When NOT to Use Lead-Gen CTAs in Your Marketing

Meghan Lockwood
Meghan Lockwood



lead gen ctaintermediate

Calls-to-action (CTAs) are the directional signals on your website. If the goal of inbound marketing is finding people who are excited to learn about your product or service, then your CTAs are the big (occasionally red and blinking) heralds telling your site visitors where to go next.

We know that marketers who use CTAs on their websites are more likely to convert visitors to leads than those who simply post a 'Contact Us' button on their site and pray. And over time, you'll even learn which CTAs perform better than others to reach your different lead generation goals -- like converting net new leads, versus nurturing leads into marketing qualified leads.

But inbound marketing isn't always about the bing-bang-boom conversion; sometimes, we need to put our conversion obsession aside and focus on other marketing goals. Just like dating in real life, sometimes making an upfront ask just isn’t the right call -- and that means sometimes, your marketing actually shouldn't have a call-to-action. If that sounds like marketing blasphemy, then read on to learn about some of those rare cases in which you actually should not use a lead-generation CTA in your marketing.

PR and Social "Buzz" Campaigns

There are certain PR and social media campaigns where your goal isn’t to drive new leads, but to generate buzz. If the whole point of a campaign is to create a little mystery and get people talking about you, adding a big red CALL NOW! option at the bottom of your page will ultimately distract from your overall goal.

This teaser play works really well for interesting new product launches, or even if you're just trying to expand the top of your marketing funnel. For instance, when we launched our parody of the popular "Gangnam Style," we didn't include a CTA. Not in the video itself, or even the blog post we used to promote it. Why? Because we weren't looking to use that video directly to get new leads. Instead, we wanted to generate interest in HubSpot among a wider audience than those we were already reaching. And frankly, who would want to read an ebook about using Facebook for Business after watching a Gangnam Style video? I doubt very many.

But a little bit of mystery, especially when it's well-deployed at the beginning of a relationship, can be a great way to get future customers to learn about you. Once you've built some social buzz, nurture those new social contacts by following up with great content like blog posts and lead-generation content to show people the heart of your company.

Prospect and Fan/Follower Generation

Similar to buzz campaigns, at the very top of your funnel sometimes prospecting, and not lead generation, is the primary goal of your pages.

When your audience is in their exploratory phase, you want content to successfully showcase your thought leadership and earn readers' trust. Dropping a lead-gen CTA too early might scare off visitors who are interesting in performing some action with you ... just not something so high-commitment as becoming a full-fledged lead. To further the dating analogy, it's like asking your date up to your apartment, when a goodnight kiss would have sufficed.

That's why it's important to give your readers some options, particularly on your more top-of-the-funnel marketing assets, like your blog or social media channels. For instance, on our blog we include options for new readers with whom we haven't built up enough trust for them to become a lead, like a CTA to simple subscribe to our blog, or social share and follow buttons. For a new reader, it's much more reasonable to ask them to share a great article or sign up to read more in the future, than to ask them to attend an hour long webinar we're hosting next week.

And remember, there are other legitimate marketing goals you can try to reach with your content other than lead generation. Increasing your list of subscribers and social media reach are two extremely important ones -- ones that often result in more leads down the road.

Content You Want to Give Away Form-Free

A raging debate among marketers is whether or not you should always give away certain kinds of information for free. To gate or not to gate, also known as "free" versus "form-free," is a question of what resources you allow users to access without requiring they provide information via a landing page form. While we believe that leaving all content ungated makes growing your a Marketing and Sales machine more difficult when you're operating off a lead generation model, when you advance further down the marketing funnel, there are indeed some instances where you might want your content to be totally void of CTAs.

Many businesses decide to use CTAs to generate downloads of their middle- and bottom-of the funnel content in an attempt to generate marketing qualified leads (MQLs). However, for many companies (ours included), gating this kind of content actually harms lead and customer conversions. As far as case studies go, many leads -- particularly for B2B sales organizations -- don't perceive case studies to contain enough value to bother converting again. In fact, it could even be perceived as a barrier to moving along in the sales process, as this is the content they should be receiving for free from their sales rep to help close a deal. So while another conversion may be great to advance leads further down your funnel, including a call-to-action to view it might be costing you more than the new lead intel you gather gives you. Some other MOFU and BOFU content you might consider ungating include customer testimonial videos, product pricing and other sales-centric information, and content designated for existing customers,.

It can be difficult to strike the right balance between generating enough leads, and generating qualified leads. Do some testing in your target audience on what kind of information your audience is willing to "pay" for with their information, versus the kind of credibility and trust you build by offering up content for "free."

Nonprofit Outreach, or Other Altruistic Causes

Online media has an incredible power to bring people together. As digital marketers, we primarily use these tools to bring our prospects together with our marketing content, and hopefully our sales teams. But there are certain major events that compel us to step outside of ourselves for a second, forget that we’re inherently selfish, and try to help one another.

And you know what makes inbound businesses uniquely poised for this transition? They spend a lot of effort developing a following, which they can leverage for good ... good that has nothing to do with lead generation. If your business is trying to raise money for a good cause -- we did this when we were trying to raise money for the Red Cross over the holidays -- our marketing content was completely devoid of lead generation CTAs. For instance, we purposefully left a lead-generation CTA off of our blog post promoting Red Cross donations -- because not only would a CTA be in poor, but it really isn't the point of the post in the first place.

And remember, it's not just philanthropic causes that should cause you to leave the lead-gen CTA at the door. For instance, when Sales and Marketing industry leader Zig Ziglar passed away, we published a blog post honoring his teachings -- which also included no lead-gen CTA. Again, the point of the post was not to generate leads; it was to come together as a community and honor an industry legend and share some of his best quotes with the world.

Business Models Not Based on Leads

Finally, it's incredibly important we all recognize that a lead generation campaigns only make sense if your business model relies on, well, leads. For other business models, adding a lead-gen CTA is likely to distract from your page’s primary objective, rather than complementing your marketing approach.

For instance, there are plenty of businesses out there working off of an ad- or impression-based model. These marketers aren't looking for leads, they're looking for impressions and clicks. Think folks like NBCUniversal, CNN, or Boston.com.

And don't think we've forgotten about our ecommerce marketing friends. Instead of focusing on generating leads, it's usually more important that you drive transactions; these will yield new contacts you can then nurture into repeat customers. When online success depends on website sales, your best bet is to channel your audience directly to a product page and/or shopping cart, not a gated tip sheet about how to one of the products you're selling. Inserting competing CTAs on a page can be distracting -- if the purpose of a page is to sell hiking boots, don’t ask people to do anything else.

In what other instances do you recommend marketers not include a lead-gen CTA? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Image credit: purpleapple428

Topics: Lead Generation

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