A Demand Generation Lesson from Nigerian Scam Email
In 2012, Microsoft researcher Cormac Herley published a paper claiming that those clumsy “Nigerian prince” spam emails (promising transfer of millions of dollars in unclaimed funds) purposely include poor spelling, grammatical mistakes, and fractured English as part of a cleverly designed principal of prospect selection.
This blew my mind, as I had always assumed with smug superiority that those obvious, childishly written emails were evidence of how primitive and unsophisticated the scammers were. It turns out they were employing a principal of demand generation I myself have advocated to webinar organizers! But they were doing it in a way I had never thought about. We can learn from their example and potentially apply similar principles for more respectable business marketing purposes.
The basic premise of selective marketing is to get a response ONLY from the people who are most likely to respond positively to the message you have already created and decided to deliver. Mr. Herley refers to this as “reducing false positives.” You want to spend all your time, money, and effort concentrating on the right targets for your message, not on people who will never have an interest in your presentation.
That can be a difficult philosophy to promote in some executive circles. There is a strong belief in “the power of numbers” — As a marketer, you are evaluated on the total number of people who enter the top of the funnel because some percentage of them drop out along the way. So to get more sales at the bottom of the funnel, you have to start with higher numbers at the top of the funnel.
In some business cases, that makes sense. You might as well advertise your barbershop to all men living within your zip code. For the most part, getting your percent of market share is purely a numbers game. The more males who see your message, the more customers you may get. But that is not the typical webinar presentation scenario. You usually have a differentiating message designed to appeal to a particular subset of the population.
If you sell a product that speeds Java development within a UNIX environment, it doesn’t do you much good to market to Flash developers who work in Windows. They just take up your time asking why you don’t suit their needs. Okay, that’s obvious.
But what if your product can satisfy both Windows and Unix developers, and can handle both Java and Flash? Sure, you could create a generic webinar and a generic promotional message designed to attract as many developers as possible. You build up your total number of contacts and get a high registration count. Congratulations… You are a great marketer! Or are you?
Now your presentation influence and effectiveness are reduced. Every minute you talk about Java and UNIX, half your audience is frustrated. Then when you talk about Windows and Flash, you lose the other half. People tune out to half of the Q&A interactions, because the use cases don’t apply to them. And you also attract some “false positives.” Developers who don’t fit into either of your application areas but couldn’t tell whether your product was right for them because your promotional copy was too universal and vague.
Your eventual sales success rate is likely to be better by letting your audience self-select based on a very specific invitation. This is what the Nigerian scammers do. They create an email message that is so obviously unprofessional and poorly written that 99% of recipients will see through it immediately and ignore it. Now they don’t have to waste time with those “false positives” who were never going to be good targets. But the few people who are naive, gullible, or uncritical enough to overlook the indications that something is wrong in the invitation are just the right kind of people who might prove vulnerable to the actual scam process (which is much more sophisticated and effective).
You can do the same thing. Target your webinar to one very specific segment of your potential sales audience. Then write your email with keywords, benefits, and use cases narrowly associated with just those people. Don’t worry about excluding others… That’s what you want! Are you going after commercial real estate lawyers? Write your copy using terms that they work with, but are gibberish to people outside their profession. Reference court cases that only they would be familiar with.
You can take one basic presentation and create a variety of specialized audience versions, simply by changing a few keys references, terms, and framing devices. Now you have more content marketing resources, each with a clearly defined target population. Your registration and attendance numbers for each webinar are less than one big generic one, but the people who show up get EXACTLY what they came for and what they expected. Their satisfaction with your message and their responsiveness both improve.
This approach also works when selling to different levels or responsibilities within your prospect organizations. Create one invitation and webinar presentation designed to address the needs of line workers, another for managers, and a third for executives (if these distinctions make sense for your offerings of course). Now you can talk to each group using the pain points and benefits that mean the most to them, secure in the knowledge that anyone who wouldn’t be interested in that message wouldn’t bother to register anyway.
Crafting invitations to let your audience self-select is a powerful way to “work smarter, not harder.” If you can make each marketing contact count, you don’t need to worry about constantly building the mouth of your funnel. Your promotional copy acts as your first line of lead qualification, attracting only the people who should hear this particular message.
If you want more tips about best practices for demand generation webinars, you can come to a free online session I am presenting in cooperation with BrightTALK. I will deliver the live webinar on Thursday, April 30 at 9am California / 12pm New York. You can get more information and register here.