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I read a thought-provoking blog post the other day. It was written by case study expert Casey Hibbard, author of Stories that Sell.

In her article, Hibbard laments B2B marketers who, for the sake of capturing leads, lock up their case studies behind cumbersome registration forms. Far too often, she finds, these forms require not just an email address, but 5 to 10 other pieces of information. And she gives three good reasons why you shouldn’t cordon off all of your marketing content behind a registration form. {1}

First, she says, the sales process has changed. She cites a conversation with a VP of sales who told her, “Prospects call, ready to talk, after doing their own research. They raise their hands when they’re ready.”

Second, registration often blocks consumption. She recounts the story of a small software company who shared some statistics with her a couple of years ago. “After requiring registration for case studies, the company experimented by removing the required registration,” she says. “In just one week, the company reported that downloads of its case studies were three times higher than the previous four months combined!”

Finally, she points out that prospects can become frustrated finding a gate-keeper in front of every asset in your content library. “I imagine a big door a la Wizard of Oz where a little munchkin appears through a small window and asks, ‘Who’s there? What do you want?'” she says. “In their journeys of seeking new solutions and service providers, prospects don’t expect or want to arrive at a locked door – especially for content that markets a vendor’s solution.”

Hibbard recommends putting out the welcome mat. She advocates eliminating registration for virtually all content, even white papers, and limiting sign-ups to live events like webinars and demos.

The other side of the coin

I agree with Hibbard up to a point. But there’s another side to this argument.

Surveys show B2B prospects are willing to register for content. In fact, a study by KnowledgeStorm and Marketing Sherpa a few years ago found that technology buyers were more willing to register for white papers and case studies (79% and 63%, respectively) than for demos (38%) or webcasts (31%). {2}

The point is, as was pointed out in a comment on Hibbard’s blog, that people will register for valuable content. And in fact, Hibbard herself admits that, “Some content can be curtained behind forms, but not everything.” {1}

Striking a balance

The real issue, I think, is this: For what content should we require registration? What criteria can we use to decide?

In other words, how can we capture and qualify leads, and still avoid alienating potential customers? How do we strike the right balance?

Some say test and track. That was a frequent response on Hibbard’s blog: test different scenarios and determine what works best for your organization. But that seems rather labor intensive to me.

Isn’t there a litmus test we can use? Isn’t there a common sense way to determine which content we should cordon off, and which we should give away freely?

A Litmus Test for Content Registration

I think there is.

I think the litmus test is value. Not the value of your solution. But the value of your content, in and of itself, to your target reader. In other words, is a particular content asset more than “product literature?”

As I said before, people will register for valuable content.

Personally, I have two criteria for determining if a given asset is valuable enough to warrant registration.

First, is the content intrinsically useful? Will the content itself help readers solve a nagging problem they have, regardless of whether they purchase our solution? Will it help the reader gain a competitive advantage over competitors who don’t have this information? This is what I think of as valuable content.

Second, can I market the content without marketing the product? Can I build a campaign that conveys the value of the content, without mentioning a specific product? To me, this says the content is more than product literature.

A good problem/solution white paper will pass both of these tests. A product backgrounder white paper will not. Most case studies will not pass both tests. But a few will.

Those assets that do pass both tests deserve to be used as bait pieces for lead generation and, thus, guarded by a registration form. Those that don’t, don’t.

A Content Registration Strategy

So, what’s our strategy? I would recommend the following.

First, build a few content assets that pass the litmus test outlined above. Create at least one for each of the problems your company solves.

Second, require registration ONLY for those assets that pass the test. Allow site visitors to download your other content assets – your “product literature” – with just one click.

Third, on your registration form, require as little information as possible. But ask for a little bit more. You don’t want to discourage prospects by requiring too much information. But also be aware that your best prospects will often fill in fields that are not required.

Take-Away Points

1. Most prospects want to do their own product research before they talk to you.
2. Registration often deters website visitors from downloading content assets.
3. You can avoid alienating prospects while still generating leads by restricting only select content.
4. Require registration only for content with intrinsic value.
5. Require as little information as possible, but then ask for a little more.

Next Steps…

Need valuable content worthy of registration to help generate leads for your coampany? Call CopyEngineer at (+39) 011 569 4951. Or drop me an email at


{1} Hibbard, Casey, Why Some Buyers Don’t Look at Case Studies, AIM Publishers, February 2014.

{2} KnowledgeStorm/MarketingSherpa, Connecting Through Content Survey, Issue 2: Content Distribution—Where Information Intersects with Demand, May 2007.

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