Avoiding the 5 Pitfalls of Free Content

by Hartley Brody

Date

May 17, 2011 at 9:00 AM

John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing wrote an interesting article last Friday, bemoaning the over-use of free content as the central tool of inbound marketing. In the article, he lists five reasons why “free is hurting us all” as both content makers and content consumers. The article caught my attention – not necessarily because it’s wrong – but because it raises some worthwhile critiques that all inbound marketers should be aware of to ensure we get the most from our content.

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According to John, the five problems with free content are:

  1. No accountability
  2. Eroded Value
  3. Lowered Expectations
  4. Blocked Revenue
  5. Community Buster

As inbound marketers, it is important to be aware of the potential pitfalls of giving away free content and the strategies we can use to effectively leverage it.

1. Create Accountability

John claims that free content is more likely to attract casual sign-ups from people who never end up actually attending your webinar or viewing your content. As a marketer, create incentives for your leads to stick around. You could advertise that you’ll be sharing a coupon code at the end of the webinar or offering a sneak preview of a new feature. Having a teaser – and advertising it – is a great way to ensure your leads view your piece of content and become more qualified.

2. Build a Reputation for Quality

John asks a question that your prospects might also ask themselves: “How good can something that’s free really be?” It is important to make sure that you’re not just making content for content’s sake – your prospects want to know,“What’s in it for me if I sign up for this?”

One way to convince newcomers of your content’s quality is by using numbers. Advertising that "o ver 20,000 people have signed up for this webinar" or that "817,000 marketers are receiving our content" is a great way to signal your content’s quality using social proof .

3. Raise Expectations

This is similar to the last point. Make sure your content is high-quality and not “slapped together” to meet a deadline. If your leads feel energized, enlightened, or enchanted by your content, they’ll be far more likely to become evangelists for your company – and we all know that nothing beats word-of-mouth recommendations.

4. Use Your Free Content to Build the Value of Your Business

If you provide lots of quality content over time and give it away for free, the value of your business’s intelligence will grow. At HubSpot, we’ve had employees get offered paid speaking engagements because of the expertise they've exhibited and thought leadership they've established by giving away free content on our blog.

Giving away free content sacrifices short-term profit for long-term brand awareness and thought leadership, and that can turn into cash down the line.

5. Be Unique in Your Community

Just because there are a growing number of marketers leveraging the power of free content, doesn’t mean your content will get drowned out in the noise. Create an edge that makes your content – and your business – seem unique and special.

At HubSpot, we used the “Good vs. Evil” struggle between inbound and outbound marketing, and positioned ourselves as the good guys. Fee Fighters is another great example of a company that is positioning themselves well in their industry by differentiating their content and their company. Find a good story that fits your business, and use that to create a unique position that keeps you relevant.

What are some other ways you can get the most out of the content you give away?


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