Unpacking the Rise of ABM and Ungated Content for B2B Marketers

Joseph Hill

Paid social advertising has changed a lot since Facebook (now Meta) introduced ads at an event in 2007 featuring executives from Blockbuster, CBS, and The Coca-Cola Company.

Most of the changes have been positive. Audience targeting has advanced by leaps and bounds. Mobile optimization allows marketers to reach people on the go, and interactive ad formats allow them to captivate people in today’s fast-moving world. 

But this evolution hasn’t come without its challenges. The Cambridge Analytica data scandal rocked social media’s foundation, and more recently, Apple’s iOS 14 threw a wrench in targeting across Apple devices—a wrench that cost Meta $10b.

Marketers are also navigating the recent rise of ungated content and account-based marketing (ABM)—two shifts making them rethink much of what they know about lead generation and paid advertising. 

If you’re nodding your head, keep reading. This article explores the growth of these tactics and, more importantly, how you can adapt quickly. 

Why are ABM and ungated content in the spotlight right now? 

Most of my peers say the rise of ABM and the death of gated content is happening independently. And for the most part, I agree. But I’d also argue there are common threads between them: One is math, and the other is audiences.

I’ll explain what I mean, but to do that, we need to walk down memory lane with the graphic below.

The top row of this graphic represents the old-school B2B marketing strategy: Generate as many leads as possible. For better or worse, this was standard practice for B2B marketers for decades, and for most of that time, people accepted forms as the price they had to pay for something valuable, like an ebook, demo, or another offer type

Here’s where the math comes into play and the big reason why B2B marketers are ditching gated content—I’ll use this HubSpot ad to paint the picture.

Let’s say HubSpot’s Marketing team runs this ad on LinkedIn. It gets 100,000 impressions but only generates a click-through rate (CTR) of 0.5%. That means from 100,000, only 500 people clicked the ad.

Now, let’s assume there’s a gate on the landing page, and 10% of those 500 people fill out the form. That means just 50 people actually got their hands on HubSpot’s Instagram cheat sheet—50 out of the 100,000 who saw the ad.

See the problem? Gates limit reach, keeping people from consuming your content and, in many cases, learning about your product.

Marketers are waking up to the new reality of a post-gated word.

  1. Gate your content, and reduce the people who digest your message
  2. Ungate your content, and reach more people with your message

Winning B2B marketing teams choose option #2, and stop at nothing to get their message out there. They only capture leads when it’s worthwhile. Others will be left behind.

Where does ABM fit into all of this?

Here’s where the audience angle comes into play. Some B2B marketers say tearing down gates will strip their ability to get constant feedback on the quality of their audience. Limiting their control of optimizing who’s receiving their ads.

And to that, I say this: Build an audience with 100% relevance from the start and stop worrying. 

Enter account-based marketing (ABM). You target your ads at specific accounts and personas. Unlike old-school marketing, which is like fishing with a giant net in the middle of the ocean, ABM is like spearfishing from the dock.

Getting your ABM strategy off the ground isn’t a huge lift, either. You just need two lists: 

  1. Your target accounts (pre-qualified companies) 
  2. Your target personas (pre-qualified job titles)

Combine these lists, throw them into the native ad channels (or a tool like Metadata), and you have an audience that’s 100% relevant. What you won’t have is endless worry about wasting your demand generation budget on people with no business buying your product or service. This allows you to focus on telling a great story. 

How to get started with ABM and ungated content

Ungated content and ABM strategies are at the heart of the next generation of demand generation. But, like anything new, they may come with a learning curve. 

Luckily, it’s not too steep, and you can scale it heroically: 

  1. Make your audience aware they have a problem (Inform) 
  2. Show them the consequences of that problem (Educate)
  3. Create a reason why they should solve their problem with your solution (Hook)  

How to use the Hero’s Journey to create awesome ads

It doesn’t matter what you sell; your success with ungated content and ABM hinges on your belief that someone out there has a problem you can solve.

