Another article listing trends and promising lead generation marketing on steroids?
I understand if you are skeptical. Many trends have come and gone. Some, like email marketing automation, changed the game. Others, like the professed beacon revolution, flopped hard.
Still, I believe it’s important to talk about the changes and shifts in lead generation marketing because if there ever was a time that erased traditional marketing blueprints, it’s 2020. Whole industries are being transformed amid a crisis that shook up the market foundations, staggered leaders, and gave rise to new competitors. And yet, despite all the difficulties your business is facing, stakeholders and customers are always demanding more.
Already in 2019, before the worldwide COVID tumble, an Accenture study reported over 75% of CMOs to admit that past marketing formulas can’t hold up against the new disruptors, which seem able to win by delivering more relevant CX.
What are these disruptors? Or, more importantly, are they even relevant and achievable to your mid-market business?
In this article, I’m going to focus on strategies and technologies you can actually apply in 2021, not just talk about them abstractly for years on end.
What is Lead Generation Marketing in 2021?
The concept of lead generation marketing, enticing, and capturing interest in a product or service so the lead can enter the conversion funnel hasn’t changed. It’s still all about sourcing information and assigning priority levels. The difference is more and more emphasis being put on innovating and incentivizing so that prospects don’t feel bothered or discouraged by data requests.
The best lead generation marketing provides you with data that allows you to score and nurture the leads on a personalization level that doesn’t feel automated - on a level that puts quality customer experience to the forefront from the very first touchpoint.
Let’s dive into the most actionable lead generation marketing trend that might just give you the conversion rates you’ve been envisioning for 2021.
What are the Lead Generation Marketing Trends to Use in 2021?
I’ve organized this article into a numbered list to make it easier to digest. Though, my belief is that all of the lead generation strategies and tips below have the greatest chance of success when approached as steps of the same journey, depending on and driving each other.
1. Website Chatbots
I’m well aware chatbots have been up and down this list for years and don’t have the best rep. So, I hope I won’t lose you right at the start.
Chatbots exploded a few years back, fueling our sci-fi expectations of artificial intelligence on the level of human sentience. No need to remind you it was a huge disappointment. One that gave bots a lousy image they were unable to shake since.
Humor me a little and forget about all that.Forget what you think you know about chatbots.
Let’s look at it from the fresh post-2020 perspective.
Despite being hard on us all, 2020 gave the green light to creativity and innovation and gave us collective lightbulb moments that would have taken us years to reach otherwise.
Innovation turned from a perk to necessity, and with that, chatbots got a second chance.
Now, when I talk about chatbots, I don’t necessarily mean AI chatbots. Yes, conversational AI is essential, and those kinds of assistants have their time, place, and application. But chatbots are much more than AI… or should I say much less? In any case, I am trying to draw your attention to the simple “dumbed-down” bots no-one ever expected to live up to human complexity. The ones that take leads down predetermined paths of a carefully designed decision tree.
Because a simple conversational interface might just be the status-quo-breaking lead generation software, we’ve all been waiting for.
The secret to their success is the conversational approach that is just so natural on desktop as well as mobile and combines it with the practicality of a traditional user interface. In other words, they keep the turn-taking, information, chatty vibe while removing the insecurity so often induced by AI natural language processing bots.
Rule-based chatbots with rich interfaces don’t leave the users in an agony of thinking what they can or cannot ask or how they should ask it so the bot won’t get confused… Forget that.
Website bots are the top lead generation trend because they are the new online forms.
Online forms dominated the lead gen space for years, but they just can’t keep up. Traditional web forms lack the immediacy, the personalization, and “CX Factor” consumers are so vehemently demanding.In the words of Mattia Gnemmi, founder of the marketing automation agency Conversational Design based in Italy:
On the other hand, chatbots remove the “form dread,” conversationalize the interaction, collect and instantly apply the collected data into practice, customizing the flow for each lead. These simple steps can make an incredible difference without even going anywhere near AI.
Joaquín Losa, responsible for innovation and product development at Madison, a Madrid-based marketing agency, sums up their first website chatbot implementation pretty well:
The power and actionability of website chatbots as the next lead generation marketing trend is not just in their ability to convert. It’s also in their accessibility and ease of application.
