Your business will face multiple crossroads where you’ll have to decide if "best practices" are really what's best for you (and your customers).
We faced a recent conundrum of this sort in regard to content: is it really the right approach for us to gate some of our resources behind opt-in pages?
If you aren’t knee deep in marketing every day of the week, using an “opt-in page” simply means putting a piece of content behind a gate, that only opens when a reader enters their email. Upon doing so, their email is also added to your newsletter (you should always tell people when this is the case).
Our company is built on content. Doing right by customers has been the strategy that has carried our business to where it is today. Needless to say, we take content very seriously.
We’re a company that truly believes in looking after customers. We want ease of use and long-term value for each piece of content we create, and the resources we put out need to reflect that.
The always-articulate Seth Godin has written a succinct summary of what we're after:
"Working to maximize the short-term value of each transaction rarely scales. If you hoard information, for example, today your prospects will simply click and find it somewhere else.”
Our marketing strategy is driven by the customer experience, not by "growth hawking." We believe companies should be about fewer games, fewer hoops, and more value. We feel like open content speaks to that.
I’d love to fill you in on the details. Below I'll explain what our thinking was, and why we decided to move away from our tried-and-true gated pages to ‘open’ resources for all.
The Genesis of Our Resource Page
It began as I’m sure many do—we wanted to have that little something extra to show our appreciation for folks kind enough to give our newsletter a chance. As it was just finding its legs at the time, it made sense to add an element of exclusivity for people who chose to follow along via our preferred medium.
Truth be told, it worked well then and it certainly works well now. Email is a channel guarded like few others, and word gets around fast if your company is overly aggressive or irresponsible with people’s emails.
Word-of-mouth certainly affected us, but in the best way possible—people couldn’t stop talking about the “beautifully designed eBooks housed Help Scout’s site,” and on customer service no less!
From a strategic standpoint, they helped us establish an early footing for our blog. As we managed to land on great business sites like FastCompany and Copyblogger, we found having an incentive to offer their readers far and away outperformed linking to our homepage and hoping for the best (example below).
Building a resource page, with a multitude of meticulously designed eBooks, also served to win over those on the fence about subscribing to a new blog. I’ve personally received dozens of emails that have read: “We found you guys through [X resource], and have been reading the blog ever since!”
Long story short, putting some of our best content behind gated pages allowed us to offer a win-win outcome for readers, and it aided in growing our newsletter from a barren wasteland to over 30,000 subscribers in 12 months.
These weren’t “bribes,” they were bonuses, and qualifiers that sorted out people who were truly interested in customer service content that was a bit different than what was out there. If you were willing to enter your email to get great customer service information, it was obvious that our blog would be to your liking.
With such glowing praise for the old style of our resource page (we’d recommend it to all budding startups), one has to ask—why the change?
Storm the Gates: Content Open for All
The transition to open resources, once the topic had been up for debate, honestly came down to a few simple arguments.
We felt like we were evolving from a rookie blog to a fairly established online presence. In the beginning, blogging was this crazy experiment for us, and we were nobody. It made sense to focus on building our newsletter with opt-in pages, because without an email list as a foundation, our other marketing options were limited (as it turns out, ranking for tough keywords without an army of loyal readers is kinda difficult!).
There comes a time, however, when you need to stop obsessing over “the metagame.” In competitive games, the metagame is defined as the current environment of best practices for top players. Expert chess players have confessed that one can become quite good at chess just through memorization. Many books on chess for beginners thus curiously read like playbooks.
The problem is that you can never be great at chess (or anything else) by mimicking someone else’s innovation. World-class chess players often criticize this obsession with memorization, because it isn’t about understanding the moves, it’s just about copying them.
Inbound marketing has the same problem—there’s a sea of people copying the current metagame, but those who are winning big are those who are doing what nobody expects.
What got you here won’t always get you there, and it began to dawn on us that it was time to stop following the current trends and start writing our own playbook.
All things considered, we had four important reasons why we believe un-gating our eBooks is one move that will take our business to the next level.
