I had the same feeling today but figured investigating this topic should be fun, considering everyone had an opinion on it.
This particular form had everything, from reasonable and essential stuff like name and email address to more intimate info like home address and phone number.
As I stared at that form with several required fields the only thing going through my head was this:
“Dude, you will make for a very crappy first date when you ask all these things right after introductions.”
So I did what I usually do when I see content ( say, the schematics of the Death Star) that will help me with my job (Rebel Alliance pilot)…
…but gated behind a form
I blatantly, brazenly, barefacedly lied.
I am not going to get into details, but let’s just say that there are a lot of Frodo Wolverines with a funny sounding email ID living in 221B Baker Street, Atlantis in a number of customer contact databases.
Am I the only one doing that? Hardly. There is a Wikipedia page on data cleansing which such “shenanigans” necessitate.
Am I a scumbag? Consider this- my inbox has around 4000 unread mails. If I need something, I will mail you and ask for information.
I, and most of your prospects, am not into you yet.
But sales and marketing don’t understand this.Because they need something to show for their investment and effort they slap a form on everything.
Too bad prospects don’t care about cost to companies.
Marketers are also shooting themselves in the foot. Look at this statistic attributed to David Meerman Scott
“..ungated content gets between 20 and 50 times more downloads.”
However, I am not a card carrying member of the anti-gating party. I recognize that at some point you might need to ask prospects for information. But like Japanese tea making , there is art and science behind it.
Content mapping and and knowing your prospects
An overwhelming majority of your readers who download your content- stuff like case studies, whitepapers and the like are only shopping around and researching.
They don’t want any contact from the publisher, especially when they are downloading content that sits at the top of the marketing funnel like thought leadership pieces, success stories and best practices whitepapers.
They might prefer a contact if they are downloading middle or end of the funnel content like data sheets, buyers guide, industry specific case studies and RFP templates.
So how should you achieve a balance between a free for all and a lockdown? Here are a few guidelines
1. How B2C is your B2B offering?
When you are selling something very straightforward where sales needs to come in at the very end of the buying process, it’s best to adopt a largely free for all approach (thanks, Giles Farrow).
But if you are selling something that requires customization and there’s not much scope of self service, feel free to approach a prospect earlier.
2. Use calls to action in un-gated content
Link your free, early stage content with content that might matter to someone who is nearing the end of the buying journey. Open up your best practices whitepaper but gate a Q&A session with a subject matter expert when it comes to deployment of the solution.
Interested parties will proceed and fill up the form while early stage prospects would not be bothered.
3. Allow prospects to opt out from sales calls
This one is a bit counter intuitive. What’s the use of a form, you may ask?
Maybe you want to build up a relationship through content marketing via email but don’t want to scare prospects away with a form? Have a check box on the form which assures them that there will be no follow up sales calls (hat tip John Shomaker).
4. Simplify form design
For the love of everything good , please dump your complicated forms. You can always cut out a number of required fields and leave two, mostly 3 fields.
Check out this article on form design by Smashing Magazine. Key takeaway: forms are meant to establish a conversation and a relationship, and should not be seen as an interrogation tool.
5. Give away older content
Some content is timeless, and some are relevant only for a specific period of time. Timeless content is usually stuff like best practices related content which you should give away for free anyway.
But do you really need to keep that whitepaper gated after 18 months? Even governments declassify archives after 30 years.
6. Use the free excerpt strategy
Even with end of the line content I would advise you to err on the side of giving it away instead of gating it.
Give away an excerpt or the first page of a five page whitepaper. If you do a good enough job of hooking your readers in, you will be able to get a much better response to the form.
7. Test, test and test
As with other marketing activities, test a number of things. Mainly, test between gating and un-gating content and form design. But like Debra Ellis says, don’t look at the numbers alone without looking at the larger picture.
“…We alternated daily between having it gated with an e-mail address requirement and ungated. On the days that it was ungated, downloads were 47 times higher. The initial response was that we shouldn’t gate. That changed when we measured the people contacting us; 100 percent of the leads generated [had] downloaded the guide on a gated day.”
Just before I hit publish on this post I saw this tweet by the smart Michael Brenner.
— Michael Brenner (@BrennerMichael) June 20, 2012
His post is pretty thought provoking and insightful, and I would recommend you to go read it.
His contention is that marketers have to think of gating content on a case by case basis depending on factors like the intended audience of the content, the call to action and whether its bite sized vs. in-depth.
I think he’s spot on.