This brings me to the second thing 2020 helped get in the spotlight: no-code/low-code tools. Tools, which make chatbot development and launch as simple as using an online form, except they perform better.
Now, you are probably expecting me to say “But enough about chatbots…”
Sorry to disappoint.
I listed website chatbots at the top of the list because I see them as a way to aid and support all the other trends on this list. So, let’s take a look!
2. Instant Messaging Marketing
Using messaging apps in your lead generation marketing is not exactly a shocking revelation.
Many popular apps such as Messenger, Line, WeChat, or Viber have been open to businesses for quite some time. Furthermore, WhatsApp joining the list of business-friendly messaging platforms in 2018 really locks the direction in which things are moving.
However, 2020 orchestrated a giant leap in the matter of consumer acceptance. Even people who didn’t interact with a business using a messaging app (whether live or via chatbot) before were given a chance to experience convenience.
So, what makes a messaging app so much better than email, phone call, or even a website bot/live chat?There were two reasons:
- Comfort Zone: Using messaging apps allows you to approach leads in an environment where they feel at home and comfortable. They have the power. They dictate the rules. And no, it’s not the same as email. Going to check a new message feels much more comfortable than checking your inbox. Replying to a message is much quicker and more natural than responding to a message.
- Asynchronicity: Thanks to asynchronicity, messaging apps take instant satisfaction to the next level. Level, where “instant” is not even that important. Not only do they offer the convenience of the instant response from your side, but they also allow the consumer to respond whenever they want, be it instantly, in an hour, or the next day. It’s so powerful that a recent study reported a messaging app to be the best-rated channel among customers even though it wasn’t the fastest. A few minutes delay on a desktop can be fatal. On a messaging app, it’s not a big deal because consumers don’t have to wait around staring at the screen. They can get on with their lives. In other words, it erases the stress of waiting.
These two things alone guarantee messaging apps will continue to play a critical role in lead generation marking in 2021.
Does this mean you need to go crazy and get on every messaging app there is?
The omnichannel craze is a thing of the past.
When it comes to messaging, always think about the value and relevance.
How relevant is it to your target audience that you are present on this or that channel? Is it solving any pain points? Is it markedly improving the experience?
If it does, go for it.
The most important thing is, you CAN go for it because being present on messaging apps live or via chatbot is once again accessible.
You don’t need an army of developers to stand up to your corporate competitors. Your small or mid-market company can be as innovative as anyone. Those low-code tools I already mentioned make your automated messaging apps strategy actionable, not just theoretical. In fact, you might have an advantage. Corporate decisions take forever while your company can afford to be agile.
3. Audio/Video Content
The video marketing trend erupted in 2019. According to Hubspot’s survey, 87% of businesses used video as a marketing tool that year, marking a 26% increase since 2016. The trend carried over well into 2020, noting only a minimal decrease with 85% claiming to use video for marketing. The more important thing is 92% of those businesses using video reported a positive impact on ROI. This has been the highest percentage yet.
Once again, no news here. Audio and video content has been on the rise for years. Podcasts, webinars, demos, live streams, product videos on your web and social media became particularly essential in 2020 when the face-to-face element has been taken off the table.
In 2021, I want to highlight a particular type of video marketing, the type that pursues thought leadership.
Becoming a thought leader is all about being recognized as an authority in a specific field, becoming the reference and source of expertise. Just look at the most obvious example in the history of marketing - Apple. A company that changed the marketing game with its “Think different” ideology which put them at the forefront of innovation and advancement. Apple products are the references; they mark the path.
Did you know that according to the 2020 B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study (Edelman &LinkedIn), 89% of business decision-makers consider thought leadership very effective at improving their perception of a brand?
- 90% said it increased their respect for the business;
- 89% claimed it increased their perception of the company’s capabilities
- 89% said it was a strong impact on their trust
The situation is not much different in B2C. Consumers crave brands they can love not just for their product but also ideologically.
Thought leadership is becoming ever more impactful, and audio-visual media is becoming its prime content type. YouTube has become home to some of the most impressive thought leadership content including webinars, presentations, interviews, reviews, and more. Even TED has a YouTube channel.