- Our priorities have changed. You’ll never hear me utter these words: “Okay, that’s enough newsletter subscribers!” But honestly, we have grown to a point where things like guest posts don’t offer the returns they used to. We needed to turn inward, and start doing things on site that brought our ideas and reach to a whole new level. Making each resource available without a single hoop felt like a step in the right direction, strategically.
- It’s on-brand for us. Your brand is what customers think of you, not what you think of you. We value ease of use and our goal with content is to empower every company with strategies to provide better service. Open content feels like "us," and making it easily accessible aligns better with our goals for a universal lift in service quality (a rising tide lifts all boats).
- We don't have sales people. No slight to sales teams, but entering your email on our site will never end in a call from me (slick backed hair and a business card in hand). We’re high touch for service, but traditional selling just isn’t a part of our strategy at the moment. Our email is used to deliver content only, so why bother with gates now that we have a large newsletter?
- The long term value of reciprocity. That's a subject we tackle a lot on this blog—the practice of giving without an ulterior motive and allowing the goodwill to make its way back to us. We believe open resources will accomplish that. This is an ongoing experiment that I’d love to update you on, but the gut feeling is that the love comes back tenfold when you give and ask for nothing in return (even a simple email sign up).
Last but not least, you'll have to allow me to brag on our designer, Jared McDaniel, here: these new resources are straight up beautiful!
Why show them to newsletter subscribers only? Sure, we do have a small army of 35,000+ people, but one golden rule of content is if 10,000 people love it, 100,000 people will love it. Once the traction is there, it’s just about scaling up to a new audience. Your job simply becomes getting the content in front of them, and open resources make this much easier.
I'm no mind reader, but at this point in the article I'm pretty sure I can pinpoint your thoughts:
Greg, shut your yap and lemme see these new designs!
I couldn't agree more, so let's begin with a brief description of each resource along with a link to where you can read the full thing, no opt-in required.
75 Customer Service Facts, Quotes and Statistics
Our first resource ever published, this is a collection of some of the classic data that has been published on customer service, loyalty, and retention.
To top if off, we include a few quotes to solidify the major points made by the numbers. If you love writing about customer service, this is a great piece to start with to add a data-driven element to your next article.
10 Unforgettable Customer Service Stories
In a world where marketing departments use terms like campaigns and email blasts, it's nice to step back from the apparent warfare and be reminded of what matters—taking care of customers.
Stories often offer more than just inspiration. Ideas and insights can always be found by examining how the greats create lasting goodwill with their customers.
The Art of Customer Loyalty
Loyalty programs, feedback, personalized service, and increased retention—all important elements of creating "sticky" customer loyalty, and all topics covered in this guide.
A compilation of 2 years of some of our best content from the Help Scout blog, this resource will get you up to speed on the tactics and strategies we value the most.
10 Ways to Convert More Customers (w/ Psychology)
I’ll let you in on a little content marketing secret—it is very important to appeal to “affinity” personas with your content. These are the people who care about your topic, but who don’t work in the field directly.
We found that marketing managers (the good ones) cared greatly about brand loyalty. Making an eBook all about marketing thus worked very well, because it attracted them to our site, and generally won them over to stick around and learn more about creating customer loyalty.
25 Ways to Thank Your Customers
Watching how customers react on social media to a handwritten note paints a clear picture—in some customers' minds, the simple act of saying thank you is becoming a lost art.
If you need some fresh ideas on how you can let your customers know you appreciate their business, this is the guide you should read.
Acquiring Customers with Email
This is certainly an interesting resource to write about, because I’m pretty sure back then I recommended a gated eBook or two! Times change, but one marketing truth is still certain: email is the channel of choice for businesses who want to make sales, not #hashtags.
We break down how we were able to build up a newsletter of 30,000 subscribers in a paltry 12 months, and what a large (and well cared-for) email list can do for your business.
A Brief Guide to a Better Email
Since so much of your support and communication with customers is done over email, you have to make each message matter.
We teamed up with Chase Clemons, support champion at Basecamp/37 Signals and founder of Support Ops, to showcase the good, the bad, and the ugly in email communication with new and long-term customers.