August 10, 2005
Case Study

How to Get Thousands More White Paper Readers & Webinar Attendees: Red Hat's Initial Test Results

SUMMARY: If white papers and/or webinars are part of your marketing mix - READ THIS CASE STUDY. Marketers at Red Hat have been testing what many consider unthinkable:

  • Removing white paper registration barriers

  • Only offering canned webinars (no live ones)

Initial results are in - and we've got the exclusive for you:
CHALLENGE Like most technology marketers, Red Hat's team uses white paper and webinar offers both to generate new leads and warm up current prospects.

As reported in MarketingSherpa's 2005 IT Marketing Benchmark Guide, now that media costs are rising and sales cycles are getting longer, it's more critical than ever to get the biggest bang for your white paper and webinar buck.

But, as Director of Marketing Communications Chris Grams notes, Red Hat's team began to worry about possible problems in both tactics earlier this year.

Requiring registration is a time-honored way to generate leads from your white paper and webinar offers. However, Red Hat discovered fewer than 2% of prospects who arrived at their registration forms actually filled them out and submitted to accept the offer. (Note: 6% is the average for b-to-b reg forms, but even that's abysmally low when you consider things.)

"We have tons of people coming to the site every day, but you'd only have 50 out of 1,000 people who filled the form in," says Grams.

For white papers in particular this was a problem because industry statistics show 24% of white paper recipients will pass a paper onto their boss, and 77% will pass a paper to their colleagues. So, if your registration form stops those downloads, you're also losing all that viral pass-along further down the line.

Grams also worried prospects' excitement about attending a scheduled live webinar was waning. "From my perspective over the last two years, webcasts have dipped in terms of the amount of people viewing them."

"We saw the writing on the wall. Would I want to put a date in my calendar to attend a webcast three weeks from now on something I'm pretty interested in -- but I'd skip if somebody invites me out to lunch that day? Our stats show live webinars are quickly becoming dinosaurs."

How could Red Hat break this downward trend?

CAMPAIGN You guessed it. First they tested stripping off registration forms for many (but not all) white papers, webinars, and streamed video on their site.

Plus, they changed the webinar system in three ways:

#1. On-demand only - Everything was pre-canned instead of "live" which resulted in roughly the same content, but without the stress of being perfect presenters in a live format.

#2. Surfable chunks - These pre-canned presentations were broken into labeled sections that prospects could navigate at will. So, if they just wanted to get at one part of the info, they didn't have to sit through up to 45 minutes of presentation for it. The team hoped this feature alone would result in more attendance from time-pressed execs.

#3. Ongoing promotions - Since users could now attend whenever was most convenient for their own schedule, promotions didn't revolve around a specific event date. If marketing wanted to get more attention for a certain webinar, they'd feature it more heavily on the site and email newsletters.

"We make our own 'event excitement' by putting it on the home page for a week," explains Grams. If an event is getting unusual uptake, then the team can be flexible, promoting it harder for longer. Plus, all events are always available on demand elsewhere on the site.

RESULTS "People are definitely watching them in higher numbers than before. I think it's really the convenience factor. We used to get 500 people signing up for a webcast, now we can see tens of thousands of people viewing on our site," says Grams.

The same is true for white papers. "We found, in our estimation, it makes more sense to open it up in most cases. If we do not put a capture form in front of it, let's say we'll get 1,000 people to view it. If we put a capture form there, we'll get 50 people to view."

But isn't Grams worried that he has fewer leads to hand to sales?

"I don't like the idea of forcing people into becoming leads. I like people to opt-in to entering our sales stream. Our sales team is very busy. They don't have time to waste with people who aren't that interested or who they have to convince to be interested. It's marketing's job to convince prospects to be interested!"

He urges other marketers to think of lead generation from a new perspective, "What's more valuable? To get 50 leads or to have 1,000 people see your info and the interested ones will contact sales on their own?"

What about measuring ROI?

"When marketers think it's hard to quantify white paper downloads and webinar views if no leads are captured, they're not thinking about the opportunity cost, mindshare cost, or the viral passing of a white paper to a boss cost," explains Grams.

"You also miss the fact that you still have an opportunity to make a sales pitch or put a sales contact at the end ... on the last page or the end of the webinar or on the download's 'thank you' page."

Grams continues, "The future is not about putting barriers in front of information. It's figuring out how to better contact people who do want to buy something."

Useful links related to this article:

MarketingSherpa's past Case Study on Red Hat's marketing: "How to Use a Backstage Blog & Virtual Community Networking to Maximize Your Road Show's Impact":

MarketingSherpa's IT Marketing Benchmark Guide 2005:

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