Ryan's experience ranges from higher education to SMBs and tech startups. When not doing digital marketing, he's sure to be enjoying some kind of nerdy pastime.
Ten years ago, lead magnets were all the rage. Now, they are everywhere, and they have lost their luster.
EBooks are a thing of the past, in most cases. But in the B2B space, especially in the B2B SaaS space, most eBooks aren’t attractive to website visitors.
Users have become much more savvy. They know how to find the information they need quickly, and when it comes to giving over their email address for a piece of content, they’ll typically do one of two things:
- Ignore it and go back to Google.
- Give a bogus email address.
Both of these give one huge signal: your audience isn’t interested in your gated lead magnet.
So what do effective lead magnets have today that most do not?
The Best B2B Lead Magnets
Before we dive in, I want to make sure you understand my point of view. As CMO of our Growth Team at Lean Labs, we still believe in lead magnets. But, we have watched over the last several years as the “go-to” format companies have used for years slowly stopped being effective.
They still generate leads, but at a much lower level, and of the leads they do generate, few rarely make it to the bottom of the funnel.
But it’s essential to be on the same page regarding what a lead magnet is and is not. So, before we talk about the characteristics of an effective lead magnet in 2021, let’s take a brief historical review of the lead magnet.
The Birth of the eBook Lead Magnet
Way back in the 1980s, Seth Godin wrote a book called Permission Marketing. In this book, he talked about a shift in consumer behavior, one moving away from interruptive marketing and more to a permission marketing landscape. To get permission, you had to bribe your target audience and exchange something of value for their permission to market to them.
This was the birth of the lead magnet and “The List.”
The list became everything.
So, people started gating content. If you wanted their whitepaper, eBook, or guide, you had to exchange your email address for it. In other words, you had to give them your permission to market to you in exchange for the piece of content you really wanted.
And it worked like gangbusters.
The Death of the eBook B2B Lead Magnet
Six years ago, we launched an eBook lead magnet that generated more than 300 targeted leads in one week's time. It was the golden age of content marketing and the platinum age of lead generation. In other words, it was easy peasy!
Then, we did it too much.
Like the dwarves of the Misty Mountains, we got greedy and delved too deep. In doing so, we unlocked the Balrog, which killed the eBook lead magnet.
Now, if you’re going to have a lead magnet, it needs to be in the form of Gandalf the White - completely reimagined and recreated. Gandalf the Gray is no more.
The Rebirth of the B2B Lead Magnet
A few years ago, you could see a shift in our marketing here at Lean Labs. We moved away from the running narrative of “Inbound Marketing.” And we started talking about a shift in consumer behavior.
Other people started talking about it, too.
Large agencies were talking about the death of email marketing.
HubSpot held a mock funeral for the Funnel and introduced one of the dumbest marketing terms I’ve ever heard, “The Flywheel.” (The flywheel is just a funnel on top of a funnel, which we called the “double funnel” about five years earlier. In short, it’s still a funnel but one with a longer view of the buyer journey)
The shift we started talking about was a mixture of perceived value and momentum. And these two elements have caused us to reimagine the purpose and form of our lead magnets.
Lead Magnet Shift #1: Perceived Value
eBooks just aren’t perceived as valuable any longer. They are content, and for the most part, people prefer not to trade their legitimate contact information for a piece of content.
You can blame this on a variety of causes, the main one being people wrapping glorified blog posts in a PDF and calling it a lead magnet would be the main culprit. The wholesale cheapening of the content everyone considered gateable has been maddening.
Now, someone sees “eBook,” and they mentally eye roll.
So one shift that must be made, especially if you’re still offering a written piece of content, is to upgrade the perceived value. If you’re not sure how to do this, there’s a simple rubric to use: if you wouldn’t purchase this eBook, it’s not a lead magnet.
If it’s not valuable enough to pay for, it’s not valuable enough to gate.
Lead Magnet Shift #2: Momentum
One of the travesties we saw emerge from the heyday of the eBook was an infatuation with vanity metrics.
This is the message I used to preach back then: more traffic = more leads = more SQLs = growth.
If you build a ton of traffic, you’ll get a ton of leads, and even though a portion will be unqualified, the higher volume always translates to more sales.