I made up a company, SafeSync, to show you what this could look like:

  • Problem: Do you ever forget to update your software and worry you’re putting your business at risk? 
  • Solution: SafeSync keeps your apps, devices, and systems current with the latest security updates with just a click. 
  • Benefit: You can rest assured that your software is up to date, remove some stress from your life, and reinvest your time in higher-value work.

Once you understand your Hero’s Journey, you can launch campaigns destined to resonate with people who have their wallets open. 

The last tidbit to consider is your hook, i.e., the carrot at the end of the stick. 

Why should your audience choose to solve their problems with you?

Spoiler alert: A free ebook won’t do jack sh%t. 

Today’s B2B buyers want so much more; they want genuine value, like a gift card, ad credits, consultation, or a lunch and learn. Steal the ideas below if you’re trying to cut through the noise.

How to know if ABM and ungated content is working

There are few things in life I hate more than gated content: wet socks, getting a terrible song stuck in my head, and people who use reply-all for every email. 

That said, I have no problem admitting that gated content offers solid insights into campaign performance. You capture emails, and you can track emails in your ecosystem. The problem is, the performance tracked from gated content is usually very bad.

This begs the question: How do you measure ABM and ungated content

In a few ways:

  1. The quality of website visits 

Google Analytics, as intimidating as it can seem, is your BFF. Start by looking at clicks, but take it a step further by diving into bounce rates, time on site, and scroll depth. If someone likes your ad and is genuinely interested in what you’re selling, they’ll hang out on the landing page, scroll around, and maybe even visit other pages. Quality website visits are a great primary success metric for your ungated content campaigns.

  1. The volume of demos, meetings, etc.  

An ungated approach doesn’t mean you can’t drive meetings and demos with a form. It just means your primary storytelling method can’t be, “Let’s gate tons of ebooks and blogs.” 

If you tell your story well with ungated content, it makes it easy to follow up with demo ads. When you’re getting meetings with people who’ve been consuming your ungated content, that’s a vital secondary success metric to track. Then, figure out what percentage of leads taking demos match your target account list, and monitor that ABM success.

  1. Ad engagement 

The way people engage with your ads is a tell, so look at quantitative metrics like CTR and cost per click (CPC).

You can also look at the comments people leave and the personas (job titles and companies) of people who interact with your ads. The latter especially gives you a solid idea if your campaigns are on the right track.  

Say you need metrics closer to pipeline and revenue. Turn your attention to marketing-sourced pipeline, opportunities and win rates. Ungated content is a supporting effort for your demand capture campaigns, and you can easily track the success of those. Everything comes back to pipeline.

What does the future look like for B2B marketers?

ABM and ungated content are both #trending right now and on the fast track to mainstream status. I’d argue ABM is already there. 

So what’s next? User-generated content (UGC), in-feed optimization, and shiny stuff. 

  1. UGC: UGC has been all the rage in B2C for years, especially on platforms like Instagram and TikTok, due to consumers’ inherent trust in their peers. B2B marketers have started to embrace UGC for the same reason. They’ll continue to do so as they answer the call for more honesty, vulnerability, and transparency, especially from younger generations.
  1. In-feed optimization: New-age audiences (read: young people) don’t respond to gated content and cold emails, which is why in-feed optimization continues to gain steam. Not only does that mean no gates, but it means no landing pages, either. Just deliver the total package when and where buyers spend their time. 
  1. Something shiny: There’s always something shiny out there that marketers have their eyes on. Right now, I’d argue that object is TikTok, with 61% of B2B marketers using the platform for work. I don’t expect TikTok to fade anytime soon, but other innovations will come to the forefront—like a true advertising application of virtual reality. When these new socials show up, be ready to act. Boring ads, campaigns, and brands will be left in the dust. 

Famed scientist Stephen Hawking once said, “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” 
Today, I say, “The measure of the best B2B marketers is their ability to change.”

The rise of ungated content and ABM are forcing marketers to change, and that’s good.  Combining ungated content with an ABM mindset is the perfect one-two punch.

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