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 article was first published on Medium on Apr 17, 2019

Open letter from a CMO to a CIO

Dear IT,

You and I both know the history of our relationship has not been particularly close over the years. A decade ago we shared few interests, but things have changed. Where once we had little in common, today we need each other to be successful. I hope you agree.

Lately, I‘ve felt the need to share some disturbing visions I keep having. Understandably, your first thought might be “I hardly know you, why bring this problem to me?” Because you too are experiencing tremendous pressure and change in your role as CIO, which tells me you can empathize. And frankly, I need to share it with someone who can appreciate my pain.  I hope you’ll hear me out.

Sleepless Marketing Leader

I haven’t slept well in months. I keep having recurring dreams that when I’m at work, I have blocks of cement on my feet. Every time I try to affect change or adapt to changing customer trends, I can barely move. And, I’m not alone. My team is wearing lead shoes, as are so many others. The dream has different outcomes, but none end well. That’s when I typically wake up.

Again, you ask yourself “Why me?” I’ll explain.

As I was reading Forrester’s Digital Business Imperative report the other day, I was painfully reminded of the growing impact digital everything is having on our personal and professional lives. Traditional marketing tactics are no longer relevant and plug-and-play is no longer enough for either one of us. As CIO, you appreciate the steep challenge of digital evolution; after all, you and your teams are on the front lines, defining and managing technology.  Lets be honest with each other, both our classical measures of value are barely relevant today.

Forrester pointedly states how urgently business leaders must harness digital technologies, not only to deliver the digital experience customers expect but also to increase competitive market position. Digital is transforming our business in every way, at a pace that feels like it’s virtually overnight. Though the analysts refer to it as “transformation,” it feels a lot more like revolution.

How’s this for revolution – Gartner predicts that by 2017, marketing will control more IT budget and technology than you will? As a marketing leader I find that prediction staggering. I don’t mind telling you that we are not equipped to go it alone. Though I remain unconvinced of their prediction, I do know that we need each other to be successful. We need to work together. I’m convinced it’s time for a reset.

I’ve come to realize lately that we hardly know each other after all these years. In fact, I suspect that our perceptions of each other, our roles and our organizations, are fundamentally wrong.   Though our professional paths have been quite different, customers, technology and digital business are common threads redefining both our professions in ways we never imagined, and insisting we redefine ourselves. To be honest, I welcome the challenge.

Most important, we need to get ahead of the curve strategically, or we will slip further behind operationally and financially. There is a lot of change for us to manage and we cannot continue to bolt new technologies onto old models. So the question before us is how, when and where do we begin?


Your new best friend,

This article was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse on June 30, 2015.

Who should own Social Media – Communications or Marketing?

What is the impact of digital and social media?
How has digital communications and social media changed your approach to content and marketing?

Remember this early debate when social media first emerged as a B2B marketing channel?  Since appearing on marketing’s radar, the question of who should ‘own’ social media within the business has echoed across small and large enterprises everywhere.  Here is my take – It is the wrong question.

The correct question is this.  How should enterprise marketing structures, strategies and processes adapt to the content demands of social media and new rules for audience engagement, enabled by ubiquitous information and all things digital – the web, social media, search engines, etc?

Traditional marketing structures of most enterprises today are outdated. They evolved to meet traditional marketing media.  Now they must evolve again to address the new rules of inbound and outbound marketing, press and analyst behaviors, customer expectations and most of all, shifting buy cycle trends.  Here’s why.

Let’s explore the traditional B2B model, formed around collateral and interruption-based media of the 20th century.  The typical structure was defined as:

  • Marketing (brand, collateral, advertising, direct mail, promotions) and
  • Communications (PR, Analyst relations, media relations).

The term mar-com took root and the web didn’t exist. 

Customer awareness was delivered in the form of advertising; information was the role of collateral, trade press and particularly sales, touching customers early in the buying cycle. 

Communications handled press and analyst activities by phone, snail mail, PR newswires, and in person. Personal relationships were as important to press and media people as they were to sales. Content was important, dominated by collateral and press releases, perhaps an occasional advertorial.  Deeper content produced separately by product management came in the form of manuals and user guides, training educated sales and supported customer product knowledge, all often developed outside of marketing’s view.

Compare that to the digital world we live in today. The web provides people with access to ubiquitous information in almost any form.  Customers expect it. It’s no longer about finding customers but making sure customers find you. Customers are now controlling the conversation via the web and social media, and sales touches the customer much later in the buying cycle. Why? Because buyers don’t need to rely on a salesperson for information as they once did. In fact most buyers don’t even want to talk to sales until they’ve already researched and made numerous decisions about what solution provider is likely to meet their needs.

So what does this mean for today’s marketing teams?

It is now the customer’s expectation (and marketing’s responsibility) to produce much greater volumes of content.  Content to address a wider audience, in many additional forms and optimized for search to compete with hundreds of thousands of competing information resources. This is the evolution of what is known today as “Content Marketing”.  And, we haven’t even begun yet the discussion of social media and how that can be executed by the business, except by inference as it is directly connected.

Call it the perfect storm. On one hand we have much greater demand for content and information enabled by the web and expected by customers. On the other hand, few marketing organizations have seen a corresponding increase in resources to satisfy the insatiable demand. In fact, the recession has reduced most marketing budgets and resources.

Why is the debate about who should own Social Media the wrong question?  Because without re-evaluating what we consider to be content, how we produce it, manage it, and scale it, enterprise marketing and communications cannot meet the demands social media and other digital channels present to create a successful marketing engagement, and still fulfill the current definitions of their day jobs.

The answer to the original question?  We all must own it. So how does business organize to support it strategically and tactically?