To gate or not to gate? That’s the age-old marketing question — one that’s been particularly subject to fluctuating public and professional opinion over the last decade or so.
“We’re seeing more marketers trying to shift the balance to increase the amount of earned leads through participating in the conversation with ungated content,” says Mike Weir, Marketing Lead for LinkedIn’s technology sector. “It’s especially important to keep your top of funnel content open and discoverable. It’s like dating, you want people to find you interesting and say, ‘I like your point of view. Let’s schedule a time to talk.’ It’s the essence of content marketing — and the reason the cold callers will eventually become extinct.”
LinkedIn has quickly grown into a content sharing hub and a place to engage in exactly the kinds of conversations Mike describes. It’s also a website rich in data that can help you target the precise type of members you want and, by tracking their engagement, see where they are in the buying process. Those insights are critical for pinpointing when it’s okay to give content away and when you should ask for something in return.
Today, so much information is available for free that many businesses feel if they aren’t the ones giving it away, the audience will be likely to turn to their competitors for it. This way of thinking is the standard, but it overlooks many important considerations. There’s a time and a place to gate your content — it’s up to you to know where to draw that line for your business.
CMI recently spoke with Mike Weir about the importance of earning your leads, and when and how to gate content — both on LinkedIn and on your other content marketing channels, in general.
Earning your leads
The customer experience is paramount to everything else in today’s business. One of the more compelling arguments against content gating is that it creates a sub-optimal experience.
“You may get the lead, but maybe the customer isn’t ready to buy,” Mike explains. “Now they’re getting emails and calls they don’t want. As marketers, we have to be more scientific about distinguishing between the people who are ready for those emails and the people we might be alienating with it.”
Forcing your prospect to hand over personal information often results in collateral damage. Fake email addresses and phone numbers are collected regularly, causing sales productivity losses. What’s more, it’s a budget loss if you paid for that lead.
Earning leads (instead of always buying them) is a perspective shift still taking root in marketing. To earn leads, you are essentially finding the hand-raisers who are truly engaged, interested, and willing to talk. Earning leads is harder because you must participate across industry conversations — whether in social media, via direct marketing, or on traditional media sites — by injecting value-based content and your company perspective. You can still gate content, but the philosophy shifts from 100 percent mandatory form completion on all assets to selective gating and even allowing people to opt-out of completing the forms. Invest more at the top and middle of the funnel and you’ll have less work to do at the bottom. By earning your leads, you avoid the productivity and budget losses that plague so many content marketing programs.
On LinkedIn, earning your leads is all about participating in the conversation, either directly or through content. The dialogue takes place through groups, status updates, and articles exclusively published on LinkedIn.
“We’ve seen an overwhelmingly positive response from members in terms of how they engage with brands,” Mike says. “Our plan is to keep LinkedIn that way: a place where the relationship between brands and buyers is symbiotic. Brands have a critical voice, so it’s important that as members learn from or speak with brands, they can raise their hand to learn more.”
That isn’t to say LinkedIn shuns gated content and lead collection. While most of the lead collection occurs just after a member leaves the site, LinkedIn has features to get the information you need to start the sales conversation.
Before you get started using those features, it’s important to understand when and how it’s appropriate to gate content.
When and how to gate content
Are you approaching your content with the sales funnel in mind? How do you know where people land in that funnel?
With the right data and marketing automation tools, you can get an accurate model of what kind of content engages what kind of lead.
Knowing what kind of content someone with purchase intent consumes helps you understand when gating is appropriate. You’re playing the long game — attracting with breadcrumbs of helpful content until leads have wandered deep into your brand and the purchase process.
Follow these three steps to maximize the lead generation potential of your content:
1. Map your content to the stages of your sales funnel: Your perfect content funnel may look different from others. However it looks, you should have different content for each step in the buyer’s decision-making process. This starts with the broad thought leadership and helpful advice at the top of the funnel. The bottom of the funnel addresses questions that customers evaluating your product or service might have right before they buy.
