Content is king when it comes to lead generation. It is the proverbial cheese in the mousetrap. It’s what attracts prospective customers to your brand. But in order for it to work, it must provide a tangible amount of takeaway value for your prospective customers. And when it does, the rewards will be considerable.
According to Gartner’s “Future of B2B Buying Journey Report,” 77% of B2B buyers report that the buying journey is complex and difficult. High-value content can be the solution. B2B buyers who find your content useful are three times more likely to experience a high degree of purchase ease and three times more likely to do more business with your company with less regret.
When it comes to lead gen, however, we’re talking about a very specific type of content. Unlike blogs or articles readily available to visitors on your website, lead gen content is “gated,” meaning it is tucked behind a registration wall, requiring prospects to share their contact information in exchange for access to the material.
One note before we jump in: Getting leads is an essential component for business development, but it’s just the first step. Successful B2B marketers know — Leads don’t grow your company; customers do. So as your leads come in, it’s important to have a proven lead nurturing strategy in place to convert those leads into customers. But, yes, for that to happen, companies first need a steady stream of qualified, intent-based leads.
Following are five of the most effective content formats around which to build a robust lead generation campaign.
A white paper is an in-depth report about a specific issue or challenge your prospective customers may be contending with. The topic tends to be complex in nature. White papers generally follow a problem-solution format. So, not only will a white paper provide a deep analysis of a specific challenge, but it will also offer a solution. The solution will typically align with your brand’s value proposition. However, the focus of a white paper should be educational, not promotional or “salesy.”
White papers are the workhorses of B2B lead gen. They tend to be analytical and provide research-backed facts and information. When executed well, a white paper will help to position your brand as a thought leader.
White papers can work quite well for lead gen purposes because they tend to include a lot of informational and educational value. Prospective customers should walk away from a white paper reading experience more informed than when they started.
If your white paper provides value to your prospective customer, then you’ll achieve two primary benefits: First, you’ll position your brand as an expert and, in the process, build trust, which is an essential component in a B2B sale. Second, your prospects will be more educated about the challenge they face as well as the solutions available to them, which will move them further along in their buyer’s journey.
Citrix’s “Harnessing the Power of Digital Transformation” targets a very specific problem many insurance companies face — Transforming legacy systems to support the needs and expectations of digitally-savvy policyholders. The white paper provides a well-research exploration of the challenges insurance companies face and then provides a clear-cut analysis of the solutions available to them. Though we generally prefer a more compelling design, the white paper is laid out in a clean, easy-to-read format and offers hard-hitting, helpful information.
An ebook, short for “electronic book,” is a resource that prospective customers can use to educate themselves about a particular subject. Ebooks are typically positioned as guides to a specific topic.
Whereas white papers tend to focus on a very specific challenge and offer solution-oriented information about an issue, ebooks usually offer a broad overview of a more general topic. Ebooks also tend to be more design-intensive than white papers. They are more vibrant and interactive, contain more visual enhancements, and can include features such as embedded audio or video.
Ebooks attract interest because they offer an engaging reading experience about a hot-button topic that many in your customer universe need to get up to speed on.
Also, ebooks are an excellent way to align your brand with a specific topic or interest that is common among your customers. And when you offer prospective customers an immersive educational experience that makes them better informed about a topic, they will likely perceive you as an expert on that topic.
LinkedIn’s “The Reinvention of Company Culture” offers an engaging educational experience on a very timely topic — The Great Resignation. The ebook helps business executives understand the workforce transformation that is fundamentally reshaping employer-employee relationships. It’s a difficult, complex topic, but the ebook breaks it down into digestible, visually appealing sections, with compelling illustrations and data visualizations.
A research report or study can be packaged as a white paper or an ebook. However, we decided to break it out as a separate format because its entire focus is on research. The research is usually proprietary, meaning it was conducted or commissioned by your brand. Alternatively, a research report can pull together and analyze research from multiple sources into a single overview.
A research report should align with a topic or area where there is a high level of interest among your target customers. And, to be relevant, the findings should highlight something newly discovered by the research or offer a new way to look at or understand something.
