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The Great Gated Debate

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Charles Kettering, the head of research for General Motors from 1920 to 1947, famously said, “A problem well stated is a problem half solved.” As digital marketers in manufacturing wrestle with the decision whether to gate or ungate content, the best answer can most likely be found in first defining the problem you are trying to solve or the goal or objective you are trying to achieve. Ultimately, if you don’t know what you are looking for, you are unlikely to find it. Or perhaps better said by the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”

Your ability to first answer a specific set of questions will go a long way towards helping make your final decision when it comes to gated or ungated content. And while research from a number of different marketing technology platforms like HubSpot, Marketo and others estimate that currently, 80% of B2B content marketing assets are gated, it doesn’t mean that’s the right approach for your organization. The reality is, what you decide may change from situation to situation, and from one objective to another. It all depends on how you answer some of the questions below.

Gated and Ungated Content. What’s the Difference?

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Let’s start with a simple definition of gated and ungated content. Gated content requires interested parties to provide some level of professional information before they can gain access to assets like white papers, eBooks, webinars or proprietary, original research on complex technology or unique processes. Ungated content is available for anyone to see and requires no exchange of information to access the material. Examples would include blog posts, infographics or YouTube videos.

Some Questions to Consider as You Evaluate Your Content Strategy

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Who is your target audience and where are they in the sales funnel?

Understanding who your prospects are, and where they are on their buyer’s journey, is critical in evaluating your gated vs. ungated content strategy. Admittedly, we could dedicate an entire information series to full funnel marketing, and the generation of content that aligns with each step of a buyer’s journey: problem recognition, research, evaluation of alternatives, purchase and post-purchase. At Crafted, we believe there is an additional step that precedes problem recognition—more about that in a blog to come. In general, the closer to the bottom of the funnel a potential buyer is, the more engaged they are with your brand, and the more sense it may make to gate content like virtual product demos, registration-only roundtable discussions or webinars. The higher up in the funnel, the more it may make sense to surface a range of ungated content like a blog or an eBook. Because every potential customer is on a unique journey, you could certainly argue that both gated and ungated content has a role to play.

Have you spent the time building a differentiated, trustworthy and recognizable brand?

Products are created in the factory; brands are created in the mind. You could fill a library or two with books and articles on branding. In the end, it’s about memorability, likeability, believability and trust. Many of the same things that make for great relationships of any kind. Without a credible, recognizable, differentiated brand, whether you gate or ungate specialized content won’t really matter. You have to get your branding and positioning right first, which then transfers brand equity to the perceived value and attractiveness of the content you create and share. After that, both forms of content could be strategically used to build a trust-based relationship with your target audience.

Are you trying to impact search engine rankings, or are you solely focused on lead generation?

While gated content is used by most manufacturing marketers as a primary strategy for lead generation, ungated content helps improve search engine optimization (SEO) and increases brand awareness. SEO is a purposeful strategy used to drive higher page ranking in the results of an online search. And while the challenge with gated content is that it is not picked up by digital bots searching the web, which excludes it from search results, you can still enhance SEO by being thoughtful about the summary copy for your gated content. According to SEMrush, ungated long-form articles (3,000+ words) receive 3x more traffic, 3.5x more backlinks and 4x more shares than articles of average length (901-1200 words). So, how mature is your branding, and where are you on your marketing journey?

How valuable and unique is your content really?

Gating for gating’s sake does not a strategy make. How many times have you personally taken the step to provide your professional information to gain access to something that seemed extremely valuable, unique and relevant, only to be disappointed in what you received? That company most likely lost you forever as a potential customer. If you are going to ask a prospect to make the extra effort to share their contact information, what you are sharing should be of high value. Ideally, it is content in the form of original, in-depth research that couldn’t be found anywhere else, step-by-step guides on highly complex technical processes or truly innovative thought leadership pieces that demonstrate deep insights and challenge the industry status quo.

Does gating or ungating content align with your brand character?

There’s no real debate about the value of content in your marketing and branding efforts. Relevant, insightful information leads to greater brand affinity, loyalty and trust. What you have to decide as a company is whether the use of gated or ungated content aligns with your brand’s core values and market positioning. Freely sharing your thinking and intellectual capital creates one impression, while being selective about what you share and how you share it says something else. There’s no right or wrong answer; it’s simply a matter of how you want to be perceived.

What are your competitors doing?

When thinking through your own content strategy, it can be helpful to conduct a communications audit to get a better understanding of the types of content being shared by your competitors, especially the market leaders. Look at what is gated or ungated. See if it’s being shared on other channels like LinkedIn, Twitter or in trade media. This isn’t a prescription for copying what your competitors are doing; rather, it’s an opportunity to find a content gap that you may be able to uniquely fill to give you a competitive advantage with your target audience.

Are you organized to manage and nurture leads?

If you’re going to invest valuable time and resources to create gated content for the sole objective of lead generation, then having the processes and infrastructure to follow up and begin lead nurturing and relationship building is essential. Whether you do this by using an automated platform to create email drip campaigns, or you have someone manually building a list in Excel and sending follow-up emails; you’ve captured a lead, now it needs to be qualified, nurtured and brought into the sales funnel. As hockey great Wayne Gretzky said, “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” 100% follow-up is essential for any successful content marketing or lead generation program. More about “lead classification” in the future

And the Answer Is, Yes.

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In the end, selectively using both ungated and gated content provides you with the flexibility to accommodate a broad range of strategic marketing and branding objectives. And given the wealth of data, analytics and testing opportunities digital marketing provides, you have the ability to find out what works best for you. Because if you can measure it, you can manage it.

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