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What is Lead Generation in Digital Marketing? – Your 2024 Crash Course

What is lead generation in digital marketing?

You’ve built a website that pulls in a decent crowd.

People are checking out your offerings and browsing your content – things look promising.

But wait – something still feels weird. 

Your inbox remains quiet. 

Shopping carts sit abandoned. 

Your sales charts see no spikes. 

Yikes.

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Reality check: a fancy website alone won’t pay the bills. 

You need a way to turn those visitors to actual paying customers

If you’re planning to level up your lead gen efforts this year, you’re not alone.

Most marketers are doing the same.

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This crash course will break down lead generation in digital marketing into easy-to-understand chunks. 

And I’ll show you how to turn those casual browsers into excited buyers – so you can finally see those sales numbers move.

The lead gen lowdown – what is lead generation in digital marketing?

Lead generation is the process of getting website visitors to show some interest in your business.

Think of your website as a store. 

People come in, walk around, read interesting stuff on your blog. 

Now, lead generation is like offering them a free sample.

It gives people a chance to try what you have and see if they like it.

This little taste might nudge them to take the next step. 

They might contact you for more information or make a purchase.

But wait, what’s a lead, really?

Leads are basically website visitors who raise their hand and say, “Hey, tell me more.”  

They do this by filling in a form, signing up to your thing (newsletter) or giving you a call.

But not everyone who shows interest is perfect for your business. 

There’s a big difference between a lead and a qualified lead.

If you run a bakery, someone who pops in for a free cookie is great (hoping they buy something later).

But the customer who asks about your birthday cake options (and gives you their mobile number) is even better.

That’s the difference between different lead types:

  • Information Qualified Leads (IQL) – these people show a little interest by giving their contact info (like email address). Typically, this is in exchange for something of value – like a free guide or a discount. Think of them like someone grabbing a free bakery flyer as they walk by.
  • Marketing Qualified Leads (MQL) – these people go beyond the freebie and download something specific. Think of them like curious customers browsing your bakery and grabbing a specific recipe card.
  • Sales Qualified Leads (SQL) – these people are practically ready to buy. They’ve shown strong interest and seem like a perfect fit. Think of them like the customers whipping out their wallets, asking about birthday cake flavours and asking for a quote.

By using the right strategies, you can nurture your leads through each stage, ultimately converting them into paying customers.

So is lead generation really the secret to more sales? 

As we’ve established, lead generation goes beyond just getting website traffic.

It’s turning a “maybe I’ll stop by someday” visitor into someone who actually forks over some cash.

And that’s what really grows your business.

  • Budget-friendly growth – It attracts interested customers, not just anyone. You target the right people, saving money compared to broad marketing tactics.
  • No more feast-or-famine cycle – A consistent flow of leads keeps your sales pipeline full, so you’re not scrambling for customers one day and swamped the next.
  • Opportunities for social proof – The more high-quality leads you attract, the more you show off your expertise and value. Basically, lead generation helps you prove you’re legit.

Funnel your visitors into fans

what is lead generation in digital marketing? lead generation funnel

At the top of the funnel, you’ve got a tonne of website visitors, just browsing around. 

But as they check out your content or grab a free offer, they start moving down this funnel.

This magical funnel is your lead generation journey.

It’s how you turn those website visitors into fans (and hopefully, paying customers).

Here’s the breakdown:

Stage 1 – Awareness or Top of the Funnel (ToFu)
These people are just getting to know you. They might have found your website accidentally while searching for something online.

Stage 2 – Interest or Middle of the Funnel (MoFu)
Alright, things are getting interesting. These visitors have shown they’re curious about what you offer. Maybe they downloaded a free guide or signed up for your email list.

Stage 3 – Decision or Bottom of the Funnel (BoFu)
We’re getting warmer. These people are seriously considering your product or service. They might be comparing options or asking specific questions.

Stage 4: Action or Conversion
Now we’re talking. They’ve become paying customers. They’ve moved all the way down the funnel and decided your business is the perfect fit – and they’ve opened their wallets.

So how do you move them along? With the right lead generation strategies. 

Think of them as tools you use at each stage of the funnel to keep those visitors moving down and, ultimately, converting into customers. 

Beyond blog posts – lead gen strategies that work

We’ve talked about the magic of lead generation, but how do you actually make it happen? 

These tactics will help you attract those ideal customers, nurture their interest, and ultimately turn them into loyal buyers.

Strategy 1 – content marketing

Think of it like this: people come to your website looking for answers.

Creating valuable content that solves people’s problems shows you’re an expert.

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Blog posts that tackle their common struggles.

Ebooks packed with in-depth guides and industry trends.