On the other hand, podcasts are gaining a lot of traction right now, too, with a 51% increase in listeners since 2019 in the US alone. According to Infinite Dial 20, 55% (155 million) of the US population has listened to a podcast in 2020, a 4% increase from 51% in 2019.
The answer to the question of whether you should go with a podcast or video is really a more practical one. Each has its limits and benefits. Video content is excellent when you have time to sit down and focus, but when you want to catch your target audience on the move, in a car, or on the train, a podcast is more suitable.
Obviously, I am not saying you should give up on the more traditional content such as articles. Each format has a perfect use case. However, when it comes to establishing thought leadership, allowing your audience to see who you are, how you think, and who you associate with is a potent tool.
At this point, you are probably wondering why I haven’t mentioned chatbots yet and how they could possibly relate to this. Well, while video and audio content is the perfect vessel to communicate your expertise, bots are the ideal way to deliver it at the right time and place. They can fish out any of your content on a moment's notice based on a prospect’s preference or enable you to streamline your webinar marketing with 1-click signups.
4. Account-Based Marketing
Account-based marketing. Another veteran refusing to leave the trends section, especially when it comes to B2B.
In fact, the ABM Benchmark Survey Report by Demand Gen Report from 2019 showed 94% of B2B marketers were engaged in account-based marketing, which is a massive jump from only 47% in the 2016 results of the same report.
What is it really about?
Account-based Marketing (also known as ABM) is a growth strategy based on collaboration between Marketing and Sales departments in order to create a personalized shopping experience for mutually-identified high-value accounts.
For instance, the most popular content types used to drive ABM include targeted content based on specific:
- Industries (68%);
- Roles (62%)
- Account challenges/needs (52%)
In terms of content formats, the most important turned out to be:
- Case studies (86%)
- Articles and blog posts (79%)
- White papers (76%)
ABM is indeed popular, but 46% of teams still admit (despite being confident about having identified their ideal customer profiles) there is room for improvement, especially when it comes to coverage. This might be the result of the lack of automation and synchronization in the process. Actually, 80% of companies still heavily rely on sales-team-selected accounts instead of a formulated data-based targeted account list.
Hence, ABM in 2021 is about personalization and minimizing dependencies, and streamlining the processes.
For account-based marketing to be effective, your marketing and sales teams need to define a list of your ideal customers based on the value they add to your business so they can target similar profiles. After that, you can focus your resources on leads with the highest possible conversion potential. It’s the very opposite of casting a wide net over a large unidentified audience and passing all of the captured contacts to sales, regardless of their quality.
ABM helps focus your team efforts and resources on leads likely to generate the most profit for your business.
The question is, even if you have a list of characteristics that define your ideal client, how do you identify them among the vast pool of leads. Naturally, targeted content creation and marketing campaigns help… but there is another way to qualify your top accounts even before they lay eyes on targeted content.
That brings me to the next trend… on-page lead qualification.
5. Conversational On-Page Lead Qualification
Even with a highly focused marketing strategy to drive your ABM efforts, you are likely to generate a percentage of leads that don’t fit the profile or, at the very least, are not yet at the right stage of their journey to convert.
Just to give you a few examples, you are likely to come to access some leads that don’t match the profile because they:
- Are based in a different country than where your business operates;
- Don’t have the role and authority to make purchase decisions;
- Don’t have sufficient budget to create a worthy ROI;
- Weren’t looking to buy from you at all and downloaded the targeted content for research or other purposes.
To avoid the above, you need to qualify the leads that land on your website as quickly as automatically as possible. Though, you should not sacrifice the quality of CX and personalization in the process.
Personalization usually means access to quite a bit of data, making it impossible to tackle manually. However, aggressively automated solutions can hurt the customer experience. It’s a cursed circle. You need to find the right balance between quality CX without missing out on key data capture to drive your ABM.Typically companies go about it one of two ways:
- They create a one-step signup process and offer more information after the leads have signed up. However, in this scenario, capturing their email address doesn’t necessarily mean the leads will provide them with additional data that will help you qualify them further.
- They forget about friction and UX and ask all the pertinent data and questions upon signup. This approach, taking its toll on the user experience, comes at the cost of deterring some prospects from signing up at all.
