Art of Message

Art of Message – October 16, 2023

The truth about lead magnets

I want to expand on my latest dictionary entry – “Lead magnet”.

Caveat: as with every other definition, there’s an implication of quality. For example, when I define marketing, the scope of the definition is good marketing, not crappy marketing.

So I’m interesting in defining quality lead magnets not the crap you instantly toss in the trash – but let’s think about the latter.

A lead magnet should be very difficult to make

The standard lead magnet formula will sound familiar: it’s a cheatsheet, a 1-pager how-to, a template, a swipe list. It’s just good enough to pique curiosity.

You look at it for a few minutes and then, “meh”, you delete it. Then you get a dozen emails in automated sequence, then you’re on a list, and so on.

At some point within the last 5 years, this got very old.

The format may be fine, of course; a concise how-to manual, for example – nothing wrong with that. But the standard formula I refer to is marked by a conspicuous lack of effort.

If you created it in one day, let alone one sitting, it’s not a lead magnet. Don’t be fooled by course creators and marketing gurus who lead you down the “it’s easy path”.

A lead magnet is not for list-building

Part of the problem is a misconception as to the fundamental purpose of a lead magnet – that it’s a email list-building tool, a “list magnet”.

Maybe 10 years ago that was true, but that concept is very shaky now.

What’s the point of an email list anyway? for 99.99% of people in B2B solutions, an email list is a marketing channel that leads to sales of solutions. Granted: for a select few, the list itself is the product – Venkat, for example. But I’ve never seen such a person lure customers (ie. paid Subtack subscribers) with a traditional lead magnet.

Keep in mind, this is just my opinion. Someone could easily counter it; “of course it’s a good idea to build your list – why wouldn’t you use a lead magnet for that?”.

In my opinion, you wouldn’t because it’s a wasted opportunity to create value – more on that below but first let’s round out the list of what a lead magnet is not.

We’ll make the two premises above the starting point of this list, then add some even more important considerations:

What a lead magnet is not

  • Something easy to make
  • A list-building tool
  • Something that you can’t sell on its own
  • Something unrelated to your solution
  • Something another business could create

The three points I tacked on are even more important than the first two.

Their connecting thread is this: a lead magnet is a product; your product.

It may not have the same scope as one of your paid products, but it must still have product-like impact and value creation potential.

When you create a lead magnet, think like a product manager, not a marketer.

Or like a drug dealer – does a drug dealer give away something the potential customer will simply throw away? No; they give something that is at least as good as the real thing, if not better. It’s only the quantity that’s limited.

BTW, there’s a finer point there; consider whether a lead magnet pertains to a single product – not to just any offer (product or service) your business provides.

So we design the lead magnet as a truncated version of whatever product it’s meant to inform people of,  interest people in, and sell people on.

In a sense, a lead magnet is an extension of the product itself.

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