Eye-catching infographics that explain complex topics in a snap.

With relevant content, you establish yourself as a trusted resource (a.k.a. “Thought leader”) – and guess what?

Those people are more likely to stick around and become actual leads.

Strategy 2 – email marketing

Alright, you’ve attracted a bunch of potential customers with your awesome content. 

Now what? 

It’s time to nurture those leads with carefully crafted emails. 

Turns out, people prefer getting email notifications better than phone calls and text messages. 

But of course, we’re not talking about mass blasting here. 

Instead, break your list into groups based on interests. 

This way, you can send messages that are more relevant to each person.

Also, don’t be all “buy, buy, buy!”  

Offer valuable content like industry updates or exclusive discounts. 

Show them you care about their needs and provide resources that will actually help them.

Strategy 3 – lead magnets

We’ve all been there – you go to a website looking for something, and a popup appears out of freak’n nowhere offering a “free gift”. 

Well, when done tastefully, this can actually work.

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Lead magnets are resources (ebooks, checklists, or templates) that you offer in exchange for contact info (to get either IQL or MQL). 

They get something valuable for free.

And you get a lead who might be interested in what you offer.

Strategy 4 – landing pages

If your website is a giant store, your landing pages are VIP sections with exclusive offers. 

These are special web pages designed for one purpose – capturing leads for a specific carrot. 

They’re clutter-free and focused, with a compelling call to action (CTA) telling visitors what to do next. 

A simple trick: use strategically placed forms on your website. 

Don’t shove them in every corner. 

Place them where they make sense.

This makes signing up easy, encouraging them to become leads and move further down the lead generation funnel.

Strategy 5 – social media marketing

Social media is where customers are spending their time, so it can be a good place to connect with them.

But don’t bombard people with “buy now” posts. 

Share engaging content, like funny memes, helpful articles, or the behind-the-scenes of your business.

Remember, each platform has its own vibe.

So tailor-fit your content to make them look and feel like they belong there (like Gary says in his book Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook)

As with other marketing tactics, lead gen is evolving to be even more powerful and effective. 

Here’s the cool part – these new trends are making things easier for everyone.

It’ll be easier for you to attract leads.

And it’ll be a more engaging experience for potential customers.

Personalisation on repeat

Imagine your website greeting visitors by name.

In the future, lead generation will get super smart, suggesting content and offers based on what you’ve looked at before.

Like out of the movie Minority Report (Tom Cruise).

Kinda like when your favourite store recommends clothes you might actually like.

A little spooky but pretty cool.

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AI to the rescue

Artificial intelligence (AI) will begin to be your real sidekick. 

You can use chatbots to answer customer questions any time of day.

ChatGPT does this with a bunch of apps now. But the quality is too early for my taste.

They can also help qualify leads and even schedule appointments.

This frees you up to focus on the important stuff like closing deals and growing your business…

or even spending that no-phone day at the beach (you deserve it TBH).

More than that, using AI turns out to be an effective customer loyalty tactic

So it’s an easy trick to not just close that first sale, but to keep customers coming back (improving LTV).

Interactive content front and centre

No more boring brochures. 

The future of lead generation will actually be fun and engaging. 

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Eye-catching videos, quizzes that are actually interesting, and polls that let people share their real opinions…  

Interactive content will keep them hooked on your brand by using Gamification to generate leads.

There are some early stage software out there that does it already, but I haven’t personally adopted them yet (big yet).

Omnichannel magic

Everything you do to attract leads can – and should – work together seamlessly.

No matter if they find you on your website, social media, email, or even a flyer, the experience should be smooth and easy. 

That’s the power of omnichannel marketing tools.

All your lead generation efforts will work seamlessly together.

When you make things convenient for people, it’ll be easy to turn them into happy customers.

Forget chasing leads. Make them chase you.

Digital marketing is about building relationships.

And that will never change.

Whether it’s a relationship with a brand (Apple), a product (Kindle Paperwhite), or a person (your local baker), trust is everything.

And lead generation is the bridge that builds that relationship.

Your digital marketing strategy wouldn’t be complete without it.

By offering valuable content, free resources, or special promotions, you’ll turn website visitors into real qualified leads.

This lets you stay in touch and earn their trust over time (again, jab, jab, jab).

Before you know it, you’ll turn them into happy customers (finally hook, like after a million jabs).

Lead gen has a lot of moving parts, yes. 

But when done right, it’s the only scalable tool that takes you from just getting people’s attention to actually winning them over.

Josiah is a multi-award-winning digital marketing consultant and former journalist for the Australia Times. He now helps 6-7-figure brands as a Fractional CMO to generate predictable leads and sales growth.​

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