I selected on-page lead qualification as one of the lead generation marketing trends because there is a third option - chatbots.Chatbots, especially the rule-based ones, create the perfect balance between quality experience and data collection.
Firstly, unlike forms, they draw the users visiting your website into a conversation, a turn-taking dance that fills the craving for instant satisfaction.
Secondly, they can do so in a friendly and engaging manner, not just because of the conversational format but also because you will be able to showcase your brand identity, vision, and image through your bot avatar’s personality.
Thirdly, chatbots give you a gift or automated real-time personalization thanks to a feature called conditional logic. Conditional logic in bots allows you to divert paths based on the user meeting one or a series of conditions.
For example, if a user is a top-level decision-maker, the company has between 50-150 employees, is based in your best-performing market geographically, and the need is immediate. The bot can personalize the communication and push the lead directly to your sales team in real-time or help them set up an appointment. But suppose a lead matches all of the above EXCEPT the user is not a decision-maker in the company. In that case, the bot can instead push materials that would help them present your solution and persuade their company leaders.
Better yet, with a bit more work, you can create a bot that doesn’t just capture the qualitative data but assigns numeric values and scores them accordingly. If you are curious, check out this guide to creating a lead qualification bot with this specific functionality!
Rather than simply creating a lead magnet haphazardly generating more leads, create one that qualifies them, right there and then.Applying a conversational on-page qualification strategy will help your team automate while delivering the high-quality UX your leads deserve. And, your team can focus all their energy on prospects that matter.
6. Marketing and Sales Alignment
This might come as a surprise, but marketing and sales alignment is still a significant issue for many companies. In the 2020 Linkedin report, a staggering 90% of sales and marketing professionals expressed their departments are misaligned across strategy, process, content, and culture.
Shockingly, the same percentage of surveyees agrees that if the marketing and sales initiatives and messages are aligned, it positively impacts customer experience. Moreover, 97% and 98% of marketers and sellers respectively believe that misalignment has a negative impact on both the business and the customer.
If marketers and sellers realize the impact of misalignment why things don’t change?
Well, usually, the devil lies in the difference between perception and reality. For example, while the perception suggests there’s alignment on strategy, the reality is that sales and marketing KPIs are different, measured by different people, and reported to different managers. Also, while many teams think they are aligned on the process, in reality, they often use different systems that create data disparity. Or, many teams will swear they are aligned on the message yet continue to create content without each-others input.
Marketing and sales misalignments are a massive challenge for all, whether you choose ABM as your strategy or not. Though considering ABM is already one step towards better communication. It kick-starts the conversation and paves the road to unified goals and KPIs.
Though that is just the beginning, if the change is to be permanent, it needs to dig deep into your processes.
Chatbots, once again, can help get your sales and marketing teams on the same page. You see the most common misalignment issues include Sales and marketing:
- Planning two different processes for engaging with potential customers;
- Not cooperating on sales funnel growth;
- Failing to integrate tools and systems.
Website chatbots centralize the engagement (conversations both automated and live) under one roof giving both teams control and overview via a friendly no-code interface. Better yet, after setting up common goals and a way to measure them, marketing and sales can work together to create conversational conversion funnels that work for them both.
Last but not least, you can easily integrate bots with most 3rd-party tools making real-time data export and import a piece of cake. For instance, Landbot includes a plethora of native integration including Google Sheets, Zapier, Salesforce, Zendesk, Mailchimp, Slack notifications, etc. which were designed with collaboration in mind. They allow you to export data out of a conversation as they are submitted as well as pull them back in when personalization is needed.
Also, bots don’t necessarily need to face your customers. They can also help out internally. For example, if it’s impossible for you to have a single system/tool for both marketing and sales, you can create bots to help team reps update or pull out fresh data from the systems at a moment’s notice.
Collaborating on creating a centralized system will also open doors to content that considers both the product (sales perspective) and the problem the customer is trying to solve (marketing perspective).
7. Improving Page Experience
Page experience is more of a forced-upon trend. One you must follow for the sake of the organic part of your lead generation marketing strategy.
You see, 2021 is scheduled to bring us Google’s new ranking signal called “page experience”. The original 2020 rollout never happened because of COVID giving us all a bit more time to get on board with it.This new ranking signal combines several older signals:
- Page speed
- HTTPS ranking boost
- Safe browsing
But also refines metrics related to speed and usability and groups them under the term “Core Web Vitals”:
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) AKA “Loading Performance” → Google set a benchmark of 2.5 seconds for the largest element in the view to load.
