Form Strategy

The Great Gate Debate: To Form Or Not To Form?

They came, they saw, they debated. Last week, B2B marketing experts came together to wrestle the age-old conundrum: To form or not to form? This was at the heart of The Great Gate Debate. Turns out, this seemingly simple question doesn’t have a simple answer. In fact, it almost raises more questions at times.

“On one hand, do we focus on educating our buyers, setting our content free?” asked Elle Woulfe, Vice President of Marketing at LookBookHQ and moderator of the debate. “On the other hand, do we focus on driving conversion and capturing lead data? After all, we have goals to hit!” Therein lies the ever-present struggle.

The all-star panel included:

The hour-long debate unveiled some interesting insights, actionable takeaways, and strong opinions on how and why marketers must rethink their form strategy.

It started off amicably enough, with introductions and the most recent concert each attended (answers varying from LCD Soundsystem to The Wiggles). Then, straight out of the gate, Tyler forced everyone to think critically.

Are gates and forms the same thing?

“I do fundamentally believe there is a difference between gates and forms. I’m generally a pro-forms guy but an anti-gate guy. I think forms are one of the many ways we need to interact with our audience online and give them the opportunity to engage with us. Forms don’t always have be a traditional content gate. I don’t think the need to ungate content rules out the need for forms, which I feel still have a strong place in marketing today.” Tyler Lessard, VP of Marketing at Vidyard

Tyler brings up a good point. The idea that forms and gates are one and the same can probably be the topic of a whole other webinar.

Understanding that we are talking about the kind of form that restricts access to content, our expert panel shared their stance:

“As a content marketer, I instinctively hate gates and forms. But the truth is, ultimately, at some point you need to know who you’re talking to and the only thing that’s going to accomplish that is a form. I think the conversation needs to move more to when we gate and how we gate.” Mark Bornstein, VP of Content Marketing at ON24

Mimi: The ability for us at Demandbase to recognize that not all visitors are the same and to be able to provide different experiences with different value props is really key. The ability to present a form at different parts of the experience depending on who they are or where they are in the funnel is essential.

Dave: It’s 2018. The tech you should be using in your tech stack should be good enough that you shouldn’t have to put up a gate with 15 questions in order to get information from somebody. There’s so much info you can get before someone has to fill out a form on your site it can negate the need to use it.

Owais: I’m an anti-gating extremist. I’m against gating, but if you are trying to establish two-way communication and provide value then presenting a form at the right time is ok. And always remember that the user is first, not you. Sometimes, as demand gen pros, we can put our needs first.

#NoForms #NoShoes #NoService?

Dave undoubtedly had the most controversial stance on forms. Drift is famous for its #NoForms movement, after all.

“The big thing is: This isn’t how we buy as people. I’m not going to get a piece of gated content that’s ultimately going to convince me to buy. I want to read it, I want to talk to my friends and peers and, ultimately, when I’m ready to buy I’m going to be at a different stage than when I downloaded the eBook.” Dave Gerhardt, Director of Marketing at Drift

What Dave says makes sense; however, there is a point in everyone’s marketing where you need to take an anonymous person and make them known so you can continue marketing to them.

The Great Gate Debate audience was just as involved in the discussion. One participant in particular stood out among a sea of #NoForms supporters. Rory T simply asked: #SometimesForms?

How about #SometimesForms?

At the end of the day, it’s our job is to get customers educated enough to want to share their information. The more customers engage with your content, the more they are interested in learning about your solution. Wouldn’t it make sense, then, to serve up a form only after a certain engagement threshold is reached (i.e. certain number of assets consumed or for a specific amount of time)? This way, we can deliver more of what the customer really wants. And, at the end of the day, THAT is our job of marketers: Helping genuinely interested customers better educate themselves. Our job isn’t to just generate MQLs. Our job is to generate quality MQLs.

"We’re focused on storytelling. We bundle content together to tell a great story that’s targeted to specific personas. We use things like LookBookHQ, Marketo, and other things in our tech stack to see what people are consuming and how long they are consuming it for. Knowing this data, we can serve forms based on what they’re interested in, so it’s more of an offer than an ask.” Owais, Demand Generation at Oath

If you serve a form before you know what’s really motivating your buyer’s, how will you be able to continue serving them relevant information? How do you even know if they are interested in learning more? Or as Mark puts it: “The gate doesn’t lead to the content, the content leads to the gate.” And the ability to measure your customers’ hunger for more information is key. At LookBookHQ, we call this appetite for information “engaged intent”.

It’s something we are really fired up about here at LookBookHQ. We passionately believe that engagement data (or, “engaged intent” as we like to call it) is the most powerful signal of sales-readiness available today.

Not all forms are created equal

As The Great Gate Debate unfolded, one thing became clear: Not all forms are created equal. Forms come in many shapes and sizes and there can be a variety of reasons to serve one up–some better than others.

Owais: For webinars and other offline events, putting up a form is OK because it provides benefits to the user (like reminders and follow up recordings). I’m all for collecting information when the customer benefits.

“I think you should be presenting a different experience at the point when someone is going to gain value. It may not be in front of content. It may be to request a demo. The important thing to keep in mind is how aligned is marketing with the sales team?” - Mimi Rosenheim, Director of Web Marketing at Demandbase

Look into our B2B crystal ball…

As we move forward as B2B marketers, it’s becoming more and more important to adapt to the changing needs and behaviours of our buyers. Not only do we have to listen to our customers, we have to engage them in conversation if we want to attract (and hold) their attention for a meaningful amount of time.

Tyler: A new generation of buyers are forcing the B2B world to change. How can we think differently? We need to conform our CTAs to speak to the way buyers want to interact with us. Whether that’s via chat, a weekly video series, etc.

“The future is concentrated on telling great stories. Engage your user. The ultimate form is the ‘contact us’ and the ‘hand-raiser’ form. Take a hybrid approach–it’s doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing.” - Owais Farooqui, Demand Generation at Oath

“If you’re marketing through a channel with unknown visitors, yeah you might need a form… do you need 17 fields on that form? Probably not!” - Elle Woulfe, VP of Marketing at LookBookHQ

Oh and here’s an idea:

Owais: Why not make forms dismissible?

*mic drop*

A final word

Circling back to #NoForms Dave, even he had to admit that it’s not so black and white:

Dave: We’re not saying don’t capture anyone’s information, we’re saying there’s a better way to do it. To me, I think there are better ways to ask for information than building a wall like a gate.

While The Great Gate Debate experts may not agree on everything, they can all agree that it’s not about removing forms altogether; it’s about removing the ones that don’t matter and being much more mindful about how we serve the rest.

What do you think? Join the #greatgatedebate conversation on Twitter!

Written By
Amanda Levine
Amanda joined PathFactory in June 2017 as Content Marketing Manager. Prior to PathFactory, she was Content Editor at B2C tech company down the road, FreshBooks. In a past life, she taught math and science to lovely 12 and 13 year olds… Amanda spent most of her 20s being nomadic and lived/worked/studied around the world including Barcelona, New Zealand, and London. She is passionate about helping people so if you have any questions definitely hit her up! She also is responsible for PathFactory’s dog policy so you can thank her for all the cute floofs around the office.

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