I was just reviewing some survey results from the Eccolo Media 2009 B2B Technology Collateral Survey and came across this highlight:
"People prefer to consume collateral from their desktop: Only 1 in 4 surveyed even print out an online document."
There are lots of other useful findings, like white papers are the top influential informational source for technology buyers during a purchase decision. And that's what got me thinking.
When's the last time that you downloaded a white paper designed to be read on your desktop?
Despite the shift to reading online instead of printing stuff out, most white papers are still formatted in columns - and that requires an immense amount of scrolling for people to read them.
Up and down. Up and down. Up and down. Now for page 2...
Additionally, white papers often contain dense paragraphs that are hard to read on the screen. The writing is often academic and formal, making us slow down to "get" the gist. Yet, according to Lorie Loe from Eccolo Media, "Decision makers and those who influence them want information that is straightforward, well-crafted and can inform their earliest research into vendors and products."
So why haven't we shifted the formatting and style of white papers to make our content more reader friendly?
Enter the eBook. With a landscape orientation and a more casual style that often incorporates white space to ease eye strain, this would appear to be the answer. In fact, there are a lot of companies using eBooks. Just not technology firms, from what I've seen.
For some reason, eBooks aren't getting a lot of respect for serious marketing. Which seems silly to me. Is it because we'd have to develop a new template? Because we'd have to think about how to do something differently? Or, maybe it's because we'd have to learn how to write more accessibly...hmm.
This reluctance to update the style of our white papers may be due to the fact that marketers have no proof that people may only be reading the executive summary and stop after the first couple of pages because, well, it's just too much effort. The problem with white papers is that they're downloads and we lose track after they go. (although new applications that track PDF viewing beyond downloads are available)
But what I really started thinking about is that if people are reading on the screen, why not present our white papers as a series of connected web pages? You could even create a table of contents linking to each page to make it easy - run it down the sidebar so it's always accessible. Think about the insights that would make available:
- Length of time spent on each page.
- Which pages drew more attention (hint for further content development)
- Overal length of time spent on all pages.
- Where we lost them.
- How many visits it takes them to read the entire paper.
- What they clicked on when they navigated away from the page.
- How many read every single page (follow up indicator?)
- and more...
Newspaper and industry portals often have multi-page articles.
Ah, yes. But then we would lose all those download registrations. Or not.
Why not create an opt in form in the sidebar that offers more content related to the subject of the online white paper? Content not available publicly. I'd stipulate that the people who opt in are likely displaying higher interest than a majority of the people who would fill out the form just to get the white paper.
Either way, marketers need to start designing their content to be reader friendly - regardless of distribution method.
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