We’ve all heard it before: “The money is in the list. And if you want to build an email list, you need to create lead magnets.”

Too bad that’s terrible advice.

Why? Well…

You can’t just “create lead magnets” and expect your list to blow up. That strategy has been beaten to death and its conversion rate has dropped off a cliff. Your audience has evolved and so should your strategy.

Know why everyone preaches about using lead magnets?

Because it’s what has always worked.

A long time ago, signing up to receive an “electronic book” was exciting. People were just happy to be using the Internet and “electronic mail” at all.

The worst lead magnet today would have been as good as gold back then.

Not anymore.

When everyone and their grandma is doing it, the novelty starts to wear off. People start catching on. And they get more selective.

No longer can you do what everyone else is doing or create lead magnets for the sake of it. You need a customized strategy unique to your business and your audience.

So, how do you create lead magnets that will engage your modern audience? How do you make stuff that’s actually worth their time?

Well, luckily, you don’t need to be a visionary or reinvent the wheel.

The simple fact is: lead magnets work. Always have. Always will.

The problem isn’t that lead magnets are dead, the problem is most lead magnets suck.

And here’s why..

Psst! Want the cliff notes version of this blog post so you can make sure your lead magnets engage and convert? Get our 5-step checklist for creating perfect lead magnets.

Why Your Lead Magnets Suck

1. Your Lead Magnets Are Not Congruent

This is, by far, the worst offender. A lead magnet that’s not congruent is doomed to fail from the start. Yet, a ton of sites are guilty of it.

Lead magnet “congruence” can be broken down into two parts: context and audience.

Context

How many times have you seen something like this:

Generic email newsletter signup

And how many times have you actually entered your email?

Not very often, right?

Newsflash: no one wants to sign up for a newsletter whose sole purpose appears to be sending more unwanted emails.

There is no context.

Almost as bad is the site-wide lead magnet.

You know the story…

It shows up on page after page.

Everywhere you turn, there it is: the same lead magnet you ignored the first ten times.

It’s stalked you all over the site, yet the only thing it has achieved is banner blindness.

Again—no context.

Instead, what if you were offered something directly relevant to what what you were consuming?

For example, let’s say you were reading a blog post titled “5 Surefire Tips To Send Emails That Sell Like Hell“.

At the end of the post, you don’t see a newsletter form asking you to sign up for weekly “updates”. You also don’t see a lead magnet in the sidebar about how to start a profitable blog or some other irrelevant topic.

Instead, you’re offered a downloadable set of proven email templates that one entrepreneur used to go from rags to riches.

A bit more tempting, huh?

This is what proper context looks like. It’s aligning your lead magnet with the current focus of your visitor to make it highly relevant and timely.

And this example showcases arguably the best way to do it: the “content upgrade”.

Content upgrades are content-specific lead magnets. They are especially powerful because they not only ensure proper context, but also make it easier to nail the audience aspect of congruence.

Audience

Imagine for a second that you have a problem.

It could be anything.

Maybe you want to get happy, healthy, and fit. Or, maybe you’ve just got a hangnail.

Now imagine you’ve found someone offering to help.

They mirror your beliefs, values, and even the thoughts going through your head. They get you. They’re able to articulate your problems even better than you are.

How would you feel?

You’d feel like this person truly understands you. You’d probably also be thinking “Yes! This person gets it! Please, take my money!!

That is the power of knowing your audience.

Know. Your. Audience.

Every marketing blog post since the beginning of time has featured those three magic words.

…but it’s not very helpful…at least when it comes to crafting effective lead magnets.

Here’s the typical approach most bloggers, entrepreneurs, or would-be marketers use:

  1. They do just enough research to create basic buyer personas.
  2. Armed with this new knowledge, they make educated guesses about what their audience might need.
  3. The result is a bland, unfocused lead magnet with little appeal to the intended audience.

To ensure your lead magnet aligns with the needs and appetite of your audience, you can’t take guesses. Instead, you must direct your thinking with three key questions:

  1. Which specific segment should I target?
  2. What specific problem can I solve?
  3. How can I provide a specific solution?

It’s simple: everyone has needs. Every need is the result of a specific problem. Every problem has specific solutions. And specific segments of your audience have their own set of problems.

Audience segment diagram

Notice a trend?

Specific.

If you want your lead magnet to be perfectly aligned (and thus irresistible) to your audience, you need to get specific about who you’re helping and how.

And there’s a really easy way to do that…

You see, people only read for two reasons: entertainment or to solve a problem.

So, if someone is reading your content, it’s safe to say they’re trying to solve a problem. And your biggest clue about that problem is the page they’re currently reading!

