When someone mentions “Content Marketing,” what are the first words that come to mind? Blog posts? Infographics? E-books? Yes, but content marketing is much more than the sum of its parts. In 2020 it is becoming an increasingly important tool in B2B lead generation. A tool that most successful businesses are utilizing, and you should be too.
As many as 70% of B2B marketers use content marketing to generate leads. 68% say they also use it to nurture and qualify leads. Meanwhile, more than half of marketers say their most significant challenge is production of content that generates quality leads.
So what is content marketing, really? Why is it so important in adjusting marketing operations “new normal”? And how can you use it to fill your funnel with leads that will actually convert to sales?
What is Content Marketing?
Content marketing is an element of your marketing strategy that utilizes sales and educational materials to generate and convert leads to sales.
Through research and analysis, content marketing can offer a window into your target audience’s various pain points. It will also help you understand which approaches and messages work best for your business and its potential clients.
Content Marketing in the B2B funnel
One of the most important components for your content strategy is your good old B2B lead conversion funnel. In it, you plan and produce content to address leads at each stage of the B2B funnel. These stages divide into Top Of the Funnel (TOFU), Middle Of the Funnel (MOFU), and Bottom Of the Funnel (BOFU).
Before we dive into each stage of the funnel, it’s important to remember: there isn’t a particular type of content that is a better match for a specific funnel stage. Adapting your content to funnel stages is more about the message than it is about the medium (article, whitepaper, webinar, etc.). That being said, it does make sense to use specific content formats at specific stages of the funnel.
TOFU (Top of Funnel)
There are lead funnels that start with generating demand or awareness to a problem someone is not even aware that they have. However, most b2b marketing funnels’ start where the potential client has a problem and they are researching common remedies.
They haven’t committed to you in any way, so at this stage, your aim, and focus, must be to encourage the reader to dive deeper into your proffered information. You don’t want to flood them with calls to action or marketing messages quite yet. Again, you can use any type of content as long as the messaging is in tune with the funnel stage. That being said, some formats lend themselves better to to TOFU messaging.
Content at this stage includes:
- Blog posts
- Social media posts
MOFU (Middle of the Funnel)
At the MOFU stage, your potential client has already identified the problem and believes your product or service might be the solution. This stage is where you need to prove your authority and prowess as an industry leader. Here they need their questions answered in-depth and the more general upper-level content won’t cut it. In the middle of the B2B funnel content usually consists of:
- White papers
- Subscription-based newsletters
- Self-tests and calculators
BOFU (Bottom of the Funnel)
The BOFU stage is where the magic (should) happen. At this point the prospect is “hooked”, you’ve been establishing your authority, it’s time to close the deal. You need to be that expert opinion and solution they have been looking for and validate their choice to get this far. This stage is also a place to bring back and retain current and previous customers. BOFU content is primarily:
- Targeted webinars
- Case studies
- Testimonial videos
- Product demos
- Pricing promotions
- Loyalty programs
Converting a content consumer to a lead usually lies in verifying their purchase intent and identifying them. This is often done by collecting their contact information through a lead capture form.
The lead capture form (or its absence) tends to divide all the above-mentioned types of content into two categories – gated and ungated content. Each has its unique properties and approach.
How to Create Gated and Ungated Content For Lead Generation
Before we get into the how to, it’s worth fully understanding the difference between gated and ungated content.
Ungated content is the information you provide visitors and potential customers with no registration or contact information required to access it. Ungated content is usually designed with organic and social traffic in mind. This type of traffic is “free” and also have an expectation of landing on a webpage and reading content freely.
Gated content is content hidden behind a lead capture form. Approximately 80% of all content marketing assets on the web are gated. It is, in many ways, a double-edged sword. Yes, it can give you those precious contact details of a potential buyer, but at what cost?
For B2B funnels, the process of producing gated content will usually be much longer and more expensive than ungated content, and the reward is tricky as well. People don’t like giving out their personal information.
Too detailed a form can cause visitors to decide your content isn’t worth the effort of filling out, or even feel too “nosy”. Conversely, hiding a lot of content behind “easy” forms that require few details is bound to flood your pipeline with irrelevant “spammy” leads or deter people altogether.
