Content marketing is all the buzz as products and brands wrangle for attention and leads. Among the many marketing formats a content marketer can use is the eBook. If you’re a little new to this content marketing game you might be wondering:
• What is an eBook exactly?
• Why should I use it over some other content type?
• What are some best practices when creating an eBook?
This post will dive into those questions and help you decide if an eBook is right for your marketing efforts and if so, how to make yours successful.
So what is an eBook exactly?
While strict definitions may vary, for purposes of this blog post, an eBook is an easy-to-read, graphically-enhanced short-form content piece primarily used to educate and promote awareness of a product or service. It has been defined as the “helping” business book that provides insights, education, and information. Some eBooks are content rich and sold for recurring revenue. But in this blog, our eBook is free-of-charge and used as an integrated part of a content marketing strategy.
By definition, an eBook is distributed online and should be optimized for web viewing, linking and sharing. There are various file format options, the most popular of which are epub, pdf and mobi, but we’ll leave that debate for another post. In my experience, the pdf is the most popular format for marketing purposes.
An eBook should not be text-heavy or technical like a white paper or report. Although it could be a condensed, summary version of that same content.
Also, an eBook should not be product collateral that specifically and exclusively addresses a sole product or service brand. But it can be promoted by a specific brand and offer a possible product solution in an indirect or incidental way to solve a user’s problem or pain (more on that later).
To summarize, an eBook:
1. is an online booklet approximately 5-25 pages
2. is easy-to-read, not text-heavy with graphics
3. promotes a solution, position or results (not a product directly)
What types of content works??
The latest marketing studies indicate that eBooks are among the top six tactics used by content marketers, particularly for B2B marketers and small businesses.
Top Six B2B Content Marketers’ Tactics:
• Social Media Content ....83%
• Blogs ....80%
• Email Newsletters ....77%
• In-Person Events ....68%
• eBooks/Whitepapers ....65%
• Video (pre-produced) ...60%
The top six options among small businesses:
• eBooks (65%)
• Webinars/Webcasts (65%)
• In-person Events (62%)
• Videos (61%)
• Blogs and Newsletters (toed at 60% each)
As you can see there are lots of marketing tactics out there. Each have a different purpose and can prove useful depending on the specific product, service or market. The content marketer’s toolkit consists of the following formats along what we call the Buyer’s Journey.
(Image source: Hubspot)
EBooks are especially useful for the content marketer in what we call the awareness stage. This is the point where a prospect is researching about a topic or pain-point. He has a problem he is trying to solve and wants to learn more about how to do that. He may not even be aware of your company or product at this point. And he may not even know that a solution exists for his pain.
For this reason, eBooks are effective at positioning your company as thought leaders. The solutions you present can be new; they may demonstrate the latest technology or offer best practices within an industry.
At the same time, the eBook can help to hook your prospect and educate him. An eBook is perfect for whetting the appetite of the reader, setting the stage for them to want to learn more—it’s a powerful lead-generating tool and SEO asset.
Some advantages of an eBook include:
• Establishes your company as a thought leader
• Offers a comprehensive way to make a business case
• Creates a launching pad for more in-depth content
• Delivers engaging, branded information to your audience
• Enhances search engine optimization (SEO) because content is searchable
• Provides user friendly content to a searcher, thus building awareness
• Encourages the release of lead information for download or to learn more
What do some marketers say is the most effective content?
In a blog by Docurated, top content thought leaders were asked what they felt was the single most effective content marketing tactic for B2B companies. A few of their conclusions follow:
UPSANA KAKROO (@upasnakakroo) stated: “Creating long form content (e.g. eBooks/White papers) that can be downloaded in exchange for prospects’ contact details.”
While long-form white papers are useful for highly technical products and buyers, an eBook casts a net to a much wider audience. As mentioned earlier, these documents grab attention and have perceived value to the prospect who is willing to divulge some personal information about themselves (i.e. email, phone, company, etc.) to obtain the asset.
GARY BROOKS (@urjanet) said: “Most effective tactic is to create content to the buying process.”
“To develop buyer focused content I propose the following steps:
1. Interview and understand how and why your prospective customers buy.
2. Develop detailed buyer personas.
3. Document the phases of the buying process.
4. Build a content map that aligns pain content with personas.
5. Know where the content falls within the buying cycle.
6. Use custom drip campaigns to deliver the right content at the right time.”
STEPHEN WILLIAMS (@allwebcafe) stated: “The answer lies within your story, and telling that story to the right people.”
Both Gary and Stephen touch upon personas. Personas are nothing more than a “stereotypical” definition of your prospect. These profiles help you remember who you are targeting to make your content as effective as relatable as possible. Remember, every time your customer or prospect sees your content they will be asking themselves “what’s in it for me?” Tell them. Show them. Delight them with your helpfulness.
