So it is with e-books, the latest incarnation of short-book projects such as technology primers and guides that I wrote for clients in the 1990s.
Yet an e-book isn't just a new facade that simply presents a book's worth of text in a format suitable for online reading. Nor are they, as some marcom gurus proclaim, just a white paper dropped into a landscape, slide-type layout and called a book.
Instead, e-books are truly a new document type for marketing communications, one that deserves the same careful planning, effective design, and quality copywriting as any other sales material.
An e-book can be a substantial and expensive marcom project, so it's important to understand how it compares to a closely related document type, the white paper.
- E-books are perceived positively by prospects as easier to read, with more visuals and multimedia elements that help a reader's understanding of the content.
- A "book" implies a longer document than a white paper, so you can include more information or go into greater depth on a technical topic.
- E-books are mostly read online, allowing you to enhance the text with embedded video and audio clips, Flash-animated demos or diagrams, screen shots, and links to related content.
- The call to action can provide a link for immediately taking the next step. You can also embed links to forward the e-book through social bookmarking sites (e.g., Deli.cio.us) and microblogging sites (e.g., Facebook, Twitter).
- You can showcase your company's technical experts by naming them as authors of the e-book or featuring them in audio or video clips. Or, share customer stories and anecdotes in the same ways.
- E-books are appealing content for document sharing sites such as Slideshare.net.
It is also important to consider the drawbacks of an e-book compared to white papers or other sales documents.
- The slide-like appearance, shorter text, and greater use of visuals and multimedia can make e-books seem like "fluff," especially for technical audiences.
- The writing style and format of e-books may not be adequate to convey the depth and complexity of some technical topics. Consider a long-form white paper or report instead.
- As a highly visible marketing piece, an e-book may draw more review scrutiny compared with other marcom documents, which may slow its development.
- It can be difficult to hold the reader's attention for a long document when it is read online, making it important to use a clear structure, content signposts, and navigation tools.
- An e-book isn't a "publish it once, then forget it" project. You must consider maintenance and refresh cycles, especially to verify links and the continued relevance of each content element.
Consider producing an e-book for a complex product or technology. With careful planning, writing, and design it is a form of collateral that, unlike some fashions, will hold its appeal for the long run.