To Gate, Or Not To Gate? A Question As Old As Digital Delivery

Marketing Charts —

Why gate content? Leads. Gating content is about generating leads say 62% of B2B organizations as recently reported by Marketing Charts. And, though the answer to “why” surprises no one, the summary of the research they published highlights some interesting responses and related metrics worth deeper consideration.

Several of the highlights are intriguing:
“45% of respondents believe gating content adds an air of exclusivity to it.” I think users have quite an opposite reaction to gated content and see through that.
• As for the leads generated at the gate, the data is never as clean as hoped. 47% provide personal email (or a dedicated junk mail account address)
31% refuse the transaction cost of providing personal information for content. 45% of VP-level decision makers refuse.

Gating is a barrier to audience trust and the mission of your content. Period. Full stop.

Gating is as old as content marketing. It is the digital descendant of event raffles and the aggressive corralling of wanderlust trade show attendees for badge IDs. Tactically speaking, it is what marketing has always done — support sales and generate leads. I understand the rationale.

But the conversation and decision about gating content must go deeper. In fact, the simplicity of the question — to gate or not to gate — betrays a strategic and deliberate approach to the role of content today. Too often, the check-mark is defined simply by content classification rather than audience personalization such as role, journey stage and opt-in alternatives. Consider first how and where your content fits a prospect’s discovery path; does it meet their specific needs?

Faced with the question to gate or not to gate content, the first and most important question to consider is if, in the eyes of your audience, the content is worthy of the transaction cost. Most content is not. In fact, the 2019 Edelman-LinkedIn B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study concludes that quality thought leadership is scarce — only 18% of business leaders consider vendor content excellent or very good. But take note, the impact of quality content is real and has a measurable impact on trust and reputation. 70% of decision makers will follow an author or organization that brings value (and not promotion). Conversely, “done poorly, it can harm business.” 60% of decision makers will stop following authors or organizations after reading thought leadership while 29% decided not to award business because of their thought leadership (or lack of it). Your content better be in that 18% of excellent/very good or risk the disappointment and loss of trust from your audience.

Gating is an internally focused tactic that ignores emergent trust and relationship challenges every digital business faces today. It also over-simplifies buyer behavior in complex sales cycles. But I understand the rationale, marketing is doing what marketing has been trained to do — support sales & generate leads.

There is an ironic and important paradox here. The chorus of business leaders and analysts evangelizing the importance of a more personalized and empathetic, customer experience — from end-to-end — has been rising for years now. Gating content is a contradiction.

Is there a place in the engagement process for requesting and acquiring prospect information? Yes, absolutely. Generating interest and sales opportunities is the heart of the marketing mission. Webinars are an example of a registration-required format that users readily accept. They understand there can be logistical limits and requirements when “live.” It also demonstrates legitimate audience interest by the act of registration and a calendar commitment to attend.

I’m all for strong content that informs prospects and can drive well qualified leads for sales. To be clear, it’s vital to create opportunities for users to provide personal info, but how and when you do it matters. Invoking “pay to play” access early in a prospect journey, before trust or authority has been earned, will close many doors that would otherwise remain open.

The Takeaways
1. Demand generation is a marathon. Slow down, nurture digital relationships and allow them to evolve. Trust and authority are earned, it’s not an algorithm.

2. Show, don’t tell; inform, educate and demonstrate why your solutions matter. Stop selling and stop talking about yourself; let your subject expertise be the star. Your trust and authority scores will increase immediately.

3. Be creative in creating opt-in opportunities like webinars that will demonstrate expertise, insight and customer value. Give your audience a reason to want to explore a relationship with your business. The prospect data you earn will be cleaner, will yield more productive nurture programs and increase lead quality.

Building trust and relationships have always been the first rule of sales success. Just because buyers don’t engage with sales until late in the sales cycle doesn’t mean prospects aren’t judging you. The importance of developing buyer-seller relationships based on trust and authority remain, but how those relationships evolve has been redefined. Until a buyer decides to speak to a salesperson, your digital behavior and your content is your salesperson.

This commentary was first published on Medium on Apr 17, 2019