Many organizations are considering how inbound marketing can be used to attract new members, new customers or new partners. They are stopped, however, by two simple questions: If the content is so valuable, why should we give it away for free? And if it isn't valuable, then why would anyone be interested?

First, a definition: Inbound marketing is the family of value-adding content or functionality that exposes you in the context of your expertise, when people search Google (or social media) for ways to solve their problem. It demonstrates your expertise by example, and then builds participation and engagement in your organization's community.

Content comes in many forms, but is only relevant when viewed from the perspective of the content consumer. How might a specific type of content, delivered through my preferred channel, help me?

The old paradigm of marketing was clear: If you were part of the club (e.g., member, client, alumni, etc.), then you got things for free. It was a perk of membership. If you were outside of the fold, then you paid.

Yet, in today's inbound marketing world, the more that is released for free, the more likely you (and your organization) will be discovered and credentialized.

It is easy to fall into the trap of pricing the content based on the cost of creation versus value to the content consumer, but thankfully these are approximately aligned. Yes, the content at the top of the continuum should have a fee attached to it, while content at the bottom should be free. But where in this list should the line be drawn between fee or free?

  • Consulting or coaching
  • Master class
  • Workshop
  • Live keynote speeches
  • Tool kits
  • Research and survey results
  • Monthly membership site
  • Traditionally-published book
  • Self-published book
  • Webinar and webinar "replay"
  • Teleseminar and teleseminar transcript
  • Trade magazine article
  • Ebook
  • Nurture marketing email sequence
  • White paper
  • YouTube video
  • Text message
  • Email
  • Blog post/website article
  • Tweet

Instead of the older fee vs. free paradigm, consider a model where content falls into four categories, each designed to increase engagement and affinity to the organization:

1. Free content: Content in this area might include the organization's blog, YouTube videos, Twitter and possibly content on other venues. The idea is that content lives and is propagated throughout social media, and the primary goal of free content is to improve discovery.

2. Freemium content: This is content that can only be accessed via an exchange of contact information — e.g. registration. It may include white papers, special videos and newsletters (real world and email). The purpose of this higher-value content is to credentialize the organization more deeply, while also capturing a marketing-qualified lead into a CRM system.

3. Client (or member) content: There are privileges to being part of the group, and the availability of certain types of content is one of them. This might include toolkits, research, directories and discussion forums. The purpose of this content is to demonstrate the value of membership, while also helping member retention.

4. Pay-per-view content: This is special, high-value content that is only available to members/clients, for an additional fee. This might include survey results, webinars and live events. The purpose of this content is to build revenue and improve retention for specific segments, without forcing the cost of content development on the membership (or client base) at large.

The key benefit of this approach is that it is target-led: they choose their own rate of content consumption. As they see greater value, they will invest more time, self-qualify through registration for freemium content, and ultimately respond positively to a direct contact. And for organizations who create content on an ongoing basis, it provides a pathway to build these relationships — and then monetize them.