In the last several weeks, my whole concept of advertising and marketing has been reframed, and I’m still sorting out what it means. But I know this: It has given me a clearer understanding of the path local media companies must take in sales.

Now I’m going to try to work the same kind of reframing on you.

Lead generation is the Rosetta Stone, in which many other industry buzzwords can be fully appreciated.
Lead generation is the Rosetta Stone, in which many other industry buzzwords can be fully appreciated.

Reframing is what happens when some new fact, or a new interpretation of old facts, reveals a subject in a very different light. It’s often a breakthrough that clarifies your priorities and shows you new ways to overcome your challenges.

And in advertising and marketing, we have more than our share of challenges. Print and broadcast media have been struggling for years to assimilate a bewildering array of new tactics.

The list includes buzz terms like SEM, SEO, targeting, retargeting, social media, video, reputation management, e-mail, native advertising, content marketing, Big Data, programmatic advertising, and more. And new ones show up all the time.

We struggle to figure out which of these we need to learn and sell, and how we can sell them effectively, fulfill them well, and make money on them. Its tough, and were competing with myriad all-digital competitors offering many of the same things.

Reframing doesn’t solve problems, but it shows more clearly what needs to be done. A past boss of mine liked to quote Charles Kettering: “A problem clearly stated is half solved.”

What reframed my understanding of our current challenges in advertising and marketing was taking a deeper dive into lead generation. Thats one of the buzz terms on the list above, but I now realise its the unified field theory that puts all those other buzz terms in their right places.

At Morris Publishing Group, what prompted us to look harder at lead generation was the struggle our own sales staffs were having.

In the last six months, weve tripled the number of digital-only sales reps across our 11 local media companies (formerly known as newspapers). These digital-only reps find they have to make 100 or more phone or in-person calls to get just one or two appointments.

Its inefficient. Its expensive. Its demoralising. So theyre asking us to figure out how we can generate an incoming stream of pre-qualified leads. This would let them spend more time presenting solutions and closing sales.

Lead generation isnt new, of course. All along, the purpose of all advertising has been to generate leads. (A lead, of course, is someone who already has some level of interest in buying what youre selling.)

But lead generation has been radically changed by all the new digital tactics available now, and by the very different ways that people shop in the digital era.

News media companies have been slow to get on the lead-gen bus, because weve always relied on our sales people as our main lead-generation strategy.

So how does lead generation reframe our concept of advertising and marketing?

For me, the explanation goes back to “jobs to be done.” Thats a concept I learned while leading the Newspaper Next project from 2005-2009. Our approach to innovation was built on the insights of Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen.

Christensen explained that people dont buy products or services — they have certain jobs to be done, and they look for solutions that will help them.

If we ask ourselves what the main job to be done is for any sales-based business, it’s pretty simple: Get customers.

Historically, we saw our job as selling advertising. Our clients, in contrast, saw our job as providing customers.

Ten years ago, there was a movement in the news media industry to get us to stop selling advertising and start selling audiences. The idea was that we were not selling ads, but the people who could be reached by our ads, both print and digital.

That was a step forward. But now we need to take another and bigger step forward. We need to realise our mission is not selling ads, or audiences, but delivering customers.

Our clients want the best prospects available, at the lowest possible cost. In the drastically changing digital world, we need to use the most effective means available to provide those prospects.

Thats a lead-gen view of our world. The list of buzz terms above is a set of tools we can use to build the right lead-gen programme for each customer, at the level that business can afford.

You may be thinking this doesnt seem like a very revolutionary reframing of our mission. But if you dig into how digital marketing businesses view lead gen, youll see how different it really is.

One of the clearest statements of this new-world view weve found (actually found by my colleague, Michael Romaner, Morriss executive vice president of digital) is a white paper produced by marketing firm Marketo.

In it, the company explains why lead gen has to change (adapted):

Today, buyers do their own research online, finding a variety of educational resources through search engines, social media, and other online channels. Through vast available content resources, today’s buyers can learn a great deal about a product or service before ever speaking to a sales person. So each business must make sure that it builds its digital presence.

This has produced a huge change in the traditional buying process. In fact, according to Forrester, buyers may be anywhere from two-thirds to 90% of the way through their buying journey before they reach out to the vendor. This is happening more and more because buyers have so much access to information that they can delay talking to sales until they are virtually experts themselves.

Now that buyers can draw on thousands or millions of online resources to learn about their next purchases, every business has a new challenge. That is, it must make itself visible to the prospect at key points along the decision funnel.

And the old-fashioned advertising we usually sell, based on self-promotional claims or sale pricing, isnt nearly enough. Thats why content marketing — one of the buzz terms above — is becoming so incredibly important today.

Businesses need to develop content that helps prospects learn more, or understand more, or enjoy the possibilities more, as they advance down the buying funnel.

There are a vast number of tools available to those generating leads.
There are a vast number of tools available to those generating leads.

This can be in the form of articles, white papers (e.g., the Marketo piece), blog posts, social media posts, checklists, videos, contests, questionnaires, puzzles, and games. In the physical world, it can include events, contests, in-store giveaways, and a host of other live interactive engagement opportunities.

But content is only part of the programme. This compelling content needs to be distributed in the channels where the most desirable customers go.

Thats where Big Data comes in, as a means to see which customers to target. And SEM, SEO, Web site design, social media, e-mail, native advertising, and events — among other things — can be understood as the distribution channels through which the content needs to reach the target prospects.

As you can see, lead generation is the Rosetta Stone — the framework within which all those buzz-term solutions can be understood in their proper uses. To deliver prospects, we need to present proposals that combine the best solutions to fit the specific needs and budget of each customer and deliver the leads they need.

Does this sound daunting for our industry? Certainly. It calls on us to rise to a far more sophisticated level in understanding and combining multiple solutions. Some of those are in our arsenals already, many are not.

And, overall, this reframing of advertising shows that our customers need us to bring them much more holistic and complete programmes to deliver leads.

The good news is, we can learn to do this, and there are lots of vendors ready to help us.

The bad news is, if we dont, there are lots of digital marketing competitors eager to provide lead generation in our markets. We need to move fast.