Do Lead Nurturing Campaigns Always Need an Offer?

In my last post, I talked about creative campaign ideas for when you have no content to offer. Which leads to another question: do certain types of campaigns even need an offer in the first place? Take lead nurturing: is it strictly essential that every lead nurturing touch include a specific, gated, call to action? Or can you get away with a link to content, perhaps content that’s not even your own?

Over at Marketo, Jon Miller wrote a fascinating post recently on “The 4-1-1 Rule for Lead Nurturing” in which he posits (and here I’m paraphrasing) that lead nurturing campaigns don’t always need to feature the latest white paper, Webinar, or video, and that these kinds of offers or promotions are best interspersed with what Jon refers to as “educational or entertaining content.”

As further context, the 4-1-1 Rule that Jon references is a principle intended for Twitter and credited to Tipping Point Labs and Joe Pulizzi of the Content Marketing Institute. The 4-1-1 Rule states that “for every one self-serving tweet, you should re-tweet one relevant tweet and more importantly share four pieces of relevant content written by others.” In his post, Jon proposes extending the rule to lead nurturing, and states that “some of the best (lead nurturing) emails provide useful and compelling content in the email itself” – that is to say: without an offer.

Jon wrote the book on lead nurturing (literally) but, personally, I have concerns about extending Twitter rules into the realm of email marketing. Here’s an excerpt from the comment I posted to his blog:

“I love the idea of the 411 Principle as applied to Twitter and Facebook and I’d suggest it could easily extend to blog posts also. I have my concerns, however, about extending it to lead nurturing and the email medium. Here’s why:

The very nature of Twitter and Facebook means that followers are used to seeing a wide variety of content, precisely as you describe: some if it self-promotional, but much of it informational, or commentary, or sharing of third party content that we think our readers will find relevant or interesting or even humorous.

I’m not sure the same expectation extends to email, a medium for which I would suggest the bar is significantly higher in terms of relevancy and value. Personally, if someone is going to clutter my inbox, relevancy is the bare minimum. I expect any marketing email to have a tangible offer of immediate value, not just a link that the company deems I might find of interest. If you want to share links, well: that’s what Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest et al are for. But maybe that’s just me.

I’m not sure I’d have much patience for a company, regardless of any interest I might have expressed in their product or service, that wanted to share links to educational and entertainment-type content with me via email, particularly if those links arrived with any frequency. Occasionally? Sure. More than once every couple of weeks? Not so much.”

What do you think? Is lead nurturing always about generating measurable response, increasing lead scores, progressive profiling, and moving leads to sales? Or can it also be about establishing trust, thought leadership, and affinity with the target prospect? If the latter, how often would you be willing to send your audience “educational or entertaining content” minus any kind of tangible offer attached?

3 thoughts on “Do Lead Nurturing Campaigns Always Need an Offer?

  1. Jon Miller, Marketo

    Here’s the comment I cross-posted to my blog. I really do believe it comes down to relevance and expectations… For example, lots of people subscribe to Daily Candy and get links every day to useful third party information. The key is (a) they expect to get that kind of content with that frequency and (b) the content is useful, interesting, fun and so on.

    If you define lead nurturing as relationship building and keeping in touch, then I believe you don’t need offers / calls to action. When a friend forwards me something interesting, I am thankful to her and it helps our relationship. I don’t need it to be asking me to take a specific action. But everyone once in a while, it’s OK if it asks me to do something.

  2. Kevin Payne

    Howard, I completely agree with you and even wonder if 4-1-1 makes sense for Twitter when it comes to B2B marketing. If I sent out regular “entertaining” content I think I would simply increase my opt-out rate. I believe B2B people are too busy to deal with irrelevant materials. They want well conceived, useful content. If they find value in cartoons or humorous photos, they’re likely not buyers anyway.

  3. Robert J. Moreau

    I believe it truly depends on the companies goals and specifically what the objective is. Some advertising and marketing campaigns are about building LASTING relationships with your customers or prospects and if they feel that everything is a call to action you are hurting your opportunity to appeal to the emotional and physiological aspects of your audience. Granted, if you are a lead generation consultant and/or agency chances are that is what you there to provide so I believe everything will be viewed from that narrow scope. But, I rarely sit with a CMO/VP of a large enterprise or larger more robust agency and have discussions about strictly a “lead nurturing campaign”. It’s PART of an overall function of facilitating their “journey” through the buying process and that takes strategic brand communications, solid/smart creative, great content as well as a focus on the lead generation and lead management aspects of the program or campaign. However, if you are tasked with launching a product or driving engagement for a world wide brand – I believe the content provided and calls to action have to be considered across the various tactics (much more than e-mail, social and twitter) and choosing when and where to drive an “action” is more based on timing and the profile of that individual (and their behavior) than it is whether or not a given tactic is the right or wrong time to use an offer. Nurturing should be part of a bigger strategy and support the overall advertising campaign. In my experience a solid nurturing campaign is greatly enhanced by doing the advertising and PR aspects the “right way” and not looking at these as silos or truly different animals. My 0.02.

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