By Tricia Heinrich, Sr. Director, Strategic Communications, ON24
Shakespeare might have asked “to be or not to be,” but the question “to gate, or not to gate” has inspired some heated debates in our halls, as I imagine it has yours.
Two schools of somewhat opposing thought exist within marketing. Demand generation-focused marketers tend to believe that most content — webinars, white papers, case studies, analyst reports, and product spec documents — should be gated. The more information these marketers can capture about their prospects, the more quality leads they can generate.
However, content marketers see the world in a different way. These marketers push for unrestricted access to content. For content marketers, the fewer barriers, the better. They want content to be easily accessible; they believe that by gating the content you run the risk of future customers dropping off and taking their eyeballs elsewhere. This is underpinned by the belief that we are naturally averse to giving out personal contact information.
Can the two sides reconcile these opposing views and build a strong content program that not only engages customers, but also generates leads? The answer is: yes! The key is to not under-estimate your customer’s intelligence. Today’s customer can quickly discern the difference between promotional content that’s all about pushing your products and educational content — and until the very late stages of the buying process, they want the latter. Customers are increasingly self-educating; with B2B sales, their first encounter with a sales rep comes way down the line. They rely heavily on peers — whether it be literal word of mouth, a review or comments on a social media platform — to get a sense of a company’s reputation. As they get closer to buying, intelligent customers are looking for objective details about the product.
Fortunately for the marketer, all is not lost. There are still ways to reach and influence your target audience.
Which brings us back to our initial question: to gate or not to gate? The best way to answer this question is to use the “breadcrumb approach.” With this approach, the marketer first uses non-gated, educational content that provides value to the audience. The valuable content builds trust with the customer, leading them down a path to discover more and more of your content. Once trust is established and the time is right, marketers can introduce gated content that requires a customer’s contact info. ON24 successfully used this approach with its “Way to Webinar” video, which provided useful lead-generation tips in an entertaining and engaging way.
When introduced too soon, requiring registration is seen as annoying and may cause your prospects to abandon ship entirely. Who wants to take the time to fill out forms or, even more annoying, be continually bothered by sales people in a first encounter with a company? However, when presented at the right time, customers will provide contact details and other information after the marketer has established a credible relationship.
According to a recent benchmark report by Starfleet Media, respondents estimate they keep 80% of their major content marketing assets gated. Certain content types are rarely gated, however. For example, infographics do not require registration 92% of the time since they are quick, easily digestible educational content. It is this type of content that establishes trust and should thus be introduced early and without registration.
All content is not created equal, and timing is everything in content marketing. The relationship between customer and marketer has never been more symbiotic, as each looks to the other for information they can use. By understanding this and delivering to the audience what they want, marketers can use the breadcrumb approach to deliver high-quality leads they can turn into sales.
Tricia Heinrich is the Senior Director of Strategic Communications at ON24, provider of cloud-based webcasting and virtual communications solutions.