Whitepaper anyone?

Following on from my previous blog about the future of the internet not being mobile, it seems fitting to stay on a related subject: content. Why related? Simply because as we change the way we interact with the internet, so we also change the way we interact with content.

In the past, B2B marketing has leant heavily on the crutch of the whitepaper – or something very similar – as an incentive to engage with an audience. In return for your data you get a big impenetrable chunk of copy in PDF format. As a consumer it takes time and effort to sit down and consume, and you’re probably lucky if 25% of the information is completely relevant. That’s if you can read it; have you tried reading a designed-for-print PDF on a mobile device? It just doesn’t stack up any more.

We’re now more sophisticated in our approach to information gathering; we consume information in highly relevant, but smaller chunks. We want access only to the key information and we then build outwards from there to find the supporting information that is right for our business. And what is this information? Opinion pieces, articles, news items, blogs entries, tweets: all from different sources. Rather than accept a single viewpoint we create a mesh of information ‘chunks’.

There are a couple of good examples of this approach to information gathering that are coming online: QWiki creates short illustrated presentations from multiple sources of information and plays them back to the user. It’s definitely worth checking out – if you can get an invite to the alpha. Quora is a user-created bank of questions and answers that are short and straight to the point. It’s already being seen as an essential tool for journalists in the technology arena, but will surely make the jump to a broader audience based on its initial success.

So, as B2B marketers, what do we do to create great digital content?

I believe it’s important to have a clear content strategy, based on three principles:

1. Present information in a format that is designed for screen, not print.
You wouldn’t dream of putting the ceiling of the Sistine chapel on a postage stamp and expecting people to engage with it. Digital data should be presented in its natural form: text-based, searchable and linkable. ‘Chunking’ data makes sense for information consumption, information display and information linking. By breaking down our whitepapers into small easily-digested elements, we can increase relevancy and display it more clearly on a wider range of devices.

2. Use multiple channels to reinforce your message.

The internet has freed users from the shackles of a single opinion. Take advantage of the fact by making sure that you are spreading your message across multiple communication channels. This should include user-generated content, ‘official’ content and journalistic content for a blend of opinions. If it is done right, this builds trust in the message through weight of – hopefully – positive opinion.

3. Create your own mesh of information for the user.

Don’t let your content live alone. Let your consumers explore your content at their own pace and in their own order. Make sure you include external content in the information web you build so as to reinforce your own messaging, and don’t be afraid of what you don’t control.

Creating content will always be a challenge, but we now have the opportunity to provide a much richer and more convincing experience for our consumers and clients. No more whitepapers for me…

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