The 4-1-1 Rule for Lead Nurturing


Posted: July 11, 2012 | B2B Marketing, Lead Nurturing

The 4-1-1 rule for Twitter was popularized by Tippingpoint Labs and Joe Pulizzi, founder of Junta42 and the Content Marketing Institute. (The earliest use I can find is Add Value on Twitter: The 4-1-1 Rule, and I first heard it at Joe’s presentation at OMS in San Diego last year.) The rule states that:

For every one self-serving tweet, you should re-tweet one relevant tweet and most importantly share four pieces of relevant content written by others.

What’s great about this approach is that it lets you engage in the conversation, build awareness, and keep in touch with your followers without coming across as pushy or too “me” focused. We’ve been trying to follow it at Marketo for our Twitter updates as well as our Facebook updates, and so far results are positive.

The 4-1-1 rule can also apply to your lead nurturing using email. Formally, lead nurturing is the process of building a relationship with prospects that are not yet sales-ready by conducting an informative dialog, regardless of budget, authority, or timing. Less formally, lead nurturing is the art of maintaining permission to “keep in touch” with potential customers as they educate themselves, with the goal of being top of mind when they are ready to move into a buying phase.

As I’ve often said, lead nurturing is a complex topic (which is why I wrote the book The Definitive Guide to Lead Nurturing) but if I had to sum it up into a single word, it would be relevance. If you are not relevant, your prospects will opt-out – or more likely emotionally opt-out. And nothing is less relevant or more likely to cause an opt-out than content that is too promotional, especially for the early stage buyers that are the core focus of lead nurturing. (Remember, the litmus test for good nurturing is content that is valuable even if someone never buys from you or a competitor.)

This is where the 4-1-1 rule can apply. As you plan out the cadence of emails you’ll send to prospects, try scheduling four educational or entertaining emails mixed with one “soft promotion” (e.g. attend an event) and one “hard promotion” (e.g. download a free trial or apply for an account).

Here’s an example of what an early-stage nurturing track looks like for Marketo today (with links to the underlying resource):

  1. [Infographic] Most Popular Content Marketing Tactics
  2. [Webinar] The Email Marketing Check-up
  3. [eBook] Email Marketing vs Marketing Automation in Complex Buying Processes
  4. Magic Quadrant for CRM Lead Management (soft promotion, mid-stage content)
  5. [eBook] Master your Marketing Programs – The Definitive Guide to Marketing Metrics
  6. FW: Demo Marketo and Earn a Giftcard (hard promotion)

While this partly follows the 4-1-1 rule, here’s how we are testing our approach to fully embrace the strategy:

  • These emails all point to an underlying resource. This is not always required in lead nurturing; some of the best emails provide useful and compelling content in the email itself.
  • These emails all promote Marketo content. Fully embracing the 4-1-1 approach means promoting other people’s resources as well. As long as it’s relevant and useful to your audience, it works for lead nurturing.
  • Instead of sending emails once every two weeks or so, with 4-1-1 lead nurturing you potentially send much more frequently since each email is highly relevant and rarely promotional.

What do you think? Are you using anything like this in your lead nurturing programs? What kind of results are you seeing? What kinds of challenges will the 4-1-1 bring to lead nurturing?

Related Resources

  • SnakeMan

    Great article, I’ll definitely try out this 4-1-1 rule!

  • Drothman

    Great! Glad you enjoyed it and found it useful. 

  • Zak Pines

    I love this Jon, nice set of advice

  • Howard J. Sewell

    Jon, great advice as always.  I love the idea of the 411 Principle as applied to Twitter and Facebook and I’d suggest it could easily extend to blog posts also.  I have my concerns, however, about extending it to lead nurturing and the email medium, however.  Here’s why:

    The very nature of Twitter and Facebook means that followers are used to seeing a wide variety of content, precisely as you describe: some if it self-promotional, but much of it informational, or commentary, or sharing of third party content that we think our readers will find relevant or interesting or even humorous.

    I’m not sure the same expectation extends to email, a medium for which I would suggest the bar is significantly higher in terms of relevancy and value.  Personally, if someone is going to clutter my inbox, relevancy is the bare minimum.  I expect any marketing email to have a tangible offer of immediate value, not just a link that the company deems I might find of interest.  If you want to share links, well: that’s what Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest  et al are for.  But maybe that’s just me.

    I’m not sure I’d have much patience for a company, regardless of any interest I might have expressed in their product or service,  that wanted to share links to educational and entertainment-type content with me via email, particularly if those links arrived with any frequency.  Occasionally?  Sure.  More than once every couple of weeks?   Not so much.  

    Your current early stage track meets the higher standard: in each case, there’s a tangible offer involved.  I’ll be very curious to know what happens when and if you start to incorporate the more ”educational and entertaining” content.  Please let us know!  Regards,


  • Marshall Kirkpatrick

    I think this depends on the recipient and their relationship with their inbox. I don’t need a signal to noise ratio higher than 1 out of 10 in my inbox, so it doesn’t feel like a significant increase in mental overhead to get a good educational email. I suspect many people take each email that lands in their inbox, wash it with soap and hot water, then hold it up to the sun to see if it’s gold. An off-topic email in that context becomes a terrible offense.

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  • Jon Miller

    Thanks Howard and Marshall for your comments. I really do believe it comes down to relevance and expectations…  For example, lots of people subscribe to Daily Candy and get links every day to useful third party information. The key is (a) they expect to get that kind of content with that frequency and (b) the content is useful, interesting, fun and so on. 

    If you define lead nurturing as relationship building and keeping in touch, then I believe you don’t need offers / calls to action.  When a friend forwards me something interesting, I am thankful to her and it helps our relationship. I don’t need it to be asking me to take a specific action.  But everyone once in a while, it’s OK if it asks me to do something. 

  • Editor

    Great post and advice!  Added a link to this to the MarketingZone article on best practices for Lead Nurturing.  

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  • Jon Miller

    It’s important to use segmentation and dynamic content to ensure relevance; if your ESP can’t do that, you need to think about an upgrade. Don’t be generic; you’ll please NOBODY all the time.

Jon (@jonmiller) is a VP and co-founder at Marketo. He is the author of multiple Definitive Guides including Marketing Automation, Engaging Email Marketing, and Marketing Metrics & Analytics. In 2010, The CMO Institute named Jon a Top 10 CMO for companies under $250 million revenue. Jon holds a bachelor’s degree in physics from Harvard College and has an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

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