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    March 11, 2014 // 4:00 PM

    How Marketers Should Think About Ebooks in 2014 (and Beyond)

    Written by Ramesh Ranjan | @

    178894472-1While the importance of providing great content to searchers has been highlighted and preached for a long time, 2013 was the year the content engine exploded. More and more businesses are jumping on the content bandwagon.

    It’s not about creating just ebooks or just blog posts. We’ve learned that a healthy variety in the kinds of content you produce is best. This means videos, infographics and more. It keeps your audience expecting something different each time they come back to your website.

    It also shows that you’re more willing to educate your readers with valuable information that will make their life simpler or purchase easier.

    Specifically focusing on ebooks, their creation and use went up in 2013. According to the Content Marketing Institute, 51% of B2B marketers used ebooks in 2012. That number rose to 64% in 2013. So what’s to come for ebooks in 2014? Read on and I’ll tell you.

    Why Ebooks Are Critical To Any Content Strategy

    First off, let me briefly detail why you ought to include ebook creation in your content strategy. When it comes to ebook creation, there are 3 distinct benefits to this:

    1. Educate your leads: Provided that your ebooks offer actionable, valuable information to the reader, you’ll be educating them in something you (hopefully) know plenty about. This is the beginning of a relationship between you and your lead. If you keep providing them with relevant, informative content, they’ll come back to you for more.
    2. Show your thought leadership: Ebooks are generally several pages in length, at the very least. The longer it is, the more in-depth it likely will be - unless it’s poorly written with ordinary (and not new) information. The more quality information you provide the reader, the better the education they’ll receive from your post. They’ll associate you with providing great information and possessing a breadth of knowledge on it. The end-goal is to get them to do business with you and writing an ebook gets you on the way there.
    3. Get ‘em in the sales funnel: As with any whitepaper offer, ebooks are an opportunity to get leads into your sales funnel. While this is likely at the top of the sales funnel, it still gets them in. Once they’re in, it’s clear that they’ve shown interest in something you offer. This interest may not be initially in what your business’ offerings are - but that’s why we nurture these leads down the funnel!

    What Your Ebooks Should NOT be Like

    What ebooks looked like 10 years ago, 5 years ago and currently in 2014 are all completely different. Why is this? Because readers and the way they read have changed. I’ll detail that in the next section. But below are a couple of characteristics of poor ebooks in today’s digital world.

    Your ebook should NOT be:

    1) Solely Product Focused

    It’s great to have a “Buyer’s Guide” or “Information Package” ebook as a part of your content arsenal. But stay away from only creating ebooks directly about your product. You may be educating people about your product but is that what they want to be educated on?

    Devise a content strategy and create ebooks on topics related to your business. You can supplement that with a product-based ebook but try related topics that help people solve their problems and answer their questions.

    For example, if you sell office chairs, create an ebook on “How To Perfect Your Posturing”. Or if you sell walk-in tubs, create an ebook on “How To Avoid Falling In Your Home”. These are both problem-related issues that the product might help solve.

    But by using informative content that can solve this problem without that product, you’re educating your leads, positioning your company as a thought leader and bringing them closer to doing business with you.

    2) Mostly Text-based

    When content marketing was first done, books were literally just text in book form. When the digital era began, ebooks were just books digitized which meant boatloads of text in a PDF file. Depending on your audience, this could be a good thing. But more and more people in the newer generations are becoming more visual learners. So a best practice is to include plenty of images, graphics- and even infographics in your ebook. This will make your ebook easy to consumer and even easier on the eyes!

    Where Ebooks Are Heading in 2014

    So where is ebook creation and essentially, ebook marketing going in 2014 and beyond? Let me tell you:

    1) More Targeted Content

    Segmentation is important in any aspect of marketing. “Spray and Pray” approaches to content creation and social media, amongst other inbound marketing channels, don’t work as well in this day and age. For example, would you offer an ebook on content creation to a lead or client that does that themselves? Probably not.

    Send different kinds of content to different leads - depending on where they are in the sales funnel and what they have been exposed to. This also means you’ll have to come up with a plethora of ebook ideas on a wide variety of topics related to your business and/or industry.