Let’s look at my earlier example: a blog post called “5 Surefire Tips To Send Emails That Sell Like Hell“.

Based on the topic, we can make certain deductions about anyone who reads it, such as:

  • they’re curious about email marketing
  • they haven’t mastered it yet
  • they want to start earning money from their email list
  • they want to learn some tips and tricks
  • they might want to see examples

Using our keen sense of deduction, we could then offer certain content upgrades, such as:

  • a mini-course delivered via email about how to build profitable email sequences
  • a video showcasing 3 email hacks to increase open rates and click through rates
  • a swipe file of email templates they can start using today
  • a real-life case study applying the tactics of the blog post
  • a PDF with 3 exclusive bonus tips that you usually keep all to yourself

Can you see how powerful this is?

When someone chooses to read a particular article, they put themselves into a specific segment of your audience and identify a specific problem they have, which allows you to offer a specific solution.

Thus, your offer is naturally in tune with the needs of your audience.

That’s why the content upgrade is the best way to achieve congruence. It’s the natural result of properly aligning your offer with its context and audience.

2. Your Lead Magnets Delay Gratification

Sometimes, I audibly sigh when the screen on my phone freezes.

The last time my Amazon package didn’t arrive in two days, as promised, I became physically anxious. And waiting a whole two extra days felt like an eternity.

It’s no secret that society has a “gotta have it now” mentality. With the touch of a button, we are instantly connected to anything we could want: from information and entertainment to communication and commerce.

This convenience fuels our need for instant gratification. It has defined our culture.

Yet, a lot of lead magnet creators ignore this reality.

Many make the mistake of assuming that more value equals more sign ups. But, the truth is, people care more about solving their immediate problems than collecting even more information.

Don't make the mistake of assuming that more value in your lead magnets equals more sign ups. People care more about solving their immediate problems than collecting even more information.

So, don’t be surprised when no one wants your Giant eBook or 30-Day Course®.

It may be packed with tons of value, but it requires too much investment. Someone that barely knows you isn’t going to let you monopolize their precious time. Not in a world of instant gratification.

And it gets worse…

If your lead magnet is too big, new subscribers will read or watch halfway without getting the promised result. This causes them to exit your brand’s buyer journey prematurely. And they won’t be leaving with a favorable or memorable impression.

Your lead magnet is supposed to be the entry point for your brand. If your lead magnet requires hours of time to get an actionable takeaway, your brand trades its “wow” factor for an “ugh” factor.

So, to recap, big lead magnets fail for two reasons:

  1. They discourage your audience from becoming subscribers.
  2. They discourage your subscribers from becoming customers.

Instead, lead magnets work best when they can deliver immediate, actionable value. Think: checklists, cheat sheets, swipe files, templates, etc.

Let’s say someone is reading my example post “5 Surefire Tips To Send Emails That Sell Like Hell”. They sign up to receive a set of high-converting email templates. Then, they use those templates to write an email campaign they need to send by the end of the day. 

That person was able to get valuable, actionable info they could use immediately to see results. That’s the kind of experience that leaves a lasting impression.

It’s also a gateway to something even more powerful: authority.

We’ll come back to authority later, but I want to mention one thing: don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need a huge lead magnet to establish authority in your niche.

Think about it…

The person from our example is much more likely to engage with the brand in the future, will be more receptive to their messages, and is more likely to become a paying customer. That’s (a taste of) authority, baby!

When it comes to lead magnets, less really is more.

Except when it comes to point #3…

3. Your Lead Magnets Have No "Halo" (aka they're ugly)

Imagine you find yourself in a fancy restaurant.

It’s an upscale fusion of Mexican and Italian cuisine. The decor is beautiful and perfectly combines the respective cultures of its food. The service is top notch, with staff who seem able to read your mind. The bathrooms are spotless. And your orders come with little delay.

Then, your waiter places your order in front of you, and it looks like this:

Hideous pasta taco

Yikes.

Even if it’s exactly what you ordered, you can’t help but be disappointed. You become suspicious of the the restaurant and wonder if it’s safe to eat there. You’d probably get up and leave.

One thing’s for sure: you’re not coming back.

That’s the same experience so many businesses put their audiences through.

The business seems to have it all: a nice website, a congruent offer, and instant gratification. Then, they squander it with an ugly, unprofessional-looking lead magnet.

Just because lead magnets are free, doesn’t mean they should LOOK free.

Lead magnets are the first interaction someone has with your brand. As an extension of your brand, they not only need to be consistent with your brand experience, they must also set the tone for your entire relationship with a subscriber.

