When Packaging Digital Content, Please Break the Mold
Everybody hated those times back in high school English when we were asked to write a standardized paper. Remember five-paragraph format? Introduction, Thesis, Transition, Body Paragraph 1, Transition, Body Paragraph 2 … The bad writers groaned because they were going to have to come up with enough stuff to fill the page.
The good writers groaned because they knew they could communicate better if they could just create without so many (insert expletive) rules to obey.
I contend that the primary reason we get obsessed with format and the definitions of terms in the digital marketing world is because of the damage done by English class. We still think our bodies of work have to be a certain length to impress the teacher, or in this case, the audience.
What is the ideal use for a blog, vs. an eBook, vs. a white paper? What tone should each have? What industries should be using which? There are prescriptions … all over … the web.
It’s easy to get lost in these questions and hold back on putting out content for fear of getting the answers wrong. Just as we struggled with mastering the essay, vs. the report, vs. the short story to please the teacher, we wonder how to structure content “properly.” What would have happened to you if you turned in a book report structured like an essay that included a personal story as the centerpiece? Well, that depends on two factors: the cohesiveness of the content and the teacher’s opinion.
Likewise, there are only two factors that dictate the “appropriateness” of digital content structure: cohesiveness and target audience.
Digital content can either be published for free access or provided under some condition. The former is typically a blog, and the latter is either a white paper or eBook.
- Blog – a freely-accessed dynamic web page to which the author adds content over time, and each addition is referred to as a post
- White paper/eBook – fixed digital content available for download if the reader agrees to the terms of access (such as entering an email address or purchasing the content)
To break this down further, the general consensus is that white papers have a more formal, academic tone while eBooks are a bit more conversational.
- White paper – B2B tool to demonstrate thought leadership within an industry, denser and more text-driven
- eBook – B2C tool to generate buzz about a topic, lighter on text and heavier on images and graphics
I’d like to introduce a new concept: the eBlookpaper.
- eBlookpaper – Digital content packaged in a unique, exciting way that communicates effectively to its target audience
What would happen if you wrote a white paper that accidentally came across as witty and entertaining, then broke it up into a series of blog posts? What if you used the blog format to create an academic conversation and established yourself as a thought leader that way? What if you published an eBook that utilized blog-style, chronological bursts of multimedia content embedded into it?
Would these scenarios be “inappropriate” because they break the rules?
If the content meets its goals to a) make sense to b) the target audience, there are no other rules that matter. If you have something to communicate, see how people you respect in your industry are communicating their ideas. Use that as inspiration, then put out your content in your own unique way.
Only the dullest of teachers wants to read the same five-paragraph paper, on the same topic, in the same length, over and over again just so the guidelines are met. The best teachers want to read something inspiring.
So does your audience. Good luck on your next eBlookpaper.