    The concept of dynamic content grew in 2013 but is still relatively foreign to most people. The idea behind this is that people are more likely to consume content that is curated for them, according to their preferences and where they might be in the buying cycle. People like personalized content. People also dislike content that has nothing to do with what they like. According to a 2013 Harris Interactive and Janrain study, 74% of online consumers get frustrated when they see content that has nothing to do with their interests.

    Aside from HubSpot, other companies like Netflix and Spotify offer the opportunity to deliver suggestions to the user based on the latter’s preferences over time. More and more companies are doing this - giving people what they want. This doesn’t necessarily have to be in the form of a downloadable PDF. With dynamic content, you’ve got webpages serving information tailored to specific interests of the user.

    My prediction is that more businesses will employ this kind of a strategy to personalize their content for people. It looks like that’s where sites are going - using data to see what content people spend the most time on consuming and prefer and catering similar content to them.

    2) Easier To Read

    Readers expect to be informed, educated and maybe even entertained by not only your content, but by the design and layout of your ebook. Nowadays, people learn more effectively with visuals to fully understand the information. This explains the rise of infographics.

    If readers were able to digest your ebook this time well and liked how you gave them the information, they’ll be more likely to come back for another ebook (and potentially move down your sales funnel). If they come back for more, it shows they're interested in your content and potentially in what your products or services are - which could mean more revenue for your business. So a well-designed ebook with a good use of white space, complimentary colours, and informative graphics is good for the end-user AND can impact your bottom-line.

    According to predictions by Bell Pottinger, 51% of B2B marketers will use infographics in 2014. This makes sense given that everything mobile from usage to simply having a smartphone is expected to rise in percentage for 2014.

    Now, where is the connection between infographics and ebooks? Well we’re in a visual world so informative, detailed graphics within ebooks are a big asset. They’re enough of an asset already for me to predict that they’ll be in more ebooks going forward. After loads of text, readers will enjoy seeing information in an ebook conveyed in the form of a graphic. It’ll make it much easier to digest.

    3) Written Like You Speak

    With any piece of content you create, it’s important to be as personable as possible. Ebooks should be written in a style that can speak to the reader - literally. Try to write like how you speak when you create ebooks. People nowadays like reading articles or books that sound less like a college essay and more like a colloquial, modern piece of writing. They’ll be able to consume it easier and like a well-designed ebook, if you write it well enough, they’ll come back for more.

    With the evolution of content over the last year, every SEO company, ‘digital marketing’ agency and social media/PR firm now want to and in most cases, are creating content. What problem does this present? The problem of horrible content. SEO companies and particularly ones overseas are turning into content farms as they hire severely underpaid people to produce 1000-2000 words of keyword-stuffed articles. Search engines penalize these kinds of practices.

    So what will happen to this? Well, according to the Custom Content Council, outsourced content spending dropped from 56% of total content marketing budgets in 2012 to 40% in 2013. More companies are moving content in-house.

    My prediction is that this percentage falls even further. While the average business owner may not know how to optimize a blog post for SEO or ensure that they’re maximizing their ebook offers for conversions, they have the ability and resources to keep content production within their company.

    4) Done For Education AND Lead Generation Purposes

    Ebooks should always be created with the user in mind. That means you’re providing content that is actionable and useful for them. But you can’t help but do it for the simple fact that this can generate leads. Of course, that’s a benefit (internally) but don’t create your content purely to get them in the sales funnel. Too many ebooks created over the last few years have not much to offer the reader in terms of reading material worth absorbing.

    On the other hand, lots of business owners don’t create their own ebooks because they simply don’t know what’s in it for them - and this is in the year 2014! So simply being cognizant that great ebooks can help generate leads and nurture them into paying customers should be motivation enough for everyone to be creating content.

    Ebook creation in 2014 and beyond should be based on educating your leads and prospects to the best of your ability. This is to begin and/or nurture a relationship with your leads that hopefully ends with a sale. So the final thought of how you need to think about ebook creation in 2014 and onwards is that your ebooks should be created with the user in mind - and remember the fact that it can generate leads.

    Topics: Content Creation Dynamic Content

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