That’s a lot of responsibility. And the design of your lead magnet plays a crucial part.

We all want to believe that people make decisions on products and services strictly based on merit.

But that’s a lie.

Study after study after study show that human beings have an attractiveness bias.

To put it simply: we perceive attractive things as being better. This effect is so powerful that we even believe attractive things work better, regardless of whether they actually do.

So, your poorly-designed lead magnet that you slapped together is perceived to be inferior and ineffective, even if it’s actually quite valuable.

Current psychological theory suggests that this is due to the “halo effect”. The halo effect is when a positive first impression of something is used to make an overall judgment of that thing.

So, as an extension of your brand, your unattractive lead magnet causes your entire business to be perceived as inferior and ineffective—a kind of reverse halo effect (aka the “horn effect“).

That’s a lot of damage for something that some consider optional.

But, now that you know better, professional design isn’t so optional anymore.

The attractiveness bias and the halo effect tell us that the design of your lead magnet determines the perceived value of the lead magnet and the perceived value of your brand.

So, it’s worth making sure your lead magnet is professional, on brand, and on point. As famed businessman Thomas J. Watson Jr. famously said:

Good design is good business.

Designing Your Lead Magnet

There are a number of options to make sure your lead magnets look great.

Though professionally designing, formatting, and branding lead magnets is our specialty here at Magnnetic, we’re not a good fit for everyone.

So, if you’re not an entrepreneur or small business able to invest in professional, tailor-made design, here are a few other options for you to consider:

If you’d rather DIY, you can use Canva to design your lead magnet from the ground up. Its user-friendly interface, abundance of features, and library of templates make it easy to create decent designs suitable for any business.

If you’re feeling a bit more ambitious, you can give the Adobe Creative Suite a try. Adobe applications like Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator are major tools we use for our own customers. They are best reserved for advanced users and people willing to invest the time necessary to learn the software.

Or, if you’d like a set of pre-made, fill-in templates that you can use over and over, give Creative Market a shot. Creative Market is a marketplace for photos, graphics, and templates of all kind. Their awesome design community has really stepped up their template offerings lately, so you might be able to find something that fits your brand perfectly and can be used repeatedly.

If you’re an established business pumping out daily content and frequent offers, you’d be best served by bringing on in-house design help or establishing a long-term relationship with a freelancer that understands your brand.

Regardless of which option you choose, remember: don’t skimp on your lead magnet’s design, or your business may not live to regret it.

Never create lousy, low-converting lead magnets again. Click ‘Download’ to get our 5-step checklist for creating super-effective lead magnets (includes bonus examples).

4. Your Lead Magnets Have No Long-Term Value

Decreasing value chart

You know the feeling, right?

You see an ebook or other digital goodie that’s piqued your interest.

The only thing standing between you and it?

A request for your email address.

Now, let’s be honest here: you have zero interest in the company’s services at the moment.

You just want that juicy lead magnet.

So, you decide to play ball and give them an email.

But you don’t use your real email address. You use that other one.

You know the one…that email address you never actually check, but just use to sign up for stuff.

Or, maybe you do give them the real thing.

Either way, after receiving the lead magnet, you interact with it once and promptly forget about it and the company.

We’re all guilty of it.

And it happens all the time.

Earlier, we talked about instant gratification, but it’s not enough to create a lead magnet that provides immediate value. It should also provide long-term value.

Immediate Value

By itself, this is quite powerful.

Providing immediate value creates a memorable first impression. A good first impression makes it easier to re-engage your audience with email marketing and retargeting, which can eventually convert them into customers.

Long-Term Value

Alone, this too, is quite powerful.

A lead magnet with long-term value causes your audience to return to it again and again. It becomes an essential resource in their personal toolbox. In this case, your audience voluntarily re-engages with your brand when they need you most.

Now imagine combining them.

A lead magnet that has both immediate and long-term value is like marketing napalm. It lets you re-engage your audience in multiple ways at multiple points throughout their buyer’s journey.

That’s not just powerful, it’s downright potent.

But can you see why?

The key term here is re-engage.

It’s a fundamental fact of marketing that the more a person is exposed to a brand, the more likely they are to become a customer. This is known as effective frequency.

This strategy maximizes your effective frequency by re-engaging with “push” and “pull” tactics.

When you re-engage with email marketing or retargeting after a strong first impression, you’re “pushing” your brand in front of your audience. When they choose to re-engage with your lead magnet on their own, they’re being “pulled” to your brand.

Together, these tactics give your brand top of mind awareness.

And, ultimately, this creates a sense of authority for your brand.