While that message is still technically true, it’s flawed.
I go back to a story from a luxury transportation brand I worked for once. I was hired to run marketing, and once on the job, I did an audit of the website content. One of the leading blog posts for this transportation company was an article about great chocolate chip cookie recipes.
Yep, it was bringing organic traffic.
Yep, it even (surprisingly) got a spattering of leads.
But the traffic was unqualified, and so were the leads.
Here’s the kicker: someone was paid to create that piece of content for our brand.
That’s right, our marketing budget was spent investing in that kind of content.
All of the metrics boosted by that post were vanity. Period.
While that’s an extreme example, it’s indicative of a larger truth: lead magnets with low perceived value will produce leads of low value as well. And even those who may be qualified will not have enough momentum to make it through the funnel.
Momentum is key in 2021 digital marketing.
Having a low-value lead magnet is like a brick wall to all the brand awareness marketing you are doing. Even if you’re bringing in high-value traffic, those leads will hit the brick wall the moment you want them to exchange their valuable permission for a lead magnet they wouldn’t pay for.
You must build lead magnets that are of high value and lead magnets that increase momentum rather than slow it down.
2021: The Year of the Momentum Magnet
Remember in the story of Apollo 13, the folks at Houston had a choice to make once an explosion happened. They could burn the engines and turn the rocket directly around, or they could burn away from earth and use the moon’s gravity to slingshot the astronauts back to earth.
The Direct 180
This is what a lot of traditional lead magnets do. They bring in organic traffic on a trajectory of the buyer journey. Then, the lead magnet jerks them directly in the direction of sales (or, again, stops them like a brick wall).
The problem with the 180 jerk is that it’s disorienting, and it takes a LOT more energy to turn the ship around. Changing the direction of the rocket required a lot of fuel, enough energy to stop the forward momentum and start it going the other way.
The Slingshot 180
The second option was to continue in the direction the rocket was heading and to even burn some fuel to increase the momentum. Then, as the rocket entered the natural gravitational field of the moon, its trajectory would slingshot around, maintaining momentum and pointing them back to earth.
The benefit of this method was the conservation of energy, and the energy spent was to increase momentum, understanding that the current trajectory would, in fact, lead them back to the ultimate goal: terra firma.
This is the purpose of the new lead magnet: to increase the momentum of the target audience, so they arrive naturally and at high speed at the buying decision on the phone (or website) with your sales rep.
The New B2B Lead Magnet
The new lead magnet will serve two purposes: generating new leads and moving them forward in their buyer journey at an ever-increasing rate of speed.
This means the traditional thank-you pages have to go, too.
The lead magnet is no longer just a premium piece of content. It is now a vital part of the buyer journey, an on-ramp to the super-highway of lead nurturing. This means the six levers of growth must influence the lead magnet ideation, creation, and presentation.
The Six Levers of Growth
At Lean Labs, we focus on the Pirate Metrics (AAARRR), what we call the Six Levers of Growth. Today, lead magnets, while mainly a factor of the Acquisition stage, must be influenced by the following four stages to be considered a momentum magnet.
Awareness - Content is still the most effective driver of long-term awareness.
Acquisition - The Lead Magnet still maintains control over this lever.
Activation - Today, the lead magnet also drives this lever.
Revenue - Customer acquisition - this is why customers buy from you.
Retention - Customer satisfaction - this is why customers stay with you.
Referral - Customer evangelism - this is why customers recommend you.
If you work backward, you can see that there is a logical flow of support. If you nail what causes customers to recommend you, you will most likely retain customers. And whatever you’re doing to retain customers (aside from holding them hostage with stupid contracts) is why they will buy in the first place.
And whatever causes someone to buy is what will make them activate. And whatever will cause a lead to activate is going to drive acquisition. And, if you’re doing content right, that same thing should be driving awareness as well.
Creating an Impactful B2B Lead Magnet
If done right, your lead magnet has two purposes: to acquire a lead and slingshot them through the activation phase with enough momentum they become buy-ready.
Today’s lead magnet must be a valuable asset, not just a piece of content. It needs to help accomplish a very specific goal, not just talk about it. If it’s an eBook, that eBook needs to deliver a very specific outcome. It’s the payoff that matters, not the vehicle.
