selfie contest in 2014. A prize would go to the ten participants who got the most likes on their Wheat Thins Instagram selfies.

It was great for Wheat Thins because to qualify, you had to also follow @WheatThins and post two prescribed Wheat Thins hashtags, which are both things that absolutely no one would ever do, ever, if they didn’t win a prize for it, ever.

The prize was a personalized selfie from Kelly Osbourne. One… cracker rep?… told the crowd, “You’re going to be tagged in it. It’s kind of an amazing thing because it’s going to look like, ‘Hey, Kelly Osbourne is my new bestie and she just sent me this photo!’” In 2014.

Instead, this happened: 

kelly osbourne wheat thins selfie contest

 

#oof.

A potentially solid idea just couldn’t help itself from oozing corporate ideals with its execution.

Let’s look at something different, that worked a lot better.

In 2019, a rapper named Mac Lethal, who still has never been as famous as Kelly Osbourne was until just a few years before the contest, sat down at his computer and made a six-minute YouTube video, asking his fans to donate to a certain woman’s GoFundMe campaign. 

Viewers watched as he went to the GoFundMe site, typed “cancer” into the search bar, swore for a few minutes about how many results he got, and then effectively closed his eyes and clicked on someone. 

He ended the video with a minute-and-a-half-long song about the person whose campaign he’d found, just based on what he’d learned from her campaign page. “Sometimes, you need to help people. Thanks for your time. My name is Mac Lethal.”

After six-and-a-half hours, the guess around the selfie booth was that “fewer than 100 people” had entered the contest. Reminds you of certain click rates, doesn’t it? 

When the mugshot above got posted, it “drew 20 comments; one was about Wheat Thins….” 13,800 likes, though. That almost seems more like it until you find out that another recent post of her dog in a wig was liked 32,000 times. As of this writing, over six years later, the Wheat Thins mugshot has not yet broken 14,000 likes. 

Mac Lethal’s one-year-old video, however, has about 28,000 likes (421,000+ views). Also, he hashtagged it and six other videos with #RandomRapsofKindness; those seven videos combine for almost 2.6 million views right now. 

Also, it hit its funding goal. In its first 48 hours, “Rapping About a Random Girl’s GoFundMe Page” attracted enough views to raise the remainder of her $50,000 goal–$33,000. 

Bonus: (Mr.?) Lethal’s video also serves as a quick tutorial for anyone with a little following on how to make the world better, literally whenever they want. One finds oneself hoping he gets as famous and successful as he can for whatever he wants, if it means more hurting people get helped. “Doesn’t YouTube pay you after your video reaches a certain number of views? Let’s go watch his some more!”

Starting to make sense?

Good!

Now let’s discuss how you can implement these own ideas into your business’ marketing efforts.

Focus on Soul, not Scale

soul not scale

So, what’s the common theme here? All of these examples are genuine marketing efforts that put the business at risk, in a way. It wasn’t about them. 

Here are four timeless ways to be authentic and approach your marketing right way:

1. Be a human, not a business

Many businesses have a hard time resisting the urge to dress up in their Sunday’s best whenever they put out marketing communications.

Professionalism is important, but not at the expense of connection. Even in B2B spaces, it’s still one human buying from another. 

As the internet becomes more and more crowded, authenticity has become the holy grail. So much so that Jimmy John’s, a staple American sandwich shop, ran what could perhaps be the worst campaign if judged by your 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Douglas.

jimmy johns reddit ad

Mrs. Douglas (bless her heart!) was not the target audience of the brand’s campaign, however. The ad was served on Reddit, which has an internet-savvy audience — an audience practically begging for a fun, original, and human experience.

MS Paint ads may not be the right answer for every business, and being professional does not mean you can’t be human. But, getting in the mind of your customers as human beings rather than your own mind as a marketer is a skill you must develop to successfully promote your business online.

2. “Scale the unscalable”

When a business behaves like a human, magic can happen.

