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The Battle For Your Brand Part 3: Lead Alchemy

alchemy graphic
Dan Bedell

A friend and employee of mine recently bought her daughter a Disney Cruise as a Christmas present. This was a real coup because it saved her the turmoil of trying to wade through the dozens of new dolls and various princess paraphernalia that inevitably fill Target shelves and children’s programming in Q4. She won’t even be at home on Christmas—she’ll be somewhere in the Caribbean with no presents. I envy this. The interesting thing is that this Disney cruise wasn’t a stroke of genius she concocted to avoid the insanity that is Christmas with a small child. In fact, the day she bought it, she woke up thinking that she was going to have a “normal” Christmas filled with too many presents that she didn’t really want to buy and that her daughter would be bored with after a few days.

The holidays give me anxiety because I’m really bad at picking out presents. So I tend to wait until December 22nd then rush ship a bunch of stuff from Amazon Prime. But I worry about presents for a month or two leading up to the holidays. So much so that when a promoted post about Nespresso came up on my Facebook feed in September I almost jumped for joy! One Christmas present off the list! This was exactly the same process my employee went through: she saw an ad for the cruise and realized she could solve so many problems by making a simple (if expensive) in-the-moment purchase. She didn’t know she wanted a Disney cruise and I didn’t know I wanted a Nespresso machine. But we both jumped instantly as soon as we saw the ad. If Nespresso or Disney had waited for either of us to search for any of the keywords ("coffee maker", "cruise with kids") so they could show us a PPC ad, they'd have been waiting forever.

And THAT’s what this has to do with broken automatic gates. And plumbers. And attorneys and weight loss centers and restaurants and pretty much any business that sells things. Let’s look at it from the perspective of a plumber, to make this point clear.

At any given time in Dallas, TX there is a finite number of people actively searching for a plumber. If the plumber’s marketer is doing a good job and has a sufficient budget, that plumber’s PPC ad will show up each time someone nearby searches. And so will the plumber’s competitors’ ads. And the consumer will make a decision about which plumber to call at that moment.

But at any given time there are a LOT more people in Dallas in need of plumbing services who have not yet typed “plumber near me” into Google. My upstairs tub had a small leak for weeks and I didn’t call the plumber until I saw a water spot on the ceiling. Oops. I knew about it—I just hadn’t gotten around to dealing with it yet. Just like I haven’t gotten around to shopping for any number of things I know I need to buy.

Google calls the moment when a searcher actively types those critical keywords into the browser the Zero Moment of Truth or ZMOT. For years and years, digital marketing has been built around the zero moment of truth. Optimizing spend, choosing the right keywords, day parting, adding negatives, bidding each keyword just right—all constructed to convert the searcher who gets to the zero moment of truth. But there are always only a finite number of people who are actively in the ZMOT at any given time. What about the plumber who can handle more jobs than there are people actively searching? The plumber who wants to grow? There’s no such thing as lead alchemy, right? How can you make more customers than there are leads?




  1. the medieval forerunner of chemistry, based on the supposed transformation of matter. It was concerned particularly with attempts to convert base metals into gold.

OK, this is an extreme analogy perhaps, but useful for illustration purposes. There’s nothing medieval about proactive marketing. In fact, I prefer the term pre-conversion optimization: marketing directly to your most likely customer BEFORE he or she searches. And I’m not talking about slapping up a bunch of banner ads all over the internet. That’s already been tried.

So what’s different now? Yes—that’s the right question to ask because that’s why this matters. That’s why I was shown a Nespresso ad and not a Disney Cruise ad.

Have you ever had one of those really creepy moments when you had a conversation about Nikes or Beyonce, or the new Jack Ryan show, or maybe getting an MBA only to be shown ads for that exact topic on Facebook or Google later that day? Is Siri listening to our conversations?? Well of course she is or she couldn’t respond to you when you called her. But that’s not really the point. What’s actually happening is “audiences”. Both Facebook and Google have been watching what we do for a long time now. They know what we look at, what we read, what we buy, and where we go. So they know that I look a lot like other people who’ve bought Nespresso machines and she looks a lot like other people who’ve bought Disney cruises. It’s not just that I’m a 40-something married white male or that she’s a mom with a kindergartner. Those are helpful signs, but when you add in all the other data about what I search for, what I buy, what I like, what I read, where I check in, who I follow and what I comment on, I look a lot like the other people who’ve already bought Nespresso machines. Even if I don’t yet know I want a Nespresso machine.

And this concept applies to almost all things that can be sold. It’s always been the dream of marketers to focus only on the most likely consumers of a product. But Facebook, Google, Amazon, and other big retailers have upped the ante on profiling and audiences. (Many of you have heard the possibly apocryphal tale of the pregnant teenaged Target customer.) What this specifically means is that we can more accurately than ever predict a consumer’s behavior before they search for products and services.

And there are other reasons why it’s going to become increasingly important to not have all your marketing eggs in the PPC-only basket. While I’m a fan of smart branding and awareness marketing, lots of businesses just don’t feel like they have enough budget to run awareness marketing AND run conversion marketing. I’ll get into awareness and branding more later, but I’m talking about conversion here. Or pre-conversion optimization: showing advertising to your most likely customer/client BEFORE he or she searches.

So...should you be running some kind of pre-conversion optimization campaign? Why should you potentially spend more on digital advertising via channels like Facebook, YouTube, and programmatic display?

You should be doing this if you want more business than your PPC can realistically drive. There are plenty of people who need the product/service you offer but haven’t gotten around to searching for it yet. Grab some of them out of the funnel!

You should be doing this because these leads are typically cheaper than PPC leads. ZMOT leads are the most expensive leads on the internet. They’re the leads that all the competitors are bidding on the critical keywords for. Every year, the most popular keywords in so many industries get more expensive. But getting a lead BEFORE the zero moment of truth almost always costs less than waiting for the ZMOT search. Even if your audience ignores your attempt to snatch them out of the funnel, you just bought yourself some branding and you increased the likelihood of conversion when that consumer gets around to actively searching. You were the company that was smart enough to be there before they bought.

You should be doing this because you can “steal” leads away from your competitors. If you're waiting for the ZMOT search, your ad will almost always be shown along with your competition. If you intelligently market your company’s products or services to appropriate audiences before they search for you, you get all the consumer’s attention. And if you still aren’t convinced, remember that your competitors are likely to start doing this soon, stealing leads away from you.

So as this year’s holiday season ramps up, I’m absolutely on the lookout for proactive advertising. First, I don’t have a clue what I’m going to be buying for most of the people on my list and I need suggestions. Second, I tend to have an affinity for companies that take the time and make the effort to intelligently market to me. It makes me feel that they’re thorough and professional: aspirational goals for myself and for the kinds of businesses I like to deal with. Just like I have little patience for clumsy marketing (being shown 3 months of remarketing ads for the Nikes after I already bought the Adidas) or for businesses that don’t market at all. If you’re a restaurant that can’t even get your Google My Business profile to have your phone number and business hours, I don’t have confidence that you're thoroughly cleaning the kitchen either.

By the way—my gate remains unfixed. I’ve actually searched many times for lots of different terms that suggest I’m in the market for gate repair or a new gate. But no one is trying to convince me to use their company. I guess they’ll have to pay top dollar when I get around to Googling “automatic gate repair near me”...

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