Within the last decade the term “eBooks” as a marketing tool has emerged as the newer, sexier term to describe what was traditionally known as “white papers” or “special reports.”
Ebooks have become more important as a tool for enticing website visitors to become subscribers, establish thought leadership, show authority on a topic, and generate trust.
But they have gained special prominence as a way of cutting through content saturation, a problem many of the more popular industries have been experiencing in the last 2-3 years.
The Content Saturation Problem
Marcus Sheridan, also known as the swimming pool guy, became famous for turning around his swimming pool service and supply business right after the great recession of 2008-09 by blogging about swimming pool care and maintenance.
In 6 months his blog became the most read blog about swimming pools on the internet, and within 18 months it had reached elite status among swimming pool websites.
Right after that success Sheridan leveraged his knowledge of blogging and content marketing into a new blog called The Sales Lion from which he shared tips and advice on digital marketing, content and social media.
Success for The Sales Lion took quite a bit longer. After diligently blogging 2-3 times a week for 20 months he finally built enough momentum to start getting calls from potential clients and receiving invitations to speak at conferences.
What happened between blogging about swimming pools to blogging about marketing?
The answer: content saturation.
In the swimming pool niche there was relatively little blog content about swimming pool maintenance and care, so Sheridan’s efforts paid off pretty quickly.
But the online marketing niche was completely saturated. It took a lot of time and effort for Sheridan’s content to be noticed.
To explain the discrepancy, Sheridan introduced the Content Saturation Index (CSI) to describe how saturated certain niches are with content.
And now in 2015 the situation is even worse. More niches than ever are saturated. We’ve reached the content shock scenario that Mark Schaefer predicted in his controversial post. More than 3 million blog posts are written everyday, and this amount is only increasing.
What can a new content marketer to do to break through the saturation and be seen? Give up? Pay thousands in PPC advertising? Make everything a sponsored post on Facebook?
eBooks to Market Your Company: Creating a Content Home Run
If you’re trying to break into a market with a high CSI, or if you’re trying to break into any market with content, the best way to do it is with a bang, a shot across the bow that says: “I’m here – and I intend to make an impact!”
How do you break through the noise and announce to the world, or at least your target market, that your content is here and that you mean business?
Write an eBook, or any other type of premium content.
But not just any old eBook. Create a “shiny object” as marketer Amanda McGuckin-Hager calls it. McGuckin-Hager says that a shiny object is a piece of content, like an industry report, white paper, eBook, or any piece of killer content such as a podcast or video series, that attracts the attention of your target audience and gets them to come to your website.
Another term I like that describes a content marketing shiny object is the content marketing home run, a term coined by Doug Kessler of Velocity Partners U.K. in his presentation Content marketing in the age of crap.
Your shiny object, or content home run, is a result of the intersection between your unique point of view, your expertise on your topic, and your target market’s particular needs, concerns and goals.
It’s your pièce de résistance, your raison d’être, your calling card – so make sure it’s awesome.
And it’s the type of content you can use to get press or gain the attention of influencers
Types of eBooks
So if you’re scratching your head and wondering what type of eBook can be considered a “shiny object” or a “content home run,” here are a few suggestions.
1. Original Research Report
Let’s look in detail at what McGuckin-Hager and her team over at Infochimps used as their shiny object.
When McGuckin-Hager was Director of Marketing at Infochimps they were in the middle of a market pivot. They decided to offer a big data product. At that time big data was just starting to generate buzz, and there still wasn’t a lot of information about the topic.
Joining forces with an industry association, McGuckin-Hager and the Infochimps marketing team conducted a survey of database administrators on big data and packaged it into an original research report.
With the help of a PR firm the report went viral with her target market, helping Infochimps drive a 94% increase to their in-house marketing database.
2. The All-Encompassing Guide To Your Topic
This one takes a little swagger, a little bravado. If you’re fairly knowledgeable about your topic then you can write the all-encompassing guide about it, providing newbies and veterans alike with a comprehensive and fresh approach to the material.
Marketing automation vendor Marketo does this really well. Right there on their home page, if you scroll just below the fold, they openly promote three foundational eBooks on topics they know cold: The 7 Principle of Engagement Marketing, The Definitive Guide to Content Marketing and What Is Marketing Automation?
Now Marketo is seen as an expert in these areas, generating trust, establishing authority and creating goodwill with prospects because of the knowledge they’re sharing.
3. Overview of Your Industry
Similar to the all-encompassing guide, the industry overview allows you to set yourself up as a thought leader and prognosticator. This is especially true if you can write about industry predictions.
The industry overview can also be combined with original research (as discussed in “1” above), such as HubSpot’s eBook: “State of Inbound Sales 2014-2015.”
Or you could create an annual journal, as IT services firm Cognizant does with it’s latest report “Digital Business 2020”, with predictions and practical tips about how to navigate the brave new world of technology.
4. Foundational 101 Tutorial
Similar to the all-encompassing guide to your industry, the foundational 101 tutorial is aimed specifically at prospects who are new to your industry, or is great when your topic is brand new to the world.
Copyblogger hooked me (and thousands of others) with their blog series turned eBook Copywriting 101. It literally became the copywriting bible for many newbies to the blogging space, and launched Copyblogger on to a much bigger stage than it had been playing on before.
If you can be first to write the “101” tutorial on your topic, don’t hesitate – do it now!
5. Introducing a New Concept
This one is a bit difficult to pull off and requires having command of a solid concept that you’ve already found traction on with an initial audience. But if you can do this successfully it can become one of the most powerful shiny objects you can create.
The folks over at Copyblogger achieved this by coining the term “New Rainmaker” and their foundational audio training on how to combine multi-media content and marketing to launch a new product, company or service to the market.
Or you can introduce a variation on a current industry paradigm like Chad Pollitt and the team at Digital Relevance did with their breakthrough report “The Content Promotion Manifesto.”
In this report Pollitt convincingly makes the case that content marketers need to become content promoters, and that the way to break through content shock is to combine high quality content, a well written eBook or report (the “shiny object”), and actively promote your content.
Now content promotion is on every content marketer’s lips thanks to Pollitt.
What Will Your Shiny Object Look Like?
A shiny object, content home run, or whatever you want to call it, is your key to cutting through the clutter. It can help you get noticed by the press and industry influencers, and generate subscribers (something we’ll discuss in a later post).
Will you create an original research report? Or what about publishing the all-encompassing guide to your topic?
No matter what you create, be bold, pour your heart into it, and promote the hell out of it. Remember: this is your shot across the bow – make the most of it!