Digital marketing is an emergent field – as marketers we haven’t yet figured out how to consistently get prospective customers to open an email, let alone to respond to a “call to action”. And where did that email address come from anyway?
There are countless ways to get the message through to people who might want to buy a product. Today, content marketing is king – delivered via microsites, blogs, videos, social networks, syndication, retargeting, and more. But it’s impossible for one message to hit every prospect at exactly the right moment in their own buyer’s journey, so the new normal is crafting multi-touch campaigns that nurture each perfect little snowflake along their own custom path. All this engagement is monitored in marketing automation systems like Marketo, HubSpot, Eloqua, Act-On, and others, and the key identifier used to track their progress is an email address.
How do customer communities fit into this marketing mix? Most brands, whether consumer-oriented or business-to-business, now maintain a customer community or forum where the content is largely user-generated. Indeed, communities have become a core channel for building brand awareness, sales, and customer advocacy.
When well designed and maintained, communities can provide many benefits for prospects and customers:
- They’re often a treasure-trove of practical tips and tricks, contributed by experienced users who are happy to share their hard-won knowledge;
- They drive advocacy through leaderboards and other mechanisms that celebrate a brand’s most valuable contributors;
- They improve the customer experience by providing workarounds and third-party solutions that may not be available from a vendor’s technical support department.
They can also become key properties for a brand over time because they’re SEO gold – the content is relevant, technically specific, and constantly refreshed. In tech B2B marketing, a mature customer community can generate a quarter or more of the referral traffic to the corporate website.
But here’s the dilemma: unless you require that users provide a valid email address before they gain access to the content, very few users will bother to register for your community.
As a result, some tech vendors have created communities that require registration before you can even see the content. But this eliminates one of the community’s main potential benefits, by making it impossible for “net new leads” to find a company’s products and solutions. So most publish their content publicly, requiring users to register only if they want to contribute new content or comment on something in an existing thread.
That makes lead gen much more challenging – back to the basics of attracting relevant prospects, engaging them with compelling content, and maybe, just maybe, convincing them to hand over an email address.
There’s still so much to learn about the relationship between customer communities and lead gen:
- Should a community require registration with a valid email address before you can even read the content?
- For public communities, what’s the best way to get “lurkers” who just read content to provide an email address?
- How do you manage people who register with a personal email address (or a throwaway address), rather than their business email?
And maybe most importantly:
- Once you have their precious email address, how do you delight them, rather than piss them off?
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