Industrial and Manufacturing Marketing Blog

Not All Industrial White Papers Merit Registration

White papers are used most frequently for lead generation and nurturing in industrial marketing. Many of these white papers are very technical and require engineers and other domain experts to spend quite a bit of their time in producing these content marketing assets. A freelance copywriter cannot create them with an hour or two of work.

It is natural for industrial companies to want to maximize their ROI after investing all that time and resources. However, should all industrial white papers be gated – require registration? There are two schools of thought on this.

On one hand, you have those who insist on registration because they believe it is an equitable value exchange. Free knowledge and valuable educational content in exchange for contact information.

Then there are those who advocate setting all your content free. This isn’t a pie-in-the-sky concept. There are well-known content marketers in this camp.

David Meerman Scott (@dmscott), the author of the bestseller “New Rules of Marketing & PR” said, “Content from white papers and eBooks would be downloaded between 20 times to 50 times more if they were offered without a registration gate in front of the download.”

Jon Miller (@jonmiller), VP Marketing of Marketo wrote in a blog post, “By eliminating the need for registration in order to gain access to your white papers, eBooks, and other valuable content, you remove the initial barriers to building relationships with prospects. In doing so, you will strengthen your rapport, and these anonymous leads will likely surface as inbound leads once their interest level increases.”

There is a happy middle ground if you are not willing to set all your white papers free. I suggest that you use a mix of free and gated white papers in your industrial content marketing for lead generation and nurturing.

I am not implying that the free white papers have little educational value. On the contrary, I am saying that you will create a perception of real value because if your free content is that good, then your gated content must be even better. That is a strong motivator for someone to register for your gated white papers.

Grocery stores use this concept of sampling with excellent results. Think of the times when you grabbed those free tasty morsels and were enticed into buying something that was not on your shopping list.

Create landing pages with registration forms for every gated white paper. See my post, “How Landing Pages Can Make or Break Lead Generation Campaigns” for improving conversion and reducing friction. Read my post, “B2B Lead Generation without Lead Nurturing is Doomed to Fail” to learn about the importance of lead nurturing.

Do you use a mix of gated and free white papers in your industrial content marketing? Let me hear your thoughts.

Achinta Mitra

Achinta Mitra calls himself a “marketing engineer” because he combines his engineering education and an MBA with 36 years of practical industrial marketing experience. You want an expert with an insider’s knowledge and an outsider’s objectivity who can point you in the right direction immediately. That's Achinta. He is the Founder of Tiecas, Inc., an industrial marketing consultancy in Houston, Texas. Read Achinta's story here.
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  1. I totally agree with Bob’s comment about not disappointing. We run gated lead generation campaigns for a lot of clients. In most cases the white papers are excellent. They represent significant engineering research into important topics.

    On the other hand sometimes marketers come to us with sales brochures sporting a cover page that says “White Paper”. These aren’t really advancing the sales process – in fact I think they might work against the marketer. Who wants to deal with a company that starts a relationship on a dishonest footing?

    We make every effort to be tactful when we advise those folks that their white papers need a bit more work.

    • @John,

      Thanks for your comments and sharing your experiences. I have come across the same thing where some companies try to disguise their marketing collateral as white papers. Looks like we all agree here that the best course as I’ve suggested in my post is to use a mix of free and gated content based on perceived value to readers.

  2. Hi Achinta. As usual a great post and as usual I agree with all that you say. In fact, I wrote a post about precisely this topic some time ago and it may be worth your reader’s attention as it provides some interesting statistics on drop off rates for registration requests versus free or ungated content.

    In short, for those who don’t want to read the whole post, an experiment found that the drop off rate hit 75% when people were asked to register. In other words, they converted 25% of their audience. While in my book that’s a pretty good rate for any marketer, our own site experiences around a 52% drop off for white papers requiring registration. Or, to put it the other way round, around 48% of our visitors convert when asked to do so, in return for the paper they want to read. I think that’s spectacular, to be honest!

    But I think all of this is misleading (and there’s more in the post about this, too). What really counts is how much these prospects buy from you. It’s not about what white papers they read or refuse to read because you ask them to surrender a name and email address. And what none of the “Gate No Content” people ever measure is how much the people who refuse to give details actually buy versus the ones who identified themselves. In other words, how sincere is someone who visits your site but won’t register? In my mind it’s like when I used to go to Trade Shows and man the booth. If a person would not hand me his or her business card, they never made it to my prospect list. So why should they on my site?

    • @Eric,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and the compliment. You make a good point about conversion. People downloading free content is only the start of the journey and not the end result of content marketing. Ultimately what matters most is how many of them turn into customers as you’ve pointed with your trade show analogy. My post “Subscribers to Free Content are NOT Leads” talks about this issue.

  3. Bob and Anand,

    Thanks for weighing in with your thoughts. This is a topic that causes a lot head-scratching and sometimes, heated debates. My industrial clients are happy using a mix of gated and free content.

  4. Hi Achinta,

    Very interesting post on a much debated subject across many B2B marketers and companies. Though i totally agree with non gated downloads drive far more interests and largely build relationship and branding with anonymous leads in the future. However for more established brands gated downloads will only help capture quality leads which you may nurture and pursue at a later stage. Again this just my opinion.

  5. Terrific topic Achinta

    I think David Meerman Scott and Jon Miller go too far. I agree you should take some middle ground.

    As a rule, I would gate white papers and special reports, but not gate articles. If the content is substantial, I would gate it.

    The real key is to not disappoint. If you promise a white paper, don’t throw together a few pages of sales materials and disguise it as a white paper.

    The real action in marketing today takes place inside the sales funnel after the lead comes in. This is where you can qualify, engage, explore and nurture your leads at very little cost. The more expensive part of the process is getting the initial lead – getting people to request the whitepaper. That’s why I like to maximize my return at this step.

    If you follow the advice of Scott and Miller, you don’t capture those leads on the front end. You don’t get them on your list. You wait and you hope they like your content and will remember you when they are closer to making a decision (further down the funnel).

    That’s not good enough to my mind – even if you have more people downloading your content.

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