I was recently approached by one of my clients whose web designers had recommended they put all their product information resources, brochures, handbooks, technical data sheets etc., behind a registration process and make it accessible to registered users only. Here is my response.
Putting downloads, product information and other resources behind a pay wall of some kind (whether it be email address, full contact details, or even actual payment in funds) needs to be decided in the context of your overall marketing strategy. However I’m happy to share my experience as someone trained in architecture and with 15 years managing teams of architects.
What are Architects Like?
Architects practices tend to be small – around 80% have fewer than 10 staff, and 60% fewer than 5 staff. Surprisingly this demographic has not changed much in the last ten years. The practices tend to be flat in organisational terms with few formal processes, and specifiers within the system tend to develop their own processes to achieve the tasks which make up their job. In practical terms this means they rely on existing trusted relationships with individuals and brands.
Being in the creative industries architects are also more likely than the general population to be dyslexic. They can be reluctant to fill out forms and suspicious of the motives of those requiring their details. Making them change their behaviour is difficult, but if an occasion arises when they need something new or to solve a new problem, being available for them at that point can bring huge benefits to construction product companies.
For example, one of my architect friends online changed his specification from Velfac windows to an alternative provider because at the point when he needed it (half past three on a Wednesday afternoon) another provider answered his question about the availability of double glazed windows of a certain U-value. He used Twitter for this rather than the phone because he didn’t have to talk to someone or wait to get through; he just sends his request and gets an answer whilst he gets on with other things. This is not to say that his decision was a ‘snap’ decision, or that it was influenced only by this encounter on twitter; all interactions with product companies add up to an overall impression. If you want to build a good impression, you have to be available.
Specifiers then are set in their ways, but can change their minds on the turn of a key if a crisis arises. This suggests that the way to get their attention is to make it as easy as possible for them to get in touch, and if possible to find the information they want by themselves online without even having to speak to someone or identify themselves.
Paywalls for Construction Products Downloads – Benefits and Risks
Putting access to your resources behind a pay wall has some benefits:
- You can harvest specifier emails and market to them
- You can monitor who accesses your content (e.g. Competitors)
- You can follow up suggestions of interest from specifiers
- Users can access the resources they have saved if they have an account; for example a calculation or favourite documents.
Whilst these techniques can work, the pay wall also has downsides:
- Fewer specifiers will be able to find your content online,
- Fewer specifiers will interrogate your content to work out if it solves their problem (and they may simply go elsewhere)
- Fewer specifiers will download your content.
- Specifiers will invent bogus staff with bogus email addresses to use on forms (I’ve found several of these on my audits of product supplier databases).
In addition, the assumptions about the benefits of a paywall may also be incorrect. How can you truly monitor your competitor’s access to your product information? The answer is, you can’t. They can find it all over the workplace in which they find themselves, they will be shown it by specifiers, they will be on your mailing list, incognito, already. The answer to this dilemma is not, then to close down, it is to OPEN UP.
The Bottom Line – what’s the advantage?
Whilst there are benefits to the specifier of accessing your content via a login, such as saved calculations or favourite documents, in many cases there is no benefit to them whatsoever. If they perceive no benefit, they will either avoid registering, or register in a way in which you can’t contact them anyway, making the entire pay wall system a waste of money. It could even be a drain on resources if it is preventing you reaching specifiers.
When they are downloading your content many specifiers are in the process of deciding whether they are going to recommend your product. It seems therefore, rather nonsensical to make the process more difficult for them.
It is wise to consider which of your resources, if any, genuinely need a pay wall, how the idea of a pay wall fits into how you generate business for the company, what value the information you collect provides to you, and whether a pay wall will assist or hinder the ultimate objective of the marketing process. These decisions are some of many which my consultancy helps product manufacturers make.
Then if your company still wants to put a pay wall up in front of your content, it is possible to run an experiment, either timed or an A/B test, to see whether the paywall or non-paywall approach produces the best outcome in terms of downloads, enquiries etc. Making the right decision at this point could save you a great deal of money.
What is your experience of email paywalls for construction product downloads and other information? Does it affect your decision to use a product? Do you agree with me – or am I mistaken? I’d be very interested to hear your views.