Thursday, November 5, 2015

To Gate or Not to Gate, That Is the B2B Content Marketing Question

Customer acquisition and retention expert Ruth P. Stevens contributed today's post. Named one of the "100 Most Influential People in B2B Marketing" by B2B Magazine, Ruth consults to large and small businesses and teaches at business schools around the world. Her latest book, co-authored with Theresa Kushner, is B2B Data-Driven Marketing.

There’s a spirited debate in B2B marketing about whether it’s best to give away information (aka “content,” like white papers and research reports) to all comers, versus requiring web visitors to provide some information in exchange for a content download. In other words, to gate your content or not to gate. The debate involves aspects of both ROI and philosophy. Myself, I lean toward the “gate it” camp, and here’s why.

I know that plenty of very smart and well-respected Internet marketing experts argue that free—unimpeded—distribution of content encourages both trust and, perhaps more importantly, wide dispersal and sharing of information. You’ll get to a much bigger audience, who will be educated on the solutions to their business problems, will be grateful for the free info and, one hopes, will think of you when they’re ready to buy.

The problem is that this model leaves marketers in a serious quandary. We don’t have any way of knowing who is reading our informative, educational and helpful content. We are left sitting on our thumbs, unable to take any proactive steps toward building relationships with these potential prospects. All we can do is wait for them to contact us and, we hope, ask us to participate in an RFP process, or, more likely, give them more info and more answers to their questions. Is that any way to sustain and grow a business relationship—not to mention meet a revenue target? In my view, it leaves too much to chance.

Myself, I grew up as a marketer in the world of measurable direct and database marketing. So it’s no surprise that I favor the gating side of the fence. I like marketing campaigns that provide predictable results. Where I can stand up in court and show a history of my campaign response rates, conversion rates, and cost-per-lead numbers. And most important, where I can reasonably expect to deliver a steady stream of qualified leads to my sales counterparts, who are relying on me to help them meet their quotas.

That’s my argument for gating content in B2B marketing. I understand the logic of the other side. And I see clearly situations where it makes sense to let the information run free—as a teaser, for example, to persuade prospects to come and get the richer information that is so useful that they’ll be falling all over themselves to give me their name, title, company name and email address. But what about you? Where do you sit in this debate? It’s a biggie.
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