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.
Paywalls always put me off. Financial ones especially, but in a time where people need to find info readily and easily it is very off-putting. Many sources of info can be found elsewhere for free – you may be losing our to your competitors!
I can obviously see the economic side of needing a list of people who have downloaded certain items but is this (and it is a question rather than a statement) an old fashioned method?
Su Butcher says
Thanks for the comment Casey, yes I think it is rather old fashioned. Traditionally many product companies live to build a mailing list. Their list is how they are used to communicating with specifiers… of course this doesn’t necessarily work well, though sometimes it can – I have a subscription list for this blog for example. But I think that specifiers want to come and find the product information when they want it, rather than have it shoved at them through their already-overloaded inbox. Sounds like you agree!
Pritesh Patel says
This is a great topic and is a question I always get asked also.
From experience, registrations is sometimes used as a KPI for many marketers to measure performance if the business strategy is focused on acquisition. I have some clients (those with registrations) who have successfully grown registrations month on month and year on year and as a result the marketers have been rewarded in various ways. It’s grown because marketing and effort is focused on acquisition.
I also have some clients who don’t opt for registration walls at all and place a heavy emphasis on growing the number of downloads over time (brand awareness) – so we measure downloads by file type and by product. (Secret: Sites with freely available documents tend to get more links from the other sites thus helping with SEO – example, distributors and stockists link to manufacturers documents if they’re freely available and linkable)
And then I have some clients who have a blend of the two. This works but I only recommend this if you can do something with the data afterwards. For these types of clients, it’s more about focusing on the smaller numbers and increasing loyalty one specifier/customer at a time.
The problem arises when marketers don’t understand (or know) the value of their content. So they put everything behind a paywall.
How much is a technical datasheet worth?
How much is a BIM model/file worth?
What value does a specification guide add?
What value does this DWG file containing all our products/parts add to the specifier?
One will will be more valuable than another. So why make people swap an email address for a lower value document?
I know some companies (who I have met and not worked for) who collect data for the sake of collecting data – “we just want to know who is downloading the data” they say. Facepalm!!
Why collect data if you’re not going to continue adding value afterwards. Hence, why I said not worked for. Sometimes old fashioned mentality is hard to change.
And then this leads onto the topic of data management – collecting the data is easy but then it sits in a spreadsheet somewhere (version 24 too!).
Anyway, look forward to continuing this discussion and hearing other peoples views.
Su Butcher says
Thanks for commenting Pritesh. Your examples of the motivation of marketers chimes with me. With some there may be a wish to change things, but if the reward system is focused on signups (especially for their own sake) then things won’t change in a hurry.
This reinforces the importance of taking a strategic viewpoint of the whole process, and making decisions based on what is actually happening rather than what we just happen to be doing because we’ve always done it.
For me, a specification guide isn’t worth much if no-one reads it.
Patrick Devlin says
We have certainly had our systems specified because we don’t currently have our info behind any “paywall”.
However I would suggest that architects and designers do make contact to advise what they are intending because:
1. We look a bit silly when a main contractor phones us to tell us we are specified and we know nothing about it.
2. It can save embarrassment for the architect or designer if the product/system is inappropriate, incorrect or inaccurate (hard to believe this could happen I know!)
Interesting stuff though Sue!
Su Butcher says
That’s a really good point Patrick. Whilst it may be attractive to move well along the specification process on your own, there comes a point when you need to talk to an expert, and product companies, suppliers and installers have more expertise in their specific field than specifiers ever will (nor need to have).
Sometimes specifiers are reluctant to talk to product representatives because they get so many calls and emails when they are not ready to make a decision. I spent much of my career being the person who kept the salesmen away from the fee earners in architects practice! But this is a broken communication channel, and it needs replacing with a more effective one.
I think there is an onus on specifiers to ask for help when they need it (or think they might need it) and for the specialists to make it as easy as possible for that help to be provided, on demand. My ISP doesn’t send me email messages, but if I tweet that broadband has stopped working they have been known to ring up my mobile and talk me through the faultfinding process there and then. If a product supplier/manufacturer can be that useful I can’t imagine they would be short of business.
Hi Su. Great topic. One thing I would add to your list of benefits of having specifiers provide details when accessing product data is the ability of the supplier to provide notifications if/when products change. For example, if specifiers go to a website, download a CAD/BIM file and use this file to document a project, if they do so with complete anonymity and the product becomes obsolete or changes dramatically, the supplier has absolutely no way of communicating with the designer to notify them as such. If suppliers have a database of ‘registered users’, when they make changes to their product range they are then able to send out a notification to all these users so they are aware. In a day and age where project coordination and clash detection are being relied on heavily to deliver efficiency in the design and construction process, having a contractor go to order the specified product only to find out (usually at the last minute) it is no longer available can potentially cause significant issues. I’d consider this another way suppliers can provide a genuine service to specifiers, rather than it necessarily be considered a marketing-driven decision.
Su Butcher says
Hi Luke, thanks so much for commenting, great to have this discussion travel the globe!
That’s a very good point. One of the problems construction has at the moment is a lack of joined up thinking about information, which is something that contributes so much to inefficiencies, not only by the example you describe but also in many smaller ways.
Products are regularly changing and improving and their attributes are changing too.
At some point in the process (or several points) the information about products needs to be updated. In fact this needs to happen whenever the manufacturer changes the product, and a mechanism needs to be in place to alert the specifier/designer/whoever has responsibility for product choice about the change so they can make a decision on whether it affects the design and if adjustments have to be made.
I’m not convinced that an email based system is ideal for this, though I guess it is what we use at the moment. Email addresses change, people move jobs, and they aren’t routinely monitored either, so the information can easily be lost. There is an opportunity here for those having conversations about how we use data in construction to embrace this challenge of changing products in a 21st Century way. I wonder what others think?
Well restricting this sort of information can have its ups and downs, I mean you don’t just give any information to anyone. but then you can also be loosing potential clients of people of influence. maybe having an explanatory on the page to tell them exactly what they might be missing if they dont sign up. could save the day.
commercial construction company says
Online records to be maintained at construction sites play important role in construction activities. Because online records have all the data of various construction activities carried out at site. As well as maintenance of online data also helps during audits of construction projects at any point of time.