Content – Free or Not?

I’ve been following a very interesting conversation about marketing and whether content should be offered for “free” or not. There is a pre-requisite for this article. First you must read two articles:

Ok, I’ll give you a few minutes to read those two worthy posts.

While we’re waiting, I’d just like to comment on how well the Bruins played in their last game. Much better than that lackluster piece of crap first game they played. Damn, I almost drove to Boston to run a practice and get them fired up. No need now.

Oh, and can’t wait for our local elections. Lots of people running for a variety of offices. And I’m not one of them. Great to see.

Now, back to our program. Hope you read those two links (I did have them open in new windows so you could return here!). Anyway, I love this conversation. I was a Marketing Manager at my last three firms (15 years) but this was a particular issue at my last employer where we had several marketing managers, each responsible for his/her own area. We had many discussions about when and where to require registration for content and then, how much to ask. And here’s a surprise – we all had different opinions.

I think what it all comes down to is:

  • how are you (as a marketing person) measured?
  • what is the goal of the specific piece of content you are using?

For the first point, if you are judged on “traditional” metrics like page views, downloads, re-tweets, etc., then you are happy to make all content “free” and hope that people come back to you. Although I enjoyed David Meerman Scott‘s book on “The New Rules of Marketing and PR,” I don’t fully agree with him.

Here’s the pendulum problem. If you go the route of free content, you get lots of people looking at your content. But many are worthless and if you pass them to your sales team, you just cost your organization a fortune in wasted time and effort. If you make registration necessary for your content, you lose people who may have eventually become customers but were just in the beginning phase of their learning. You just lost customers.

So the answer (as it usually is) is somewhere in between.

At my last firm, I was probably the biggest proponent of free content. But I had a plan. Content that fits early in the funnel – that content which is designed to generate interest and awareness, should be free. It’s the hook you are putting out there. But from that point on, as Dan McCarthy points out:

“The answer isn’t a matter of which approach is better, but rather which approach applies, and when.

It’s unwise, for instance, to demand registration for content early in the buying process when customers are beginning to gather information about you and your competitors. High-level perspective, such as industry articles, buyer’s guides, web copy and case studies help customers place your value against a larger context.

This content should be offered gratis.

Make it easy for prospects to get educated about what questions to ask. You build trust by making it safe to learn those questions from you.

As customers move further along the buying process, their questions become more knowledgeable and specific. They’re better equipped to recognize content of value to their research. If you’ve already built trust by helping them learn what questions to ask, they’re more likely to submit a name or an email in exchange for more specialized content.”

Couldn’t have said it better. Content needs to be mapped to the buyer’s progression through the sales process. You need to make sure you have quality content that moves your prospect from interest to buying – and you need to make it a natural progression based on their buying process. To add to the complexity, people will be jumping in and out of your “planned” content continuum so you need to plan for that. Also, if you sell to a group (such as enterprise software), you need to get your content to several different target segments. Figuring that out is why you earn the big bucks. Or, if you need help, just ask me so I can earn the big bucks. It’s definitely worth the investment.

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