ImageEarlier this week, I created a simple poll asking people how they respond when they are required to furnish contact information to access a white paper, report or other desired content. It was an unscientific poll, but with 90 responses, it was large enough to give marketers something to consider. Is it more important to add another record to the prospect database or to educate, engage, increase awareness and enhance reputation by furnishing valuable content?

I launched this poll because of my own reaction to the growing tidal wave of marketing emails and phone calls I receive. On any given day, I delete as many as two dozen unsolicited messages without even a glance and am forced to turn away another three or four phone calls. I have neither the time nor mental energy to parse the flood of offers and sales pitches.

I am swimming in a sea of unwanted spam at work, and that is changing my online behaviors: I have stopped filling in contact forms. Several times a day I see something of interest in my social streams and will click to access the promised content, but if it means adding to my flow of annoying and distracting email and telephone spam, I pass.

I wondered if many others were like me, and if so, are marketer losing more than they are gaining by locking expensive, valuable, persuasive content behind a contact form. I can't answer that question, but the results presented below should give some marketers pause. Simply put, most people will not complete the form and thus will not see your content. That seems a shame--having succeeded in collecting interested prospects via inbound marketing, would you rather have 10,000 decision makers download and consider your content or 1,200 new names for your database (half of whom may unsubscribe after getting your first unsolicited message)?

Here is a brief analysis of the data:

  • Only one in eight people will automatically furnish their contact information to access desired content.
      
  • Almost twice as many people will automatically leave a site as will furnish their contact information.
      
  • The largest share of people (one in four) may share their contact information, provided they trust the firm. If your brand and reputation are well established, your form may not be as great an impediment, but if your company is a small, newer, less established player, you might consider the tradeoff you are accepting by requiring users' contact information.
      
  • One in five will leave the site and seek the information elsewhere. I will typically do this myself, and most of the time I am successful in finding the content without navigating through the contact form.
      
  • While I didn't ask it explicitly in the poll, a significant number of people will simply lie, completing the form with false information. (How much value are marketers really getting from their forms if bad records are added to the database?) 

 

As a social marketer, I lean toward giving people access without requiring information. My employer routinely offers original, primary research with no limits for free download--for us, the value we gain in reputation and attention is more important than the contact data.

As I always say, it is vital that marketers measure the behaviors and attitudes of their own audience when reaching strategic decisions. It is easy enough to measure the amount of inbound traffic to a landing page containing a form and compare that to the number of downloads or completion rate of the form. The wider the gap, the more the brand should consider the disadvantages versus the benefits. 
 
It is also important to remember that in the social age there are other ways to identify and build relationships with people who download your firm's content. Many folks who find your information interesting will share it. If you are listening on Twitter and to the larger social web, it is possible to engage and know the people who not only accessed your content but found it valuable enough to share. (Ka-ching--that person is so much more valuable to your brand than is someone who just completed a form!)
 
I hope you find the results of the poll interesting. And if you have some experience or a point of view to share, I'd appreciate your insights in the comments to this blog post.