Using Ebooks to Build a Brand - Part 1

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Posted Jul 16, 2012
Susan Gunelius

What Is an Ebook?

Ebooks are an important part of a content marketing strategy that can help any brand in any industry. In my new series, Using Ebooks to Build a Brand, you'll learn how you can create ebooks effectively communicate your brand promise, develop your brand reputation, and that build your audience and your business. Before we can dive into how to do it, you need to understand what an ebook is and how it fits into an integrated marketing plan.

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Ebook Defined

Before we go any further, I need to point something out. Throughout this series, I'll be referring to non-commercial ebooks. That means you'll learn how to create ebooks with high pass-along value that are not intended for sale through iBooks, Amazon Kindle, and so on. While you certainly can try to sell your ebooks through retailers to earn money from them, commercial ebooks work a bit differently in terms of writing and production and would require many more posts to fully explain. For marketers trying to build a brand, non-commercial ebooks are simpler, more common, and usually, they're more effective.

In Content Marketing for Dummies, I describe an ebook as, "A highly popular form of long-form content marketing. They deliver a lot of information in an easy-to-read, easy-to-share, and easy-to-produce manner."

In other words, an ebook helps you communicate your brand promise in an easy to understand manner without having to invest a large amount of money. The content of your ebook can indirectly (and directly) shape consumer perceptions of your brand and set expectations for future brand experiences. Ebooks are a great brand building tool that most businesses aren't leveraging effectively yet.

The ideal non-commercial ebook is typically around 20-30 pages, designed with a lot of white space and images to optimize online reading, saved in PDF format, and offered for download without a registration to boost sharing. As Val Swisher of Content Rules, Inc. warns, "Don't just click the 'Save as Ebook' button on your former white paper. Rethink it for multimedia and interaction. That way, your formerly boring (to everyone but you) content will hold your reader's attention and get you the results you want." Stay tuned to Part 3 of the Using Ebooks to Build a Brand series to learn more about designing your ebook.

Demystifying Semantics

Many people use the terms "ebook" and "white paper" interchangeably. There is a distinction between the two, but today, the lines have become so blurred between what a white paper is versus what an ebook is and the purpose of each. Therefore, it's important to review the basics before you dive into the rest of this series.

First, white papers could be compared to research papers. They're heavy on data. They state a clear problem and using data, try to prove a specific point to solve the problem. White papers are very popular in highly technical industries and are well-received by analytic thinkers. They have a reputation of being boring when they're used to communicate with an audience that doesn't appreciate lengthy, data-driven reports. Clearly, white papers connect with a specific type of audience and are effective in communicating specific types of data and information. Imagine the brands that could easily leverage white papers to develop their brand position against competitors.

On the other hand, ebooks are the friendlier, more personable and human way to communicate with an audience. Many ebooks state a clear problem, but the use of data to support the writer's solution is more succinct. The best ebooks tell stories and use data to prove the decisions and actions made in the story. Ebooks can be written for a variety of purposes and are more flexible than white papers. They're also a better fit for less analytical industries and audiences. Finally, they're highly shareable across a broad audience, which increases the reach potential. And what business doesn't want to get its brands in front of more people? Ebooks are great for brand positioning but they're also prefect for establishing a brand persona, simply because they're written in a very human tone.

Many marketers argue that the white paper is dead because no one wants to sit down and read a lengthy, dull white paper when they can get the same information in an easier-to-read, succinct ebook. For example, marketing expert and best-selling author (and author of several ebooks that have been downloaded millions of times) David Meerman Scott has long been an advocate of ebooks over white papers.

David explains, "Ebooks are the hip and stylish younger sister of the nerdy white paper. White papers are usually boring. In fact, they are so boring that most people don't want to read white papers. Instead, they feel they have to read them." He warns that "White paper content is frequently just re-hashed product information designed as a 'problem-solving' narrative. When you promise to deliver valuable content in an interesting way and then prattle on about your products, you annoy readers. Most white papers are too much gobbledygook -- the flexible, scalable, cutting-edge, mission critical, world-class, innovative sort of words."

David makes very valid points which I absolutely agree with. In fact, I'll discuss some of this in more detail in Part 3 of this series. However, my position in this debate is that white papers aren't entirely useless. They won't die, but to be effective in the future, they'll be used less frequently and only to connect with specific audiences in specific industries.

Remember, these days many companies publish documents that they call white papers which aren't really white papers at all based on the definition of a white paper. And many companies publish "ebooks" that are actually white papers. Before you get into a debate with another marketer or respond to a client request incorrectly, make sure everyone is on the same semantics page.

Now that you know what an ebook is, it's time to start planning your brand ebook. Stay tuned for Part 2 of the Using Ebooks to Build a Brand series to learn how to do it.

Image: Legends Web Design

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