Conducting your own research and then offering that to your customer universe is one of the quickest paths to position yourself as a thought leader because you are introducing new knowledge to the marketplace. In doing so, you position your brand as a leader in your market and differentiate yourself from competitors.
“Credit Union Innovation Study” contains an abundant amount of timely and relevant information for credit unions trying to understand (and keep pace with) their members’ expectations for a digital banking experience. It’s attractively packaged and offers a significant amount of takeaway value for its credit union audience on one of the most important challenges confronting that audience — retaining current members and attracting new ones.
A well-done case study will demonstrate how one of your customers solved a problem or addressed a business challenge using your products or services. The problem or challenge should be one that is common to a large swath of your customer base. Because of the nature of the format, case studies tend to be more overtly promotional than their content counterparts in that you are overtly introducing your product or solution into the conversation.
While some case studies can be very technical, especially for companies in complex industries, the most effective case studies are presented in narrative format, meaning they tell a story. Humans are hardwired for storytelling, and when you introduce one of your existing customers as a protagonist and tell the story of how they encountered and solved a problem using your company’s solutions, it can be quite compelling — and effective.
Unlike an ebook that is more targeted to buyers at the top of the sales funnel, case studies tend to attract leads that are in the consideration or decision stage of their buyer’s journey. While case studies may attract relatively fewer leads in some instances, the incoming leads who download your case study may be closer to a purchase decision and are, therefore, warmer.
IDEO’s “Transforming the Airport Experience by Putting Passengers First” is simple in its execution but impactful. IDEO shows how it helped Toronto Pearson International Airport transform its visitor experience using a challenge/impact/outcome structure. It is easy to follow, well supported with quotations and data, and the design is clean and straightforward.
A webinar (or webcast) is an online broadcast of a media feed that features a video presentation by one or more speakers. The topic usually focuses on an important and timely hot-button issue.
There are a variety of different approaches when hosting a webinar, ranging from alternating speaker presentations to moderated panel discussions. Webcasts often have interactive features such as polls, quizzes, and Q&A sessions. Previously produced webinars (aka “on-demand webinars”) can be gated and archived for ongoing lead generation activity.
Well, first, we are still living in a pandemic, and many do not want to travel for work, so a webinar can function as a virtual meeting in lieu of a live event. But even in normal circumstances, webinars work great because they don’t require a travel commitment for attendees to approximate the same benefit they’d receive from a live event. Even better, on-demand webinars are recorded webinars that prospective customers can access instantly and at their convenience.
A webinar puts your brand at the center of an issue that your prospective customers may be contending with and want to learn more about, so it’s another effective format for building thought leadership, provided the focus is educational rather than self-promotional. The last thing attendees want is a 30 or 60-minute commercial, and they will no doubt disconnect quickly if that’s what they get.
Sample webinar: “Virtual Communication: Presenting with Empathy,” by Duarte
Duarte, a presentation-creation company, hosted this webinar at the height of the pandemic and focused on an issue that was top of mind for most professionals — how to connect on a deeper level with an audience (including customers, prospective customers, channel partners, and even employees) at a time when in-person communication is simply no longer available. The event offered several helpful tips, and Duarte practiced what they preached — the presentation was compelling and empathetic. The result: Thousands of new leads.
Some content formats don’t tend to lend themselves to lead generation. They may be great for a wide variety of content marketing applications, but they generally don’t tend to inspire registration form completions, that magic moment when a stranger transforms into a prospect. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, but we usually recommend avoiding these three formats for the purposes of lead generation:
1. Blog/article: Much to the dismay of your local newspaper (if you’re lucky enough to still have one), people aren’t willing to pay or register for access to blogs and articles. An article, however, can be a great entry point for a prospective lead because it can feature a call to action to register for a piece of gated content that offers a deeper dive on the same topic.
2. Infographic: Again, we’re not suggesting infographics cannot work for lead generation but, generally, the purpose of an infographic is to attract top-of-the-funnel interest and motivate social shares.
3. Video: Videos can serve an important role in your content marketing strategy, but, unless you have some Netflix-quality video content in your arsenal, users probably will not be willing to share their contact information to view a branded video.