I’ve been shocked by the recent backlash from B2B content marketers against web forms.
Forms across the world are incandescent with rage and they’ve asked me, as as a fully paid up member of the form fan club, to give their side of the story.
Let’s be honest: forms are not the problem, marketers are the problem.
Marketers have used and abused forms for years. Yet, all of a sudden, the bullies are staggering away from the scene of the crime like victims, robbed of the right to be share their message. It’s not good enough: forms are simply too important and powerful a tool to be hung out to dry.
I can assure you forms don’t deserve their reputation. They didn’t choose to:
- Contain twenty too many, largely pointless fields
- Be a downright inconvenience to fill in
- Ask harder questions than a Mensa test
- Act as a cast-iron guarantee of an unwanted sales call
- Offer no promise of quality or usefulness
- Demand endorsements in return for downloads
- Expect prospects to think any of this was a good deal
No, marketers of the world, these choices were yours. All yours. You created the monster and now you want to walk away. But I say it’s not too late to remember that forms, used properly, are our friends.
What’s Your Job?
Marketers blame forms for dwindling downloads. Prospects see them and run for the hills (thanks to the seven reasons listed above). And, if you think your job is to get people to read your content, then that’s a bit stressful.
But B2B content marketers increasingly need to sell. They know that a download is, usually, a first and significant step along a long, content-rich road to revenue. The likelihood of successful second, third, fourth and fifth nurturing moves grow rapidly when you know your target audience.
It makes sense. The old phrase ‘a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’ is old for a reason.
Would you rather work with a marketer focused on making content easier to download by removing forms, or a marketer focused on creating content so good prospects will start a dialogue?
Quid Pro Quo
And let’s not be distracted by any misplaced moral issues. Moses famously handed over the the Ten Commandments, the world’s most famous checklist, but he took subscriptions to monotheism in return. Prospects will fill in a form when the reactions and actions are proportionate.
Don’t forget that filling in a form is a public commitment. Anyone who fills in a form has already already convinced themselves it’s going to be worth it. The conversion is considered and guarantees more attention post download.
A Better Way
The question isn’t whether we should have forms. The question is when, and how, should we use forms.
Some people go for a quantitative approach. I am a little bit drawn to Chris Jalonski’s model (thanks to Michael Brenner for the hat tip) of 10% to 20% fully gated content, 20% to 30% name and email only, and 50% to 70% completely free. But it’s still too rigid and quantitative for my liking.
The first actions most B2B brands take – following on from the years of marketing muppetry – should be on rehabilitating the form. The goal is to deploy forms to make them as unobtrusive, inoffensive, unobstructive as possible while promising a genuine quid pro quo in return.
Here are seven simple steps you can take to earn your content spurs and use forms effectively:
Establish your content brand first
Walk before you can run. Build a reputation as a high quality content provider before you start adding forms. The first rule of great content marketing is great content.
Don’t gate your advertising
It’s the pinnacle of marketing stupidity. Can you imagine a television channel including adverts as a line item in a content package? So don’t ask people to subscribe to case studies, data sheets…
Explain what happens next
Prospects will expect an immediate sales call unless you tell them otherwise. But if you clearly state the next step will be a flurry of wonderful, useful content then you can expect a more positive result.
Keep it short and simple
Sometimes I find I haven’t got the time or knowledge to answer the questions. Many prospects don’t know last year’s revenues or their CEO’s inside leg measurement. Ask for too much and get nothing (except made-up-on-the-spot data).
Avoid nasty surprises
Don’t bluff your audience. Anyone who puts up a few fields and subsequently turns that into 20 will achieve only one thing. Your prospects won’t trust you. Ever again.
Reduce the risk
How do you signal your content can be trusted? Share your content with people and gather their reviews and comments up-front. Publish them. Their words will reassure your prospects that you and your content can be trusted.
Trust as a service
And don’t forget to tap into the latest online phenomenon. Promote and pimp your best content to peers and bloggers. Their recommendations will bring super-motivated visitors who will hardly notice the form as they fill it in. Bloggers have the most clout but social networks and even Google makes a difference.
We’ve worked hard on improving our form based conversion rates with all the techniques above. So how is our latest piece of premium content performing since we launched it a couple of weeks ago?
Our last Marketing Manifesto campaign recorded an on-page form completion rate of 43%. So how does our Content Marketing Strategy campaign compare? It’s already paying off – with almost 56% of visitors entering the site on the landing page converting. We’ll keep you posted if that changes.
Other ‘Diary of a Content Pimp’ posts
1) The Kick-off – why we’re doing this
2) Goals, Metrics & Fears – sticking our collective necks out
3) The Promotion Plan – how we’re pimping the Checklist
5) The Power of a Blog Series – why multiples are better than singles