The phrase “brand authority” is one of those popular buzzwords with a fuzzy meaning. It’s presented as the solution to any and all marketing problems. We’re even told it’s a goal worth striving for by itself.

And you know what?

It is.

Brand authority superhero

Brand authority equals trust. And trust, above all, is crucial to getting and keeping customers.

Being an authority in your market means people are confident that you know what you’re doing. It means you will deliver on your promises. And it means that even if you fall short, you won’t leave them hanging.

But brand authority isn’t something that happens overnight. It can only be created through sustained exposure over time.

As the entry point to a brand, lead magnets are a major missed opportunity for most brands to begin building authority with their audience.

But, now that you’ve read this post, your brand has a deadly advantage.

The examples we’ve already covered in this post are great ways to create lead magnets that have both immediate and long-term value. Things like templates, swipe files, guides, and checklists can be very effective.

Going back to our earlier example, let’s say someone downloads my high-converting email templates after reading “5 Surefire Tips To Send Emails That Sell Like Hell”. They then use those templates to write their next successful email campaign.

Those email templates saved the day for my subscriber by providing immediate, actionable value.

But that’s not the only time they will ever need to write an email campaign…

They will likely return to those templates whenever they need to send similar campaigns in the future. Thus, the templates also provide long-term value.

Of all the four points I’ve discussed, long-term value is the most overlooked.

For some, it’s a luxury considered “nice to have, but not necessary” for their lead magnets.

For most, it’s something they never really consider.

But, if you’re serious about creating lead magnets that not only get plenty of subscribers, but also turn them into paying customers, it’s something you can’t ignore.

Next, we’ll look at a few awesome blogs that understand the importance of what we’ve covered in this post.

4 Blogs With Perfect Lead Magnets

I know that a lot of things that sound great in theory are much harder in practice.

So, now we’re going to look at 4 real-life examples to let you see this stuff in action.

Each of the following businesses execute all the principles I’ve discussed above in their own unique way. I encourage you to check them out to see how you can adopt some of their strategies for your own business.

Hootsuite

First, we’ll start with Hootsuite—a popular social media management platform.

Their blog posts use standard call-out boxes to draw attention to their lead magnets. Once you click the call-out box, you’re presented with a short form to fill out to get the lead magnet. This type of click-triggered form is one of the most effective ways to present a sign-up form.

Here are three of their blog posts and the lead magnets for each:

Robbie Richards

Next up is internet marketer Robbie Richards.

What I especially like about Robbie’s approach is that some of his lead magnets are required to get the most value out of a blog post.

For example, his SEO Competitor Analysis post below requires that readers download his analysis template to be able to implement the advice in the post.

It’s a brilliant strategy. Not only does it maximize conversions on the post, it makes the post interactive and forces readers to get value out of the lead magnet immediately—both of which are great for engagement. This is next-level congruency!

Here are three posts from his blog along with their respective lead magnets:

CoSchedule

CoSchedule is a marketing project management platform.

Their target audiences are fairly established and sophisticated businesses. So, their blog focuses on organizational and operational topics and their opt-in forms require more info than the other examples.

Here are a few of their most popular blog posts and the lead magnets for each one:

Sleeknote

Last, we’ll look at Sleeknote, which provides personalized pop-up software for websites.

I really like what these guys are doing. Each of their large, stylish call-out boxes uses a bit of salesmanship to convince the reader to download the lead magnet.

They also place an emphasis on creating what they call “evergreen” lead magnets.

Instead of giving you a static PDF, their evergreen lead magnets are links to Google Drive documents. This lets them constantly update the lead magnet so it’s never outdated and always providing more value. Now that’s what I call long-term value!

If you want to do some more reading, check out their post on evergreen lead magnets. They show how aligning their strategy with the principles discussed in this post resulted in a dramatic increase in sign-up conversions.

Here’s a look at some of their blog posts and the lead magnets that go with them:

Go Get 'Em!

After reading this post, you have the keys to not only blow up your email list, but also blow away the competition.

While everyone else is stuck in the dinosaur age of lead magnet strategy, you can soar to new heights with these cutting edge tactics.

While it’s not always possible to create lead magnets that follow these principles perfectly, you’ll find the more of these you can implement, the more effective your lead magnet marketing strategy will be.

Get Your Step-by-Step Checklist

Creating lead magnets isn’t a perfect science, but there are certain guidelines that guarantee your lead magnets will convert better than average.

I’ve explained what they are in this post, but you can get a quick-reference guide by downloading our 5-Step Checklist for Making Perfect Lead Magnets.

Ask yourself the 5 powerful questions in this checklist whenever you create a lead magnet, and you’ll start growing your list, supercharging your marketing, and earning more money.

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