This was the case in 2013, Gary Vaynerchuk tweeted, “Good morning everyone – need anything?” Public figure that Vaynerchuk is, the tweet got responses. One response was from a user named Daniel Bentley: “eggs, I’m out of eggs.”

Vaynerchuk responded, “address ? I mean it” An hour later, Bentley answered the door to receive an order of 240 eggs on his behalf. 

gary vaynerchuk delivers eggs

And then Bentley wrote a Medium article about the experience with a picture of Vaynerchuk’s Twitter handle which, in turn, HuffPost published a second article about. Then, Forbes mentioned both articles, and then we wrote this article about all three. 

Gary V. may be a love-him-or-hate-him personality, but when it comes to this marketing concept he’s right on the money.

3. Tell stories

Pop quiz: which is easier to do?

  1. Quote the mission & vision statement of your favorite company?
  2. Describe the plot of your favorite movie?

Our brains are wired to latch on to narratives. The abstract and aspirational have their place, but a memorable story lives forever in our minds — even if we only hear it once.

Companies like StoryBrand have mastered the art of communicating their value proposition in the form of a story that follows a similar story arc to those used in blockbuster movies and bestselling novels.

As the good folks at I Love Marketing covered in a fantastic podcast diving into the art of storytelling, honing your skills as a business the same way you would if you spent regular time with friends around a campfire is a must.

campfire storytelling illustration

4. Referrals and social proof

When people decide they can no longer trust an advertiser, they turn to each other.

In an age of endless retargeting, fake reviews, and other marketing gimmicks that do all they can to stay one step ahead of us, our fellow human beings become a lifeboat. If authentic endorsements were a publicly-traded company, Wall Street would be all in.

great review example

Even businesses that think that “reviews don’t matter in their industry” are becoming less and less right with each passing year. The importance of real, verified confirmation of your business’ integrity, value and operation is nearly universal — whether you sell hot dogs from a food cart or hot tubs to a warehouse.

If you don’t have an organized, efficient process for gathering and sharing feedback from your customers, you’re losing ground.

Conclusion

 

There had been no personal advertising in the Boston of [my vision]… but here the walls of the buildings, the windows, the broadsides of the newspapers in every hand, the very pavements, everything in fact in sight, save the sky, were covered with the appeals of [advertisements]…. However the wording might vary, the tenor of all these appeals was the same:

“Help John Jones. Never mind the rest. They are frauds. I, John Jones, am the right one. Buy of me. Employ me. Visit me…. Look at me. Make no mistake, John Jones is the man and nobody else. Let the rest starve, but for God’s sake remember John Jones!” -Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward

When communication mediums get invented, the early corporate activity on them doesn’t count. It’s not marketing yet. That’s partly because they don’t know the controls well enough to move on from how to use them to what to use them for. 

But it’s also partly because you don’t have to do anything special in the beginning to reap magnificent marketing rewards. You can do anything you want– “Let’s all take pictures of something! How about that cracker poster!” –and people will show up out of curiosity (which does have its place in marketing, but must be understood as such). 

It’s just that the novelty wears off–quickly in technology, Lord knows–and when it does, the content of your messages has to be worth taking in. 

The honeymoon/probation period is over. We’ve moved on from, “It’s working!” to, “Alright, it works.” 

From then on, relying on the communication medium to be interesting for you will get you a practically unanimous wall of, “Tell us something we don’t know.”

Marketing is for making people get really interested in things because of primarily what they are – the wheres and whens are just tactical components. Whatever marketing operations you undertake online, be interesting and be lovable.

If you’re working with a good agency, you can track the results and brainstorm tweaks once you get started. But it’s a whole lot easier to tweak something that’s good to make it also lucrative, than it is to tweak something that’s bad to make it good and lucrative. 

Or at the very least, just try helping people (#RandomRapsofKindness) before you ask them to help you back (@WheatThins).

PS: If you enjoyed this article and want help with your own Lead Zeneration strategy, click here to book a free strategy session with our experts.