If You Want Better Leads, Set Your Content Free


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I admit my headline is a variation on Sting’s “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free” single from his first solo album The Dream of the Blue Turtles.

What does that have to do with lead generation and content marketing? Trust me, there is a connection. Let me explain.

Traditional lead generation tactics usually involves creating some valuable marketing content such as a white paper to use as a giveaway for the purpose of collecting names and email addresses. In other words, marketing content is locked behind a registration form or as some refer to it as “gated content.”

However, is gated content still an effective lead generation tactic in the current environment of social media, RSS feeds, Slideshare and Docstoc?

Setting your marketing content free may sound like a radical idea for those who continue to believe in the old mantra “hand over your contact information if you want my white paper (or other content).” There are some high-profile B2B marketers who are openly challenging the old ways of generating leads.

David Meerman Scott has said “Content from white papers and eBooks would be downloaded between 20 times to 50 times more if they were offered without a registration gate in front of the download.” He should know, he is the author of the bestseller “New Rules of Marketing & PR.”

David is not alone in voicing this opinion. Jon Miller, VP Marketing, Marketo wrote in a recent post, “By eliminating the need for registration in order to gain access to your white papers, eBooks, and other valuable content, you remove the initial barriers to building relationships with prospects. In doing so, you will strengthen your rapport, and these anonymous leads will likely surface as inbound leads once their interest level increases.”

This is not a new idea; way back in 2007 I had attended a webinar by MarketingSherpa where both Anne Holland and Stefan Tornquist (both have left MarketingSherpa since then) had suggested the same thing in their presentation. (See White Papers: Lift Your Barrier?).

How then do you generate leads if you set your content free?

According to Jon Miller, “However, shifting to ungated delivery models doesn’t mean sales and marketing can afford to give up on measurement. It is now more important than ever that content messaging be measured, analyzed and repurposed in multiple formats and media to continually target prospects throughout the purchasing cycle.”

So it is definitely not a case of “set it and forget about it.” Measuring various touch points and mapping it to your target audience’s buying cycle is even more critical.

Nowadays technical buyers expect to receive a certain amount of valuable content without giving up their contact information. You must set your content free if you expect to build a relationship with them and nurture them into a lead. An informed and educated prospect is more likely to be a sales ready lead than someone who is researching solutions and is early in his/her buying cycle.

In the words of Richard Bach, author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, “If you love someone, set them free. If they come back they’re yours; if they don’t they never were.”


  1. Achinta: this is a valuable question: “Is gated content still an effective lead generation tactic . . .?”

    Every company that develops and distributes content must address that question. The best answer depends on the specifics of the business strategy, selling situation, and how the company’s prospects and customers buy. Through formal and informal research, a vendor can uncover whether gated content breaks a buying or information-gathering process. It’s easy to understand that it can, since there’s probably not a person reading this who hasn’t balked at giving up personal information to obtain something they thought was valuable up to that point. I have.

    As with many strategic options, one top-level question to ask is “what outcome do we seek or require?” If it’s highly interested, highly qualified leads–and nothing less, then gating content might be the better choice. If it’s getting valuable content into distribution quickly, making it available to wide and potentially influential audiences, and supporting the insight needs of communities, then liberating content as you suggest is a better choice. There are trade-offs–some obvious, and some obscured. When considered in the context of the strategic sales objective, the right tactic will seem more apparent.

    On a separate, but related note: “liberating” content doesn’t mean making it indiscriminately available. It’s not about “opening the floodgates.” Parsing content in a planned, methodical way helps build communities, avoids information overload, and when deployed effectively, enables sustained conversations that are valuable for both vendors and prospects.


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