In the market or just browsing?

Is a shopper who walks into a market square looking to buy something from one of the stallholders or just passing through? It is a question that goes to the heart of targeting and the way data is captured to drive marketing. Lead generation has become a hot button in recent years because of its promise to deliver prospects who are actively in market.

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As marketers gear up for the biggest shopping season of the year, knowing whether to spend money on reaching an individual has never been more important. If consumer confidence remains stable and the early signs of economic growth continue, the final quarter of 2010 could be a good one for marketers. Even so, keeping down costs and removing waste are critical.

So when is a lead really a lead? Lead generation companies say it is when an individual says they intend to buy a product or service, usually via an online or telephone survey. Who better to ask than the consumer herself about what she is planning to buy, they argue.

In the run up to Christmas, it is a strong argument to make since the annual round of gift-buying eliminates one of the biggest unknowns in marketing – timing. For nine months of the year it is hard to predict when a prospect might buy something (outside of annually contracted services like insurance or mobile phones). From October to December, everybody is in the market for something.

Getting a statement about which products will be bought should therefore keep the targeting tight and the conversion rate high. A counter-argument is that what consumers say is not always the same as what they do. This is the driver of behavioural targeting which argues that watching where a consumer goes and what she looks at online is a better indicator of what she might ultimately buy.

With marketing budgets still constrained, brands can only spend their money once and so have to choose between competing data types. In doing so, they might want to consider how they view another indicator of consumer intention – the Net Promoter Score.

NPS has been hailed for its simple, direct insight into customer satisfaction and therefore profitability. If your customer would recommend your brand to a friend or colleague, you not only suffer less churn, you also gain from positive word of mouth.

The counter charge is that saying you will recommend is not the same as actually recommending. Like the shopper in the marketplace, the sound of approaching footsteps is very encouraging for the traders. Until those shoppers are in front of your stall with purse in hand, however, it is best not to assume too much.

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