The eBook format is the vehicle. So are checklists, calculators, micro-courses, and the like. Content lead magnets come in all forms of vehicles. The vehicle really isn’t the important thing; it's the payoff that matters. So, the form should start from payoff, and the choice of the vehicle becomes a byproduct.
Now that you’ve decided on the payoff, and the vehicle, let’s examine the function: how are you going to move from the payoff to activation?
If you’ve chosen the right payoff, it’s only a small step in reaching the ultimate payoff, which is what your company sells.
For example, we have a lead magnet on Growth Marketing. The vehicle is a micro-course on the fundamentals of Growth Marketing. The function is to reveal the real truth, that Growth Marketing is only a part of what we call Growth Stacking. It’s the most prominent part, kind of like the tip of the iceberg.
Most people just want to jump to market and start selling. However, when you know the fundamentals of Growth Marketing, it reveals the real truth: that there is a lot of work to do to build an engine that encompasses all six levers of growth.
That engine is what we help build, and we have a system all ready to go for our clients.
The point of the lead magnet is not just a piece of content. It’s a piece of content that delivers a very specific payoff - an understanding of the fundamentals of Growth marketing. But the thank you page increases the momentum our customers move from that goal to the buying decision.
The Delivery and Impact
How you deliver a lead magnet today has a major impact on its performance. If you just hand over a piece of content and call it a win because you’ve added a contact to your email list, you’re walking with the dinosaurs.
That’s too slow. And your customers are on a fast-paced journey.
Step 1: Deliver on the Payoff
The delivery of your lead magnet should primarily deliver on the promise of the specific result. But it needs to “burn the engine” toward activation.
Step 2: Do a Short Burn
On the thank you page, you should start the burn and show the contact how to get the most value from the lead magnet. You’ve delivered the lead magnet into their hands; now show them how to really take advantage of it.
This may be videos, more content, or even an infographic. But whatever you can give them that ensures they get the payoff, provide it.
Step 3: Set the New Course
The lead magnet is only the first step in their buyer journey. In times past, you would try to “nurture” them with email series. And that’s still okay to do. But, you need them on the right trajectory to slingshot to the buying decision.
The delivery of the lead magnet is the most impactful time to set the new course. They have converted for some reason, now is the time to make sure they set their mind to the right reason. The end goal they are after may not be the end goal they need.
For example, we get a lot of traffic from people looking for a traditional marketing agency. It’s a really old business model, and most people think that’s what they need. We disagree. The agency model is broken and has been broken for a few years now.
Instead, companies need a growth team - either in-house, outsourced, or hybrid.
Most people reading this won’t know the difference. It sounds like two names for the same thing, right?
That’s the point of setting the new course.
In the delivery of our lead magnets, we must set the new course. You can get the payoff of our lead magnets and still be on the agency trajectory. But if our lead magnets do their real job, your trajectory will change. Now, you will be on the route to the moon’s gravitational field.
Step 4: Burn the Engines!
You’ve set a new course. Now you need to offer them the engine burn to get them to the new payoff - the real payoff.
Your delivery of the lead magnet needs to create the void for a new payoff. And then, your nurturing and delivery partner together to burn the engines toward that new payoff.
For Lean Labs, this means offering them an insight into the Lean Growth Stacking methodology, which can only be implemented by a fully-staffed growth team. Growth Marketing is only a small part of that tried and true growth engine.
If we’ve set the course correctly, our new contacts now believe this to be true. Now, the big decision (moon slingshot) is how they will staff their growth team: in-house, outsourced, or hybrid.
We burn the engines by showing them how we plan for growth, how we budget for growth, and how we accelerate growth.
The people who want to know those things have accomplished the following:
- They’ve learned about growth marketing.
- They’ve learned about growth stacking.
- They believe they need a growth team.
Now, they just need to know how to put it all together. They are at the buying decision. And obviously, now that they are at the buying decision, knowing how we plan, budget, and accelerate growth is something they want to know, not just something we want to share.
Now, there is a mutual benefit to having a conversation with us, which is the summit between the AAA and the RRR growth levers.
If the lead magnet is not the engine burns that get them to the slingshot faster, it’s a wasted lead magnet.
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