The Art of The Ask in Content Marketing


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When working on content strategies with clients, the question about which content should be gated always comes up. Content — great content — takes a lot of time, effort and resources to produce. It just makes sense that B2B marketers want people to pay for it with their contact info. Or does it?

Regardless of how much has been said about giving to get, setting content free, and sharing without restraint, what comes up for many corporate marketers is that they’re stuck in the cross hairs of corporate objectives that don’t give them a lot of wiggle room. Accountability and proof of contribution to revenues also has marketers leaning toward shutting the gate, if you will.

The issue isn’t the form as much as it’s the attitude. Marketers feel entitled to contact information in exchange for access to their content. Unfortunately, over zealous behavior by companies in response to form submissions is still a bad practice that doesn’t seem to be abating. Therefore, resistance to form completion is growing.

On the flip side, buyers expect that if you want to do business with them that you’ll provide the information they need to make that decision. If accessing the content requires too much effort, they’ll move on to a competitor with less hoops to jump through.

The downsides of the gate—in addition to less downloads—are that they introduce hesitation and doubt into what should be a fluid process of establishing a relationship with your buyers. We’ve all had the experience of trolling along through content we find interesting only to be confronted with a form. The form surfaces thoughts such as these:

How important is this going to be to me?

What are the chances that they’ll call me?

Is it worth the risk?

I always wanted to be Mickey Mouse…

Maybe I can just alter one digit in my phone number…

And I can use my throw-away email that I ignore…just in case they send a link to the PDF instead of letting me download it right away.

Once this happens, trust diminishes just a bit. Or more than that. In order not to risk losing a relationship that hasn’t had a chance to develop, marketers need to think a bit more about the art of the ask.

How Not to Ask:

  • Gate everything. I’ve been on websites that gate everything – including case studies. Seriously? Why would you want to make it difficult for people to learn about how you help your customers?
  • Keep Older Content Under Lock and Key. Who hasn’t filled out a form for a white paper that’s over 2 years old? How disappointed were you? Try setting that content free after six months to allow it to help you get more mileage out of it. Consider adding a link at the end of it to newer gated content if they want to learn more about that subject. Yes, this means you need to keep track of and update your content.
  • Embrace Form Field Mania. How much information do you really need? You’re not going to use my street address for anything, so why ask for it? More than 4 – 5 fields is too many and makes you seem greedy and self-interested. What’s most important? Name, email and 1 other thing. What’s most helpful based on your marketing strategy? Industry? Title? Company name? You don’t have to get all their info at once. Progressive profiling is a good thing!

Deciding When to Ask:

Make strategic decisions about when and why you decide to gate content. One thing that helps with this is to map your content to buying stages. Anything early stage doesn’t need to be gated. Use this content to build a relationship by sharing information that helps them form their thinking around the problem and why to go about solving it. Once they make progress, then offer them something worthwhile in exchange for a limited amount of contact information — only what you need to establish a dialogue.

Use the weight of the content when deciding to gate or not to gate. People generally expect to fill out a form to register for a webinar, a research report, a white paper or ebook. Anything less than that doesn’t have enough heft to provide a mutual exchange of value. This being said, also evaluate the buying stage. If you write an early-stage white paper, set it free to build awareness and get that dialogue underway. Or offer an executive summary for free and gate the full version. The point is, the sooner prospects start using your ideas to think about solving problems, the better off you’ll be.

Give Them a Guarantee. Consider adding a check box to have a salesperson call them and add wording that assures them that no call will happen unless that box is checked. Make sure to get buy-in from sales!

Gate to Gain Insights. What’s the promise of your content? If the person takes you up on the promise and fills out the form, what will that tell you about their interests, where they are in their buying process, and what your next interaction with them should be? Doing this well means that you must know your buyers. You need to be able to think about and plan for next steps, not just this one transaction.

And, given the promise of your content, if that lead is already in your database, what one or two questions could you ask on the form to help you become even more relevant to them? Yes, this is where progressive profiling comes in.

Asking is an Art — but it’s also a strategic part of marketing that must be clearly thought out to provide value beyond adding someone’s contact information to your database. Asking is about getting what you need to improve their experience with your company and your content. It requires a bit of thoughtful planning.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Ardath Albee

Ardath Albee is a B2B Marketing Strategist and the CEO of her firm, Marketing Interactions, Inc. She helps B2B companies with complex sales create and use persona-driven content marketing strategies to turn prospects into buyers and convince customers to stay. Ardath is the author of Digital Relevance: Developing Marketing Content and Strategies that Drive Results and eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale. She's also an in-demand industry speaker.


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