Defining your funnel requires you to find patterns. For example, what questions have prospects asked in the past right before they buy — at conferences, in meetings, or through online channels? Marketers also must identify rough classifications for content that belongs in the top, middle, and bottom of the funnel. To do that, they must understand audience motivations and what constitutes the next step in the process.
According to Mike, today’s technology makes it easier to wait until we’re close to the bottom of the funnel to collect lead information. Marketing automation software and CRM systems allow you to capture, track and initiate actions based on who you’re engaging with across tactics. That means you can create a trigger campaign as people engage enough to be ready for a sales call that promotes gated content.
2. Identify where leads are in the sales funnel: Marketing automation software helps you understand in real time who views your content, whether or not the lead opts in.
A well-thought-out funnel model helps you understand this, too. Certain types of content cater to certain levels of the funnel. You understand where they are in the decision-making process based on the type of content they’re viewing.
3. Decide whether or not gating is appropriate: There comes a time in every funnel where the prospect intends to evaluate options for purchase. For example, when it comes to hotels, a customer is generally ready to purchase once his transportation reservations have been booked; while for business software, the decision to buy depends on a variety of factors — from budget restraints and departmental approval to discontinued legacy systems and new internal processes — that don’t necessarily follow a set timeline or workflow.
Think of gated content as a way to finally break the ice: If you plan to gate content, do it when your prospect is ready to have a conversation about your products.
To find the right moment, you want ‘yes’ answers to questions like:
- Does this content address product implementation?
- Does this content answer a question we usually get while engaging prospects?
- Does this content answer a question we get often from current customers?
- Will the lead benefit from having a direct conversation about this?
- Have you earned the right to contact this lead about your products?
- Does A/B testing show a stronger conversion rate requesting lead info now?
It’s easy to collect lead information through your website. But today, it’s more important to get it directly through distribution channels. LinkedIn is a solid option for this.
How to ask for lead information on LinkedIn
On LinkedIn, the sales conversation can come around organically — after a few general conversations with the member or a few pieces of content the member found useful. It’s easy enough to connect through LinkedIn’s social tools.
Potential customers aren’t always bold enough to start the buying conversation. Instead, it can help to offer them an opportunity to opt into that sales dialogue through gated content and lead forms.
LinkedIn offers a few ways to earn leads via content and conversations when your customer is ready to engage with your brand:
- SlideShare Channels: SlideShare is the world’s largest professional content hub. Content posted on a SlideShare channel has strong SEO, providing brands with an increased opportunity for their top content to be found via search and discovered through social media. You can add a lead generation function to your content — to find hand raisers — and have all leads routed directly into your marketing automation platform.*
- SlideShare content ads include lead forms: Did you know you can turn your SlideShare presentations into sidebar content ads? This is a great option to drive a great user experience for content marketers who want to reach a targeted audience without ever leaving the LinkedIn experience. Along with your SlideShare ad comes the ability to gate content with a lead form. SlideShare’s lead form is dynamic in that you can make lead capture optional in order to continue reading. You can target ads based on a variety of factors including seniority, geography, industry, and company size.
- Sponsored Updates: LinkedIn’s newest solution allows brands to share targeted content into the news feed. It is highly utilized to find members who are actively researching a project and can direct a member to any destination for you to request a form completion.
- Sponsored InMail: InMail continues to be a great way to make a direct connection with members to deliver a high-impact content piece. Brands are delivering new research, event invitations, and thought leadership content that can connect to a microsite for further nurturing and lead capture.
Have questions about how best to go about capturing leads on LinkedIn? Ask LinkedIn’s Mike Weir in the comments.
*SlideShare supports select CRM & marketing automation providers. Please contact your LinkedIn representation to learn more.
Join LinkedIn’s Jonathan Lister as he takes the stage at Content Marketing World 2013 to talk about why LinkedIn is a brand that’s going all-in with content marketing.
Cover image via Bigstock