- The previous generation of marketers progressed believing everything is measurable and that generating leads by gatekeeping content and forcing customers to fill out forms was the ultimate in lead gen.
- Audiences are bombarded with outbound messages, and unsubscribing is easy. We need to tell relatable stories that customers want to hear and stop making them jump through hoops to get the information they want.
- Instead of counting how many people fill out forms, we should be looking at engagement metrics like dwell time, video completion rates, inbound calls, etc.
- Change is never easy, but the present business environment is the perfect time to make the jump to an engagement model because it accelerates sales velocity and deal size.
Marketing automation software has made it very easy to measure everything we do, simplify lead management, and we’ve become so data-driven that marketers have focused on leads as if they’re the only thing that matters.
But there’s a shift underway, a tendency to ask for more than a potential customer’s name and email—to also earn their attention.
Engagement, not leads, is becoming the primary metric for marketers. We’re changing the way we’re doing marketing, focusing less on whether a prospect has downloaded a white paper and more on if that person has actually read it.
The trend didn’t start with COVID-19, but uncertain times have absolutely created urgency around efficiently transforming content into engagement and ultimately revenue.
Information overload (Read more...) driving the shift
Too many marketers look at content assets—webinars, whitepapers, how-to guides, etc.—as lead gen machines, as if the contact information viewers or readers provide is the point of the content.
They focus more on corralling their audience into gated landing pages to fill out forms (where non-committal prospects often provide fake names and email addresses) than relevant content the customer will truly value.
Lead management tools process the data provided, and when potential customers provide their real contact information, automation makes it easier to reach out to them repeatedly with fresh, relevant content … and the cycle continues.
Lead gen outreach is more personalized, and that’s a good thing. But since it’s automated there’s a lot of messages, which can become overwhelming.
Unfortunately for marketers, automation also makes it easy for platforms like Gmail to ask users if they want to unsubscribe from a list when they haven’t opened the last 10 emails. With everyone experiencing information overload, many are opting out.
This dynamic is accelerating a return to engagement basics rather than strategies focused on leads as the metric for success. We need to find a more creative way to do marketing, making engagement our primary focus and opening access to content for potential customers.
We need to focus on creating captivating content that helps audiences realize new possibilities and avenues for competitive advantage, instead of gatekeepers who generate leads.
Toward an engagement marketing strategy
So, how can you make the shift to engagement marketing? Some brands are already doing it, lowering the drawbridge so users can access content freely, while marketers keep an eye on metrics like dwell time.
To cite one example, LinkedIn recently shifted algorithms to emphasize engagement in its feed, explaining the move as follows on their engineering blog:
“The Feed AI Team’s mission is to help LinkedIn’s members discover the most relevant conversations and content in their feed to help them be more productive and successful.”
B2B marketers can also focus on what makes customers productive and successful and create stories around that. Content needs to be relatable and authentic, and it has to consistently deliver value, i.e., information, tools, and ideas that help customers do their jobs better.
Podcasts are now a popular marketing tool precisely because they’re an avenue to offer real value, which can generate higher engagement.
Also keep in mind that interruptions are roadblocks to engagement. Ever realized it’s 2 a.m. and you’ve just binge-watched six episodes of a series? If so, you were probably on Netflix, which serves up the next episode so quickly that you don’t have time to walk away.
Commercial breaks or actions that force viewers to affirmatively click to start the next episode cause a loss of attention.
Marketers should borrow a page from the Netflix strategy and create content that is accessed seamlessly, and continue the conversation with the next compelling content asset.
Ask users what draws them to your company, and build a narrative around that to drive sales. And, you don’t need a huge budget to get started–be scrappy in your approach and learn what works.
Now is the time to make the change and focus on engagement
Shifting focus from leads to engagement isn’t a trivial change, and with the economic fallout from the pandemic, many marketing teams are treading water.
Perhaps an economic downturn is the best time to make this change. As companies that focus on engagement have learned, revenue goes up when an engaged base of prospects moves through the sales cycle faster, oftentimes also resulting in increased deal size.
Engagement marketing requires creativity because finance isn’t going to fulfill marketing’s budget requests every year, especially this year.
However, you can work with the finance team to monitor metrics, such as the total cost of acquiring a customer, and look for ways to make your operations more efficient. Being authentic and relatable doesn’t incur an extra cost—you just need the creativity to pull it off.
As a marketing professional, show potential customers who you are by letting them access your content freely. Let them get to know you through podcasts and virtual events (which are cost-efficient, by the way).
Consistently deliver value to capture and hold your audiences’ attention. Do A/B testing to figure out what works and what doesn’t. That’s bold and scrappy—and ultimately engaging.
Rowan Tonkin is an experienced sales and marketing leader for fast-growing global organizations. He is currently the SVP of Marketing at Planful, a leading financial planning and analysis cloud platform, where he leads the market strategy and all aspects of creating, nurturing and enabling demand.