When a free report is too free

Free report flash

I first wrote the following post several years ago before Content Marketing became de rigueur.

These days, some Content Marketers say you should publish your content in a way that is easy to access and share without expecting people to provide their details.

I’m not so sure. But the psychology of persuasion may offer a compromise.

Free downloadable reports have quickly become a favourite – and cost-effective – device for demonstrating ‘thought leadership’. It is truly amazing how much high-quality information is available for free to those willing to search for it and exercise a bit of editorial judgement.

I’ve recently been researching place marketing and I discovered an excellent report called the Power of Destinations on the website of the Communications Group plc.

It’s a high-quality piece of work based on serious, and probably expensive, research. And yet The Communications Group plc (which, as the only PR agency to be commissioned by industry body the CIPR, surely knows what it’s doing) allowed me to snaffle this valuable information without leaving so much as my name.

Downloadable reports are a perfect way of generating qualified follow up lists of hot leads with a proven interest in the subject matter. Giving the reports away without asking the user to register their details is a criminal waste of marketing spend.

But when you ask people to register can make all the difference.

Susan Weinshenk, in her book Neuro Web Design, describes some fascinating research conducted by Luciano Gamberni and colleagues in 2007. They tested a reward approach, where users had to register with their demographic data before downloading useful files, and a reciprocity approach which asked people to register after they had downloaded their chosen files.

The reciprocity group was twice as likely to register as the reward group.


Reciprocity is one of six ‘Weapons of Mass Persuasion’ identified by Robert Cialdini in his book the Psychology of Persuasion. More on Cialdini in future posts.

So whatever you do, get people’s contact details when you give away your high-quality research reports and white papers. But counterintuitively, it seems you’re better off asking after you hand over your knowledge.





2 thoughts on “When a free report is too free

  1. I’ve used the reciprocity approach since launching my first web site in 1997, 12 months after I came online. The premise was that giving people an opportunity to experience my ideas and practical suggestions BEFORE they needed to subscribe to get access to more content of similar calibre made more marketing sense than the kind of “highway robber” approach (stand and deliver!) that demanded access to private information before any such experience.

    No… a well written sales letter was NOT as effective as free downloads of good quality, useful content with high perceived value.

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