Tuesday, September 20, 2011

DIGITAL NEWS: Pre-Event Panelist Interview With Cass Baker

If you haven't heard yet, CIMA is hosting a ‘lunch & learn’ this Thursday called “Take Your Online Lead Generation to The Next Level.” it's being held at the Holiday Inn by the Merchandise Mart.  Attendees will be joining an all-star panel of lead-gen experts, so if you’ve yet to register, do it here now!!  

Cass Baker will be among those industry experts, and he was kind enough to kick some knowledge our way as a pre-event teaser.  Cass is the Executive Vice President for Digital Marketing at Leapfrog Online.  The phone interview, below, was conducted today, two days before the big event.

What led your decision to participate in this upcoming panel?   
It touches close to what we do here, at Leapfrog.  We’ve been in business for over twelve years now, and we’ve been in Digital-Direct since the beginning.  The market is in an interesting spot where it doesn’t matter where you come from (whether it’s ‘Hey, I’m a lead-gen provider’ or ‘Hey, I’m a media source’ or ‘Hey, I’m a brand’) everyone is finally, from my perspective, coming to the same place which is, at the end of the day, ‘Hey, a lead is not only a lead, it’s a piece of the pie.’ And, if you’re not focused on what that piece delivers then you’re more than likely part of the challenge and not part of the solution.  So, with things like that as a topic of the panel discussion, and since that’s essentially what [Leapfrog] has been doing for a long time, we wanted to get engaged and in the conversation.  

What do you hope CIMA attendees will gain from the event? 
Well, there are primarily two points here:

1.)    There are some amazing results coming out of Mobile from a Direct perspective and lead-gen being a part of that.

2.)    What you do with a lead is as important as where you found it and how you got it there.

Depending on who’s in the audience and what the conversation is, a lot of companies will say ‘Hey, I don’t know…I sell my leads to so-and-so brand or…I drive leads…I don’t know what happens.’  So, it’s a two-way conversation.  If you’re a brand and you really moving on to quality and not quantity, you really need to close the loop and get it back to your sources.  If you’re a source of leads (selling them or partnering with a brand to deliver them), you really better be focused on what happens to them because otherwise it’s a short-term gain.

As we look at the surfacing of new mediums and platforms in the lead-gen space, what NEW challenges do you foresee arising and what EXISTING issues do you foresee ‘sticking around’ or remaining unsolved? 
The new challenges are, like with any new channel, you don’t necessarily know how this new type of medium is going to affect quality and consumer behavior.  Like with Social..We haven’t seen Social really being able to deliver true quality consumers that are ready to buy.  That doesn’t mean they’re not in the sales cycle for others.  But, from the categories that we work in, these are not consumers that are ready to buy...Some are such promotionally driven shoppers at this point that their lifetime value is not high…those leads are going to be worthless (because of the nature of what’s actually driving them).  

This isn’t necessarily representative of all new channels because, on the other side, we’ve seen Mobile work extremely well.  If you are interested in a product and you have it on a mobile screen, I’d venture to guess that you’re one of the highest qualified consumers and you’re ready to buy now.  But, one of the challenges that Mobile creates is that you need to treat those consumers in a different way than maybe you do on a Desktop or at a Call Center or in other channels.  There is more immediacy in Mobile. There are different needs from that consumer and so you have to treat them as they came to you.  Also, if don’t convert them or don’t deliver their needs that they have in real-time (or close to it), they’re going to move on because they’re not consumers who are necessarily going to wait around. 

Beyond that, I think there are challenges with lead-gen that will always be the same.  You’ve got to figure out where they’re coming from and what the consumer motivations are for the product.  Usually, by understanding where they were first, you can put more weight on the value.  But as you get into new things, don’t assume anything.  Don’t assume that some new channel, like Social, will deliver at the same quality as some other channel.  You’ve got to start over.  It’s a totally different behavior set.  It’s a totally different way of intersecting media and the brand.  And, how they respond on the back end may be completely different, in terms of metrics, than what you thought you knew. 

Looking at the lead-gen space and what it is today, what changes/improvements would you like to see moving into 2012 and beyond (could be specific to what you’re looking for in media partners)?
What I’d really like to see are more media properties being much more responsible in adding more value up front, as an offering of what they do.  Rather than saying ‘we’re going to do all the work here and tell you what we’re willing to do,’ those sources really need to better understand the businesses and brands they’re working with.  Then, they can start adding/overlaying data and providing a more quality selection up front.  So, it’s having a media property like, let’s say a Facebook, says ‘ok, there may be some changes in pricing structure, but you can pre-select X users and data sources rather than picking the whole pool (just to figure out, later, what in the pool works for you.’  You can do both, but I think if the data is there….use it.  Don’t use it after the fact or because we forced you to do it.

What has had the greatest impact on Leapfrog and your respective clients (specific to lead-gen);  Mobile, Video, or Social? 
Mobile, by far.  We have some clients now where Mobile represents 50% of all customer sources.  And it’s not just lead sources, but real customer sources.  It went from zero to 50% in about 18 months and it’s growing at least one or two percent per month and just continues to grow.  We just recently launched a press release with Google that speaks toward this.  The results are category (or vertical) specific, clearly. At Leapfrog, our primary client verticals are Home Services, Auto, Telecom/Cable, Education, and Financial Services.  The smallest vertical (in terms of Mobile’s percent of customer source) is 10% and the highest is 55%.  Literally, it does not stop growing.  At first, it was incremental.  We were just seeing incremental and not really seeing any degradation in other channels.  Now, we’re seeing drops in traditional Desktop.  It’s very clear that is happening, in the categories we’re in.

What’s your favorite CIMA event each year? 
I have to say the Cubs [Rooftop Event].  I’m just a big Cubs fan.  Maybe not as exciting for others, but that’s usually my favorite one.

What’s your favorite part of living and working in Chicago (can be specific to digital media ‘scene’)? 
The amount of growth that’s coming out of Chicago.  The amount of innovation.  It’s one of the most exciting things, at least for me, in the digital space.  Since 2005 or really since 2007, it’s exciting to see the sheer growth and amount of people who’ve been truly successful, selling their companies to holding companies then starting new ones.  I was reading about a VC firm who added up all the [venture funding] and it’s just astounding how much money is in Chicago right now.  This market is now looked at as a place you go for innovation and it’s a great opportunity for people.  If you take a look around, you’ll see our industry is one of the few that’s really growing out there.  I mean, this job market isn’t shrinking…  It’s growing.  To me, that’s exciting.

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