When free content isn't really free

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Pat Weilmeier
Pat Weilmeier

B-to-b marketing organizations that use whitepapers, case studies, data sheets and other PDF documents in their lead gen­eration campaigns want to capture as much information as possible from their readers. Unfortunately, many marketers seem deter­mined to take more than they give — few realizing that how much they take may not be as important as how they take it.

Marketers commonly expect readers to provide a range of information in exchange for access to this content. Anyone who has ever downloaded a complementary white­paper will tell you that, in the b-to-b world, there's no such thing as free content.

Capturing reader data is a perfectly valid marketing strategy. Companies invest signifi­cant resources in their PDF-based content. For most readers, providing a reasonable amount of information for such content represents a fair give and take. However, marketers and their readers don't seem to agree on what con­stitutes a reasonable amount of information. Perhaps more importantly, they don't agree on how to gather this information.

Individuals who wish to read a whitepaper will commonly have to complete a long Web form before they are even allowed to down­load the PDF. For many readers, this amounts to being asked for too much, too soon.

B-to-b marketers know only too well that many readers provide false information. Further, it seems distinctly likely that when confronted with excessively long Web forms, a great many readers will simply decide against downloading content at all.

How to create Web forms that gather a useful amount of data without putting off readers is a continual point of contention among marketers. What these marketers should really be debating is how they can go beyond the Web form paradigm.

Why not embed forms inside a document to gather reader information through a series of interactive surveys? Readers could pre­view content before deciding whether it was worth completing a survey for more.

As technologies emerge to facilitate this kind of dynamic, interactive information gathering, the game of give and take that marketers play with their readers will become a great deal more balanced. And in the end, everyone will win.

patw@vitrium.com

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