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March 29, 2018

When do trade show T-shirts make sense?

I once witnessed a spirited debate between a campaign strategist and a marketing agency presenter. The presenter was one of the best direct marketing minds at perhaps the greatest agency of that time. (I won’t name names, but the agency’s founder wrote the book on “being direct.”) The subject of the debate was offer repetition. (Nerd alert.) The question: should every direct marketing touch contain an offer?

I’ll elaborate, but first a couple of points about terminology.
For "touch," think of individual contacts such as an email, postal mailer, or phone call. (Early in my career we called them "hits." But in contemporary language "hits" are about inbound contacts; "website hits" for example. Who's getting beat up now?)
As for "offers": please don't mistake them with "calls to action." Here's a simple illustration that spells out the difference:
Simple, right? Apparently not. Routinely, I hear "offer" and "call to action" used interchangeably, or "call to action" used universally. This is a problem because the optimization path for an offer is very different from the one used for calls to action. But I'll stop being a nerd and carry on with my story.
Well, just one more point. Offers -- be they T-shirts or Teslas -- aren't gimmicks, they're transactions. We offer something of value to a prospect in exchange for something of value to us: their agreement to enter a lead qualification dialog, for example. And offers are one of the two most important elements in any lead generation campaign (with the other being the campaign database).
Now, back to the debate. The “campaign strategist” (her official job title) was describing a campaign in which the targets were:
1) Sent a teaser message with the campaign theme
2) Sent an introductory message about the solution
3) Sent more details about the solution
4) Sent a survey, asking them to tell us how they feel about the solution
5) Sent a reminder to complete the survey
6) Sent a summary of survey responses
7) Sent an offer, asking for their response
Her point was: repetition is a good thing. That’s correct, but repetition of what? Maybe – the offer?
In the campaign strategy, the offer was delivered only once at the trailing end of a sequence of flaming hoops. The idea, as I recall, was that only super-qualified people should be invited to engage. Ouch. I'll save my thoughts on that for another day. Let's just say the campaign generated poor results.
With that episode in mind, and with the objective of simplifying and clarifying the nature of offers, I sat down and created one of my favorite presentation models. I call it “The Offer Funnel.” (Apologies in advance for my crude design work.)
By aligning offers with buyer progression – in this case, through the AIDA model – we can efficiently leverage one of the most critical considerations for every campaign: an offer as a means of soliciting a response. Here's how....
1) The Personal Premium Offer is best used for contacts about whom little is known. This is well suited to completion of a survey or a trade show badge scan. Don't begrudge your overworked event marketing staff that T-shirt budget. They're trying to build your database and fill the top of the funnel.
Here's a Brief Anecdotal Interlude: An event manager once called me from a trade show exhibit floor saying, "What's His Name (a product manager) is demanding that we stop scanning so many people at the booth. He says, 'We don't have enough budget to call all these people!'" ( I'll just leave that right here.)
2) The Knowledge Offer (a staple for those driving lead generation for a complex sale) is for contacts who are known to be within the target audience, but not known to be in a buying cycle. (The same asset can be deployed within the sales process or, depending on content, distributed to fulfill a thought leadership objective.) A response here signals that a contact is in research mode; either a buying cycle could be underway, or conditions for igniting a cycle could exist.
3) The Incentive Offer, which often exists within a limited time frame, is for contacts who are known to be in a buying cycle or for those who are already customers. Incentives, by the way, are not necessarily discounts.
4) The Training Offer is not often used, but I’ve deployed it in the past at a company with considerable computer-based training curriculum. I used it with good effect to sell new products to customers or to prospects who are very deep in a buying cycle, to increase touch points and to raise comfort levels with product.
I’ve thought about adding to this model. For example, you’ll note there’s a shift from value to the individual at the top (the personal premium offer and knowledge offer) when we're trying to solicit a personal response, to value to the company (the incentive offer). But why add the complexity? I think the model is clear enough. And for me, it's stood the test of time.
What do you think?

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