The Psychology Behind Content That Converts


A single lead generation campaign enabled IBM to transform an underperforming email list into an 11% conversion rate. In layman’s terms, this means that 11% of people on a random email list converted to IBM customers after receiving marketing emails from IBM.

That’s unheard of.

Most B2B marketers follow an outdated, ineffective strategy, one which pumps out emails to unresponsive, rented email lists.

IBM was in the same boat. Then, one day, the marketing department changed its entire lead generation strategy. This blog post — adapted from Content for B2B Lead Generation: Why Does it Work and What Works Best? by The Content Strategist — details the what, the why, and the how behind this strategy.  Read on to learn how to build your own content-driven lead generation strategy!

The What: A Content-Driven Lead Generation Strategy

IBM moved from the obsolete method of a sales-driven email strategy to a content-driven lead generation strategy. Content, from free trials to webinars, is the most effective way to convert leads in B2B marketing,

To help us understand the different types of useful content, Youtube coined a content marketing framework called the Hero, Hub, Hygiene approach.

According to this theory, Hero Content is large scale, momentous content that drives brand awareness and reaches a wide audience. Hero content is meant to make a splash. It is the most time-extensive and difficult type of content to produce but also the most valuable.

Hub content is created in order to keep an audience engaged and to keep them coming back. This content is created and distributed on a regular basis. An example of this type of content would be a regularly updated blog.

Hygiene content is very niche content created for users that are searching product and brand specifics. Examples of this type of content are FAQ documents and how-to videos that inform customers how to navigate the product.

A good content strategy incorporates these three types of content. But, why does a content-driven lead generation strategy work? To understand this, we have to get into the mind of the consumer by diving into the field of social psychology.

The Why: Understanding Persuasion Principles

The theories of authority, reciprocity and social proof are 3 of Dr. Robert Cialdini’s 6 principles of persuasion. These are of particular significance in crafting a lead generation strategy.  

  1. IBM established its authority as a leading expert in its field before engaging in promotion. Its expertise and authority gave it credibility, inspiring people to engage with the company.

  2. Reciprocity is the next important persuasion principle. People are far more willing to do something for you if you do something for them first. IBM was able to convert leads to customers because it offered its leads something of value, an expert industry analysis (Hero Content).

  3. Social Proof is the theory that people are more likely to perform an action if similar others perform that very same action. And the more people that have previously conducted this action, the more likely the next person will join the bandwagon. Peer power is strong. IBM produced valuable Hero Content in the form of the expert industry analysis. People who liked the content did the rest of the work by sharing that content with their colleagues. Brilliant content has a multiplier effect.

Now we know the what, and the why, let’s understand how we can create content that converts and drives growth.

The How: Create Brilliant Content (...and the rest will follow)

There are five steps to follow when getting started with creating your lead-generation content.

  1. Know your audience and tailor your content towards them: Develop 3-5 Buyer personas (Check out our buyer persona exercise) to understand who your potential customers are, their pain points, and the type of content that would be most valuable for them. Does your audience consist of experts who want an industry analysis & white paper? Or are they novices who will benefit from informative blog posts?

  2. Find an expert content creator and hire them: Maybe you’re too busy running a company. Or maybe content creation isn’t your forte. If you do not have the bandwidth or capability to create content, find an expert writer and hire them to help you realize your vision. You need quality content and for that, you need to hire the very best.

  3. Create 100 drafts, test them, and then go live. Don’t be in a rush to get your content live. Look over it, edit it, do some A/B testing with a small sample, and only then publish it to your wider audience.

  4. Have a promotion plan: You have great content. Now what? No one will see the content unless you have good strategy to promote it. You have to put time, money, and effort behind the promotion.

  5. Start nurturing your leads: You got some leads! Now the real work begins. Have a lead-nurturing plan in place in order to convert these leads to customers.

The Recap: How to Create Your Own Content-Driven Lead Gen Strategy

As a recap, IBM had a content-driven lead generation strategy based on social psychology and the principles of persuasion. IBM promoted this strategy by creating brilliant content. By understanding the What, the Why, and the How, you too can develop a content-driven lead generation marketing campaign that will get you the customers and growth you need!  

Start Engaging & Converting with Strong Content

Looking for even more tips for building great content to drive lead gen? Check out the presentation and insights from our workshop — Marketing for Startups: How to Engage & Convert with Strong Content. We walk through topics like the buyer journey, steps for building content that’s guaranteed to convert, and tools and resources to bring your marketing strategy to life. To learn more about upcoming events, sign up for our newsletter and be the first to know.