- First Input Delay (FID) AKA “Interactivity” → Checks how quickly interactive elements respond to user actions and sets the benchmark the response time at 100 milliseconds or under.
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) AKA “Visual Stability” → determines whether elements on the page move after loading, causing instability and a range of UX issues.
Google confirmed that page experience is going to become one of the main ranking signals of 2021 and onwards. Sure, it’s a bit technical but it will be the new tie-breaker in cases when content appears of equal quality. Taking care of the page experience as early into 2021 as possible is the best way to improve and get a fighting chance at top rankings and feature snippets.
Where do conversational assistants fit in (in this case)?Well-integrated bots but can fuel interactions, especially in the case of a chatbot landing page where the bot is the star. These kinds of landing pages concentrate user attention on the conversation only, urging them to interact to find out more. They are the perfect tool for lead capture campaigns, organic, and paid.
Though even a bot widget or a website embed have their advantages. They add the interaction element and invite the users to become an active participant instead of a static observer, giving you and Google plenty of clicks and engagement signals.
8. Increasing Customer Lifetime Value through Conversations
Lead generation marketing has one issue, when businesses zoom in on it, capturing new prospects often takes the spotlight and everything else becomes secondary. Many businesses fall into the trap of treating customer journey through the conversion funnel as a linear experience. The usual depiction of the marketing funnel doesn’t really help to fight the problem.
It’s time to start treating lead generation marketing not as a first step on a linear path but as a part of a cyclical process.
After 2020 shook the world as we know it to the core, businesses can’t afford to forget about leads once they have converted. Post-purchase, the conversion cycle needs to start over again, this time with nurture and attention.
The key to success is abandoning the funnel metaphor and imagining a circle where one action endlessly loops to the next. You need to start planning your lead generation marketing strategy keeping the rest of the cycle (the pre and post-purchase nurture) in mind.
In this sense, automated conversations represent the perfect connector linking the whole journey together. Using a bot to capture and qualify leads provides you with sufficient data to offer personalized recommendations and content.
The beauty of chatbots is that they are not tied to your website. While a user is likely to join the cycle on a landing page or a website, the conversation and personalized experiences can continue on any popular messaging app, your brand’s app, or via conversational email nurture campaigns.
Thanks to features such as hidden fields (which store user data in bot’s URL) and integrations, bots can store, update and retrieve data be it personal information or past purchases, tailoring experiences to each user without putting an additional strain on your team.
For instance, in the example below, the bot pulls data such as user name and email address from a Mailchimp database and so, enables 1-click event signup:
Keeping prospects and customers engaged throughout the journey using conversations creates a dynamic reciprocal relationship where the customer is more than just a passive recipient of your services.
Using chatbots as part of your lead generation marketing as well as throughout the following stages of the conversion cycle taps into prevailing consumer needs for personalized attention, comfort, and immediacy.
Brace Yourself for Lead Generation Marketing in 2021
2020 changed the game forever. Things will never go less digital. Consumers will only grow more tech-savvy, more tech-comfy, and even more demanding of personalized treatment and your undivided attention.
Automation is the way… but only if that automation keeps a human touch.
Conversational assistants serve both of these necessities, and 2020 showed us bots are ready to disrupt and revolutionize business-customer communication.
Sure, maybe not in the sci-fi AI way we once imagined but with breathtaking efficiency and personalization (which was the initial hope & idea behind conversational assistants anyway). Plus, the no-code revolution democratized chatbot technology making them affordable and accessible to businesses of all shapes and sizes.
I listed the trends individually, so they are easier to digest. However, the reality is brands need to start bringing these efforts together if they are to survive and stay competitive in the years to come. The good news is, none of these trends are too futuristic or unattainable. They are all just a series of suggestions on how you can finetune and improve the actions you have probably already been taking.
Focus on getting the details right. Focus on aligning your goals and actions across departments and, most importantly, keep the whole cycle in mind. Lead generation marketing doesn’t stand separate from the rest, it depends on the system and the system depends on it.