Leading the horse to water

Lead generation in a digital age
5 min read

We’ve all heard the phrase, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” In today’s noisy and highly competitive digital marketing arena, that phrase holds a lot of truth.

Every day, I hear customers lament about the complexities of attracting and converting qualified leads. So many small businesses are struggling to figure this out, and just when they think they’ve cracked the code, the digital lead generation landscape changes.

What Exactly is Lead Generation?

Lead generation is the process of gaining a potential customer’s interest in a product or service, with the goal of creating a sales pipeline.

In days gone by, lead generation involved finding potential buyers and passing them along to the sales folks, who were responsible for educating early stage buyers and converting them into customers. Marketers focused on finding buyers through paid mass media advertising channels.

Today, buyers do their own research online and are highly informed about your product or services long before engaging with a Sales Rep. To adjust, companies now need to focus on being found, gaining trust, and building ongoing relationships with buyers.

In addition to changing the way we engage with customers, marketers also need to explore the ever-increasing channels we use to reach those customers in the first place.

Outbound and Inbound Lead Generation

Lead generation comes in two forms: inbound and outbound.

Outbound Marketing is often associated with traditional advertising tactics, including trade shows, cold calling, TV, radio, direct mail, newspaper, and outdoor. In the digital age, these tactics also include digital display ads and sponsored links that show up on search results pages.

Outbound marketing is often coined “interruption-based marketing,” since it periodically interrupts audiences with ads in the hope that a small percentage will respond to the interruption and become a customer.

Inbound Marketing involves activities that bring visitors in, rather than marketers having to go out to get a prospect’s attention. It focuses on creating quality content that draws potential buyers to your company and earning their awareness, rather than interrupting their awareness through paid advertisements.

Lead Generation Tactics

A well-rounded marketing program should ideally balance both outbound and inbound lead generation. Here are a few digital tactics you should consider as part of your mix:

Digital Content

Content is the first pillar of inbound lead generation. In today’s complex marketing landscape, establishing yourself as a thought leader sets you apart.

Content marketing involves creating and distributing valuable and impactful content to attract, acquire, and engage with your target audience.

By sharing high quality content, you gain trust – not just with your potential clients, but also with search engines.

Google equates high-quality content with high-quality websites, which earns you brownie points in search rankings. A blog is a great way to establish thought leadership and trust with your buyers. A well laid out blog will keep your readers interested, and lead them to other areas of your site to learn more.

Social Media

Social Media is important for branding and generating buzz, but is becoming increasingly important for lead generation. By leveraging all your social media channels, from Facebook and Twitter to LinkedIn and Google+, you can be where your customers are and build trust and credibility.

Focus on creating content that is relevant, helpful, and on brand with the goal of driving users to your website, where they will learn more about your company and what you have to offer.

Once you have a good mix of high-value content, promote it on social media channels. The higher your engagement, the higher Google views the value of your content—which will boost your search rankings.


Your website is the digital front door of your business and the place where you need to convert your audience. What that conversion looks like depends on your business, and comes in many forms. It could be encouraging prospective buyers to sign up for your newsletter, fill out a form for a demo, or request a phone call or email. When designing your website, optimize it to make it easy to generate a solid lead. User experience, design, call-to-action (CTA) buttons, forms, and content all play an important role.


SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. Often referred to as organic or natural search, SEO is the process of improving your website’s ranking on search engines, and bringing traffic to your website.

More than 80% of internet users do not search past the first page on search engines, and over 40% of internet users click the top ranking link. Online users trust organic search, and ranking well in search engines helps to build brand awareness and credibility.

The technical side of SEO involves structuring your website so that it will be properly indexed by search engines. Great SEO also relies on great content, and this is where many organizations fall short. They get obsessed with the technical side, then forget about content. Google is becoming more and more focused on the quality of digital content, which is why SEO and content marketing need to go hand in hand.

Email Marketing

Email marketing continues to be an under-utilized tactic in Atlantic Canada, despite it being an incredible tool for building relationships. It offers the ability to customize your message and make it relevant to specific customers. It is easy to share, and highly measurable. And most importantly, it is highly cost effective!

Digital Display Ads

Digital display advertising refers to the use of ads—from text, to video, to audio—on a website. Digital display ads are highly targeted to different demographic or behavioral actions. You can select where you want the ads to be seen by choosing an online publication or a network, or you can leverage re-targeter ads which cookie audiences that view your site. Once a user gets cookied, your ads appear on other sites they visit afterwards.

Pay-per-Click Ads

With Pay-per-Click (PPC) ads, you pay for each click on your ad which is displayed on a search engine or a website. For PPC on search engines, your ads show up as sponsored results on the top and side of the organic search terms. Advertisers bid on keyword phrases relevant to their target markets and your ads will display when a keyword query matches your chosen keyword list. PPC ads are highly targeted, so they are capable of generating excellent quality leads.

Where to Start

If you’re interested in a digital lead generation program, it’s wise to begin by developing a plan that defines your target audiences and the right mix of tactics and channels to reach them. From there, set a monthly budget aside to invest in lead generation. You won’t be sorry! Need a team of experts on your side? Get in touch, and we’ll help attract and convert the leads you’re looking for.