Forms requiring Web users to input their personal information in exchange for access to a white paper, special report, or webinar are everywhere. This tactic – often referred to as “data capture” – is frequently used to build lists of potential “sales targets.” As an online marketer, I’m not unilaterally opposed to the concept, but the ideas in David Meerman Scott’s fascinating and fun book World Wide Rave have turned my long-time assumptions on their heads.

The very terminology of the status quo strategy has a negative sound to it. After all, how desperate are you if you have to “capture” someone’s contact information? What potential customer or partner would enjoy being referred to as a “target?” Scott advises marketers to “give up control” and offer content “totally free for people to access, with absolutely no virtual strings attached…”

Working the Crowd
In many cases, the number of people who will ultimately submit personal information is relatively small compared to the total number of folks initially interested in your documents. Scott’s theory states that removing barriers to download will result in your white paper or video being viewed (and shared!) by more people.

I’m only about a third of the way through Scott’s book, but I suppose that whether you are willing to eliminate your registration requirement depends upon your goals and how confident you are in the quality of your materials and ultimate offer. Are you simply employing a bait-and-switch tactic, or is what you have to offer so compelling that people will voluntarily come back for more? Here at Savvy B2B, we’d love to have every single reader RSS our feed and download our bonus materials (coming soon – stay tuned!). A week ago, I would not have considered any strategy other than bartering with readers – you give us your email address and we’ll give you this really cool tool or special report. But now, I’m not so sure.

Real-world, Rock-and-Roll Example
A couple years ago, I visited David Bowie’s official Web site. A “long-time fan, first time visitor,” I was excited to see what this always surprising and innovative artist would have to offer to Web-based groupies. Imagine my dismay when I found that nearly the entire site was locked away behind a membership-only requirement. And, let me tell you, membership wasn’t cheap! I left the site feeling more than a little bit betrayed. The genius of Bowie was tarnished in my eyes.

I visited Bowie’s site again today after a two-year hiatus. I’m pleased to report that, although there is still a membership requirement for “premium” access, there is a great deal of free content available up front with “no strings attached.” I’m not forgiving him completely, but I’m thinking about it.

4 Questions to Consider for Your Business
Though you may not be a bona fide rock start, you can take a lesson from Bowie and think about offering at least some of your content without making any demands of your prospects. Here are four questions to consider regarding required registration:

1. What is your real goal? Are you simply trying to “capture” as many email addresses as possible, or are you trying to get word out about your products & services?

2. Apart from having an email address, what other benefit do you expect to gain by requiring registration? (Hint – if you can’t think of any other benefits, you may want to consider going without the registration.)

3. Does requiring registration fit with the style and personality of your company? (More on the “Cult of Personality” next week, but consider whether demanding personal information accurately reflects the image you desire for your company.)

4. Have you considered running a test? If you have two similar downloads to offer, try offering one from behind a registration wall and one free and clear. Check the stats and see which one gets downloaded more.

What do you think? What strategies have you employed for your business? Do you think there’s a middle ground that meets all needs? Leave a comment and let us know. We’d love to have your two cents.

For now, I’m going back to World Wide Rave for more inspiration.

Image by Peter Skadberg.