And don’t forget the power of a story. The narrative and voice of your eBook is essential to keep the reader’s interest and intrigue. Similar to the storyline, David recommends another essential criteria below…the concept.
DAVID SMITH (@immortologyusa) answered: “There is only one sure-fire marketing tactic I know of…It works every single time (which is not to say it’s easy to execute). It is a great concept.”
What does he mean by concept? As designers and copywriters will tell you the most compelling pieces start with a solid concept. Understanding the user and their pain is not enough. To make the content sing, wrap it into a nice package with a concept, analogy or illustration. This can be a combination of words and images that serve to enhance the main point and guide your reader along the way. It makes your eBook memorable and enjoyable.
How do you recognize a great concept?
David suggests that it will:
• be impossible to ignore;
• meaningfully differentiate you from your competitors;
• crystalize why your product or service is better;
• interest, entertain, or educate potential customers to where they feel compelled to share or act upon it (and make that action easy).
You want to create an eBook, now what?
Now that you know the what and why, let’s cover how to create an eBook that will prove to be effective in our content marketing strategy. What should your eBook include?
Basic content should include:
• An interesting, well-designed cover
• An attention-grabbing headline or title
• A table of contents (depending on the length)
• Chapter or section pages
• Content with break-outs and images
• Some “about” content for your product or company
• A Call to Action (CTA)
If you plan to write the book yourself, start by keeping your goals in mind. This means defining your persona and pain, and fully researching what the content hook is that will get them to read your eBook.
Next, create an outline and fully research and develop your copy. Since this is an online read, be sure to follow the copy guidelines for online content.
Online copy should be:
• Relatively short, easy to read sentences
• Break up blocks of copy with headlines, subheads and lists
• Follow the rule of 3-5 with lists and bullets
• Keep your lists phases short or break them into small paragraphs instead
In addition to general online copy rules, don’t forget to follow recommended eBook best practices.
Make your eBook kick-ass:
• Be creative, tell a story
• Educate, don’t sell
• Limit your content to just 1-3 points per page
• Consider the flow, keep it interesting
• Use break-out copy like pull quotes, sidebars, charts, graphics
• Implement good design with section breaks, headings, page numbers
• Make it hyperlinked to access resources, cited research, page and section jumps
• Make it brand appropriate
• Don’t forget your CTA (call to action) What do you want them to do next?
• Proofread, proofread, proofread
And, DON’T make these common mistakes:
• Don’t write about what you don’t know
• Don’t give them what you think they need; give them what they actually want
• Don’t be too formal, put yourself in their heads, use an authentic voice
• Don’t just write, plan first
• Don’t forget the impact of images and design
• Don’t give them everything! Save some for what’s next
• Don’t skimp on the time spent researching your title
• Don’t stop when you publish, now you’ve got to promote!
Yikes! You're not a designer, you say?
No worries. These days everyone can be a designer… sort of. There are tons of resources out there for eBook templates if you want to try and do it yourself. Google search to find your own or use one of the existing templates or themes below.
Here are a few to check out:
• PowerPoint + InDesign: Hubspot’s 5 EBook Templates
• PowerPoint + InDesign: Hubspot’s 13 EBook Templates
• PowerPoint: InboundPro’s 2 EBook Templates
• Apple Pages + iBooks Author: Author Ready Templates
• Keynote: Weelii’s 32 Keynote Templates
• Google Slides: Slides Carnival – Free presentation templates
Better yet, hire an actual designer. It will be worth your time and money. They can help you develop and create your theme, provide a cohesive, well-deigned look and offer image choices that complement and enhance your copy…without the frustration of doing it yourself. Same is true if you need help with writing. A freelance writer knows the ins and outs of eBooks and may save you some headaches. Better yet, find a vendor who can do both!
You can also learn by example or get inspired by checking out some of the good eBooks out there and emulating them.
These are among my favorites:
• "The eBook eBook"
• “The Alchemy of Content: A Formula for Overcoming Four Major Content Pain Points”
• "B2B Content Marketing 2017 benchmarks, budgets and Trends, North America eBook"
• "The Essential Guide to Branding Your Company"
• "The Brand Building Guide for Professional Services Firms" | Hinge
Love the idea but need some help?
If you want to explore contracting the design and/or writing of a customized eBook for your content marketing, I can help. I can write it, design it, produce it and help you promote it.
Written by Barbara Bogue
Do I need 'authenticity' in my 'account-based' 'content marketing' for 'mindful' 'micro-moments'?
Huh? Marketers, writers, would-be content generators: stop talking gobbledygook. You’re confusing your audience! From over-used buzzwords to vertical-specific jargon, it’s a bad idea to pack your content with empty words. Does it make you sound smarter or give you an “in” with your reader because you name-dropped that inside lingo? Nope. The opposite is true. Looking to alienate your readers? Check.
