Content Marketing
What! No More Lead Forms? Content Marketing In A Free Content World

What! No More Lead Forms? Content Marketing In A Free Content World

June 29, 2016
3 min read

Imagine a world where we stop asking prospects to complete lead generation forms for gated content. Say what?

How will marketing teams deliver qualified leads to their sales teams? How will content marketers measure their marketing performance? In fact, lead generation was ranked as the most important content marketing goal in the latest B2B Content Marketing: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends report from Content Marketing Institute (CMI) and MarketingProfs.

If we eliminated all lead gen forms, what metrics can we use to show the ROI of our content marketing investment?

Making Content “Free”

Those were probably some of the questions that ran through Dave Gerhardt’s head, the Marketing Lead at the messaging app startup Drift, when their CEO David Cancel proposed to nix all gated forms to their content.

As the editor of Scott Brinker noted, there are a number of caveats that makes eliminating lead generation forms more feasible for Drift than for other companies. They still have a pop-up that invites people to subscribe to their newsletter, and they offer freemium trials for people to try out their product. But the freemium model doesn’t work for all businesses.

While the idea may seem too radical to some marketers, if we see it through the lens of a prospect, nixing all gated forms might actually be quite nice. Wouldn’t it? No more forms to complete to get the content you want. No more (unwanted) nurture emails and calls from marketing development or sales reps, aggressively moving you through their funnel. You reach out if and when you want to engage with their company.

Future Of Content Marketing: No More Forms?

Noah Fenn, the head of video sales and strategy at AOL, has talked about ad execs sharing this “collective amnesia,” where they somehow have forgotten that they, just like the rest of us, are viewers themselves who just want to read and watch their content without unwanted interruptions – the exact same ads they are creating that we want to avoid if given the option.

Do marketers perhaps share this “collective amnesia” with our demand generation programs? Our prospects may tolerate lead gen forms and phone or email follow-ups, but can we honestly say that they like it when they are not ready to engage with your brand yet? Who is actually doing the demanding with our demand gen programs?

As Brinker asks, if we, as marketers, only focus on doing these two things really well – one, create valuable content our prospects want and need without gating them, and two, make sure our companies are building amazing products that people actually want to buy, renew and recommend to the world – could this make marketing more effective, and could it help companies grow their sales and revenue faster?

These are certainly interesting questions for marketers to think about.

Marketing ROI In A New World

As Brinker notes, at least for B2B marketing, lead forms and nurture campaigns are the “heart of modern marketing operations” today. Existing marketing automation software and technologies are primarily used for these marketing activities, which marketers use to measure and evaluate their KPIs today.

If we stopped using lead forms and nurture programs to generate quality leads, how will marketers measure their marketing ROI and performance?

For companies like Drift, marketers can track their number of trial sign-ups and upgrades. For businesses who don’t operate on a freemium model though, perhaps the best KPI is the number of subscribers to your content.

Subscribers convert to revenue at 9X the rate of non-subscribers no matter what your actual conversion rate from web visitor to revenue is.

Clearly this would disrupt the way many brands execute their marketing strategy and how they evaluate their marketing performance today. But if we put on a potential customer’s hat, what is disrupted here?

Is it the customer’s experience with our brand, or is it just our own marketing strategy and operations? Would this disruption actually push brands to become more customer-centric and innovative with their marketing? I believe this focuses the marketing organization on understanding customer needs, creating amazing content experiences, and optimizing on a measure that first defines value for them (the subscribers), knowing that these subscribers are much more likely to convert to sales.

What do you think? Would it be possible for B2B marketers to adopt an approach similar to Drift’s strategy? What potential benefits and challenges do you see with such approach? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please share in the comments section below!

Are you interested in engaging and converting new customers for your business? Contact me here and let’s talk about how we can help. 

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10 thoughts on “What! No More Lead Forms? Content Marketing In A Free Content World

  1. Joakim Ditlev

    Interesting discussion, Michael. Thanks for bringing it up.

    I think it makes sense for a service like Drift to skip the lead gen part and drive traffic directly to their product. It’s a freemium service with low price points and chat services is a well-known product that doesn’t need a lot of education. Guess their average deal age is relatively short: either you want to test the service or you don’t.

    But for 9 out of 10 B2Bs I still believe that discarding the lead gen form is way to risky. There’s too many steps in the buying process and too much internal politics which calls for marketers to publish content on persona-specific channels, so the leads won’t dry out. Marketing automation providers speak well into that pain, and I don’t see how that could change.

  2. Ashley Davis

    Excellent article questioning our motives as marketers and reminding us that we are consumers as well. A world without gated content…. ahhhhhh.

  3. Roger C. Parker

    Dear Michael:
    Great post, as well as linked post.

    What I find interesting is the proven, enduring success of “no-gater” marketers like David Meerman Scott and the Content Marketing Institute who offer immediate access to extremely valuable content.

    I remember one of my interviews with David when he discussed the story behind the weekend success of his “Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead.” Basically, he had not announced the book’s fothcoming publication anywhere in his blog or newsletter. On Friday, in his blog, he announced the book’s publication on Monday.

    His book was a bestseller by Monday, because of his “loyalists” who pre-purchased it over the weekend…and the press soon picked-up on the story.

    Contrast that example of loyalty with my recent “customer experiences” I’ve recently gone through.

    Twice, recently, I’ve gone through extremely frustrating experiences with SAAS marketers whose “free trials” turn out to be actually very limited…and accompanied by constant “upsells” to a **prepaid annual fee** at every step.

    After the fourth or fifth “requires upgrade” prompt, I find my enthusiasm for the product and the brand significantly (and forever) diminished.

  4. faye

    excellent article – no forms has to be the ultimate experience. it’s subscriptions that count which relies on more than one piece of content good enough for a gate… time for brands to raise their game again!

  5. Steve Peck

    Great piece Michael and am certainly an advocate for the approach. Robert Rose from CMI once said that it’s not about forcing a lead to provide their info to access your content, it’s about creating engaging content that motivates the reader to provide their info to see what’s coming next.

    So it all starts with the creation of great content and the readers and eventually leads on that truly follow…

  6. Michael Brenner

    Great point Steve. It’s all about providing valuable content and earning the right to gain subscribers. I always agree with Robert Rose. 😉

  7. Michael Brenner

    Great point Faye! It truly is all about subscribers. This is definitely one of the biggest opportunities for brands to improve their content marketing efforts.

  8. Michael Brenner

    Thanks Ashley, I think it can be done in a way that allows for improved content, increased engagement AND more conversions in the end through subscribers who opt-in.

  9. Michael Brenner

    Thanks Roger. Sounds like some of your experiences are with brands taking the opposite approach. Gating more, offering less and hoping for a positive end customer? Not likely!

  10. Michael Brenner

    Thanks Joakim, I agree. I do think it’s something to test. Every brand I have worked with has a top-of-funnel problem. There simply aren’t enough leads “ready to buy” to fill the sales funnel. That’s why I think subscribers to early-stage content can really be the key. Yes, they will need to be nurtured with MORE great content down the funnel but once you have their email address, dripping more quality content in exchange for more data sounds like a good deal for everyone.

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Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner is an international keynote speaker, author of "Mean People Suck" and "The Content Formula", and Founder of Marketing Insider Group. Recognized as a Top Content Marketing expert and Digital Marketing Leader, Michael leverages his experience from roles in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as his leadership in leading teams and driving growth for thriving startups. Today, Michael delivers empowering keynotes on marketing and leadership, and facilitates actionable workshops on content marketing strategy. Connect with Michael today.

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