Another hidden cost of gating content is its limited visibility on search engines and the difficulty in tracking performance over dark social channels.
The Great Gate Debate
There are many differing opinions on the topic of content gating. Some advise marketers to refrain from gating their content. Others still believe strongly in gated content’s ability to generate and convert quality leads successfully.
With so much of the debate focused on the superiority of one over the other in lead generation, it seems the main point is missed. There is value in both types of content at different phases of the marketing and sales funnels. The key is knowing how to create the right content – both gates and ungated.
Let’s review the processes for creating each type.
Creating Ungated Content for Lead Generation
Step 1 – Research
The first step is to learn what it is that pains your potential clients and what they care about. A good method is to follow Google News and popular industry blogs for insights. The ungated content process also includes doing a dive into your competitors’ content to find the “negative space” where your content can shine.
This is also the stage where you choose the medium and channels. Will a blog post attract more attention or will it be a video or podcast that brings in the value? And where should you publish it? Your company blog? Social media? Guest post on an industry blog?
With its ability to attract organic traffic, your ungated content needs to leverage keywords and structuring techniques for SEO. This will ensure your content is found on search engines.
Having figured those out, you can move forward to producing your content.
Step 2 – Development & Production
Knowing the topic and keywords is your first step to developing ungated content. Though there are many approaches to content production that differ according to content type, some things are consistent. For example, the importance of streamlining your content production process.
Though this is true for all types of content, with ungated content this is particularly critical. Having a well-planned workflow and content calendar goes a long way in making your content marketing efforts ROI-positive. Moreover, lengthy content development cycles put you in danger or publishing content that is no longer as relevant.
Step 3 – Publishing & Promoting
The famous adage “if you build it they will come” does not apply here with content marketing, no matter how good your SEO game is. This is especially true for non-textual content that doesn’t get indexed by Google as thoroughly as blog posts or articles.
In addition to the channels you chose for your content publication in the planning stage, be sure to plan your promotional strategy for every piece and type of content. Find the pages, groups, websites, and publications that target the same audience you do, and try to leverage their audience to amplify your message.
Note that organic promotion of content can become a time consuming ordeal. To aid with that, make use of marketing automation tools to streamline the process.
Step 4 – Measuring and Tracking
Measuring the effectiveness and performance of your content marketing efforts is critical. It allows you to adjust your strategies and messaging. More importantly, it shows you what pieces of content are having the most impact on lead generation by guiding your prospects downward in your funnel.
As they begin to trust your brand and show interest in your product through ungated content, you can leverage it to guide them toward the premium content hidden behind a lead capture form.
Creating Gated Content
Step 1 – Research and Development
Gated content starts with defining the context and specific purpose of this piece of content. For example, it may be part of a planned advertising campaign. Alternatively, it may be produced to be distributed at an upcoming industry trade event or conference.
Your gated content informs potential leads of the latest industry and company developments. Therefore, topic choice and the quality of the content in these pieces are paramount. To make it attractive enough for people to fill a form (and actually read the content as well), it needs to be uniquely original and insightful.
Note that this is also the place and time to refine the context of your product to the content offered. In many cases, it’s where your prospect will first encounter messaging that promotes the sale of your product.
Step 2 – Production
As it is unique and of high value, gated content demands much greater investment and takes longer to produce. Much like with ungated content, there are many ways to approach the production process itself, but collaboration and timelines are both necessary.
Step 3 – Publishing and Promotion
Publishing and promoting gated content is very different from the approach to ungated content. Since gated content is often geared toward a very specific segment of your general audience, it is a perfect candidate for paid promotion in highly targeted ad campaigns.
Another aspect to consider is the gate itself. There’s no shortage of statistics and advice on the number of fields to include in a lead form. Overall, your choice and design of gate to your premium content depends highly on your product, and where this content is located in your marketing funnel.
Creating your content strategically, with different phases of your funnel in mind, will significantly improve lead generation and the quality of leads in your pipeline. Much more than focusing on which pieces of content to gate.
Following the steps to craft your gated and ungated content to generate leads? Might just make the difference between “dead” content and content that is a lean mean lead generation machine.