Show and educate in simple terms
For truly knock-out content, you need to tell and educate with real words in simple terms. Sound too simple? It can be hard.
We’ve all been guilty of using buzzwords or over-used terminology that’s popular at the time. Marketing is filled with some nasty culprits—so much so that the creative folks at Cornett launched a “marketing buzzword jar” (the equivalent of a swear-word jar) as a virtual spoof on the problem. Use one of the over 500 no-no marketing buzzwords and you’re putting your hard-earned cash into the communal jar. Yikes! (http://marketingbuzzwordjar.com/)
Let’s see if you recognize these commonly over-used terms.
• Deep dive
• Low-hanging fruit
• Outside the box
• Close the loop
• Level the playing field
• Mission critical
• Data-driven decisions
• Growth hacking
• Account-based marketing
• Thought leadership
• POV (point of view)
Ugh! Any of these words sound familiar? Maybe too familiar.
Toxic trend that obscures clarity
Digiday.com coined this phenomenon as a “toxically obfuscating buzzword culture.” Wanting to sound informed or in-the-know we can fall victim to clouding our meaning with meaningless words. Yet Content Marketing Institute explains that successful speakers and marketers don’t resort to using jargon or phony words to communicate their messages, citing such giants as Warren Buffet and Steve Jobs as stellar examples.
But what about connecting with your audience, you say? Doesn’t using some inside lingo show that I’m one of them, that I understand their problems?
Getting to know your audience, what marketers like to term “personas” is certainly important. The trick is grasping their issues and problems to speak to them insightfully, but doing so in basic language everyone can understand.
By the way, see what I did there with “personas”? I used the term and explained it at the same time. This is one of the tactics recommended by Content Marketing Institute.
How to walk the terminology tightrope:
1. Meet the reader halfway
If you find it necessary or important to use jargon in your content, meet the reader halfway by explaining the meaning at the same time. Your best material is used to educate and inform your readers in a useful way. So, if a terminology is relevant then explain what and why, making sure not to talk down to nor alienate any of your audience.
2. Show, don’t tell
A powerful tactic to be used instead of jargon is to illustrate. Show an example, give a real-life experience, case-study result or otherwise demonstrate the meaning of the term to drive home your point. Your subject matter should be rich with reality and meaning, not empty words. Don’t tell readers what to do, show them how others have done it successfully, providing models for them to emulate. This can have a powerful effect on building your readership and proving your value.
3. Eliminate trite words from your speech and writing
When you remove empty words from your vocabulary all together, you’re less likely to slip them into a blog post or article, thus distancing yourself from potential prospects. Strive for words that everyone knows for maximum persuasion and punch.
A word about acronyms
I would be remiss if I didn’t include a brief mention of acronyms in this post. Some folks just love acronyms and think they’re the best tool around. We find acronyms used especially in government and public institutions like education or non-profits. And while acronyms can be useful for helping us to remember a meaty or complicated concept (like BANT Budget, Authority, Need, Timeline or KISS Keep it Simple Stupid) that doesn’t mean they make good company names, project names, slogans, causes or campaigns. So, let’s keep them out of marketing please.
There are a few company names who have used and survived the acronym model. Think ABC, IBM, KFC and GE. But closer examination shows these companies: 1) didn’t start out as sheer acronyms but were once full names that were later dropped over time; 2) spent billions of dollars saturating the market to build awareness and educate prospects about who they were and what they did and finally; 3) they ran the risk of not have a unique, one-of-a-kind identity. Google (that’s the verb) ABC and you get a list of organizations and enterprises that share the same acronym with American Broadcast Corporation. If you want to be unique, an acronym is not your best option.
But, if there’s still any doubt in your mind, when you have the right use for an acronym or you just want to play around with the idea, check out this crazy site www.allacronyms.com. Ridiculous fact: one meaning for the government application of the acronym LOVE = Level Of ViolencE. No kidding. And, if the need dictates you decipher some government speak of the abbreviated form, try this online government library http://ucsd.libguides.com/govspeak.
Marketing-schmarketing aside, just tell it like it is
To sum up: For the best results from your marketing content—building increased loyalty, awareness and sales—just use straight-forward, direct language. Be helpful and educational. Don’t talk over the heads of your readers with terms that someone might not understand. If you do use terminology or jargon, explain it and demonstrate it. Keep acronyms to their place and over-used words in the trash.
Turn to the experts
Need help choosing the right words for your content marketing? For strategy, design and copywriting, I can choose the brand words and images that people will love. Check out my work then let’s chat.
Want more reading? Check out these supplemental articles on buzzwords, jargon and acronyms:
Hi. I'm Barbara Bogue. The name [double b] came from my initials. Here I share tips and advice on marketing, design and copywriting.
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