Content marketing and lead nurturing go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other. When both are done well, you have an effective way of guiding clients through your funnel, bringing those top of the funnel leads closer to the bottom.
Without good content, it’s proving more and more difficult to get visitors to turn into customers, so it’s integral to make sure that you’re creating content, but also that the content is actually being read.
The Problem with Whitepapers
At Beachhead, a client recently bemoaned their white paper production. The quality of the white paper was great; she thought it was well presented and full of useful information for prospects nearing the bottom of the sales funnel. Their landing page was converting relatively well and it seemed the people downloading the content fit their buyer personas. So what was wrong?
More often than not, when their sales team got on the phone with a prospect and asked about the content, they heard the same response: “Oh, I downloaded that, but I haven’t had time to open it. Maybe call me back in a couple of weeks?”
This response is fairly typical. While you’re working, you go to LinkedIn to check something, see an interesting blog post, open it, and save the window for later when you’ve got more time to read. People do the same thing with whitepapers, infographics and other types of premium content. We’ve even spoken to people who have files of useful information they hoard until they need it.
To us, this highlighted a problem: Great content is great, but if you don’t know it’s been read, it’s useless. So, how can you know for sure if someone’s reading what you send them?
Repurposing Premium Content as an Email Course
One way is distributing content that you would otherwise place in a white paper, as an email course. So, instead of publishing a 5,000-word white paper on ‘How to Train Your Dragon’, cut it down to five chunks of 1,000 words and brand it as a ‘Free 5 Day Email Course on Training Your Dragon’.
This creates a perfect lead nurturing campaign, and also lets you drip feed your clients content in a way that allows you to easily monitor their consumption levels and see what is engaging them and what isn’t. Delivering content this way allows you to determine where they’re getting bored (e.g., they stop opening emails after day three) and which parts are the most interesting (e.g., clicking further information links).
This step-by-step approach also allows you to slowly build knowledge of the pain you solve. If all five of your emails have been read, when the sales team calls the lead and mentions a term, keyword or concept from the materials, the chances of them saying “What the hell is that?!” are pretty low.
Permission is Everything
When you ask your leads to sign up for the course, give them full disclosure. Tell them when they’ll get their emails, how many they’ll get, what sort of content to expect, and when they’ll receive them. Then stick to it.
Don’t add them onto your mailing list, or send them information about your newest product. Why? Here you have a chance to build trust and fulfil a promise to a prospect before they’ve become a client. In effect, you build rapport with regular content delivery, like a sales person would if they were calling for a weekly update.
Marketers often worry that total honesty will turn people off from submitting and try to be as vague as possible with form submission details. We advise against it. If you tell someone they’re signing up for a seven-day course and that you’ll also email them once a month with an update on your services, you might see the conversion rate drop a percent or two, but at least the ones who do sign up won’t feel like they’ve been lied to.
To do this effectively and efficiently, you’ll need some sort of marketing automation system like Marketo, Pardot or HubSpot (we use HubSpot). But if you don’t have one of the more complete systems, there are some great smaller systems, like Drip, that can help you execute projects like this.
With the right technology, you can track when the emails are being opened and how the content is being consumed. You can also A&B test timing, subject lines and the order of the content to make sure your course is working as well as it can. That is, get in front of your leads when they’re in the best position to digest what you’re feeding them.
Timing is Everything, Too
Once your prospects have agreed, deliver the content as you said you would. You can schedule the emails to come at the same time every day, creating a rhythm, or try and break it up and send messages in the morning, evening and/or at lunch.
We have found it’s best to create a pattern and stick with it (to avoid ‘Where’s my Day 2 email?’ questions). Once you’ve tested and found the perfect timing, you can clearly see which content is getting the best engagement.
Which emails are getting the most clicks or being read for the longest amount of time? Do people stop reading after email six? Maybe you need to swap that topic for something more engaging. None of this feedback is available to you if you’ve created a white paper. It lets you separate the content from the medium and analyze both separately, which is much more difficult to do with other types of content.
To Sell to Businesses, Talk to Leads as People First
Another interesting advantage we found in creating educational courses for our leads was that they can open up new marketing channels to a business.
As a B2B marketing technology agency, we usually don’t have much cause for advertising on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. Our clients are there, of course, but they’re not thinking about work when they’re using these platforms. However, positioning the course as a resource for personal development, we actually managed to get a great response (as high as 40 percent conversion rates on both LinkedIn and Twitter).
Speaking to our contacts as people, rather than as representatives of the companies that they work with, created a different relationship and enabled us to contact them through what would have previously been deemed a personal channel.
To recap, some of the biggest benefits of breaking down long-form content (or creating it from scratch) and distributing it an educational course includes:
- Building trust incrementally. With an honest opt in and regular delivery, you establish your company as one that fulfils its promises.
- Establishing your voice as one of trusted education, as you’re speaking to them regularly about the pain you solve.
- Visibility to when they lose interest, or what topics really engage them, in a way that’s nearly impossible with white papers.
- Control over the order in which the content is digested. Instead of watching your lead download whitepapers in the wrong order, they are spoon-fed content and their knowledge is built naturally and thematically.
- Easy A&B testing. You can quickly swap out an email that isn’t performing, or refresh content that doesn’t generate any click through.
You won’t want to do this with every content piece you build, but with the right story to tell and the right audience to target it to, distributing content as free, educational email courses can be an effective method of lead nurturing.