The PDF file has been a staple in the marketer’s toolkit for years, and for good reason. It’s a great way to create content that still retains the same look and feel as you created it, as well as distills the large content files you need for the long B2B sales cycle into more manageable digital chunks.
That’s why B2B marketers use them for many different content types and for various points in the sales cycle: ebooks, whitepapers, case studies, infographics, and more.
But is it the right format for all of your B2B content? There might just be better ways of publishing your B2B content that offers a better experience to your readers than what you’re doing now.
Limitations of PDFs
PDFs are great for readers who want to engage deeply with content, especially for what Michael Andrews calls in his article Learning from PDFs, “multi-session decisions”. That is, times when readers appreciate having the time to gather and compare information, parse and distill the important aspects of it, and then apply the findings to the decision on their own terms.
Then why are B2B marketers producing top-of-funnel content marketing assets like infographics as PDFs? Readers at the start of the sales cycle (or funnel) are looking for much different content than those in the middle or at the end. Content at the start of the funnel should engage audiences with unique and relevant content for immediate, one-time consumption. Think quick hit information.
For this type of content, PDFs are limiting for a number of reasons:
- They provide little flexibility for sharing.
- They don’t give marketers any insight into how readers/viewers interact with the content (no metrics to report on.)
- They’re a pain to update and republish, especially when they’re hosted in multiple locations online.
PDF file limitations
The biggest issue for B2B marketers may simply be that PDFs are still difficult to view on mobile devices. Each OS handles them differently, forcing users to download various apps to view the PDFs and making them hard to consume as they’re not mobile responsive, causing readers to do a lot of scrolling or pinching-and-expanding to read it.
These PDF obstacles make it less likely that mobile users will read your content. Since mobile content consumption surpassed desktop consumption for the first time last year and is projected to continue to rise, that will limit the amount of leads you generate, limit your creativity and reduce any insight you may gain into how your B2B content is performing.
Alternative digital content formats for B2B marketers
For B2B marketers looking to adapt their content marketing efforts to embrace the mobile experience, and create a better overall customer experience online, here are a few alternative digital content formats you can use.
Web pages and Microsites
We’re not talking your regular website pages, but rather, more targeted ones like landing pages, blogs, and microsites. They offer a better way to show off your content, give your readers a familiar way to consume it, and provide you with metrics with which to measure your efforts, metrics such as referral sources, time spent on page, pages viewed per session, heat maps, and more.
You still retain brand and style elements so you’re presenting a consistent look for readers, and also let you incorporate responsive design to engage mobile users.
Stats on web pages and microsites for B2B marketers:
- 47 percent use microsites, according to CMI’s 2015 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks and Trends report
- 54 percent say they’re effective, according to CMI’s 2015 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks and Trends report
Online presentation solutions like SlideShare and Preszi let you create great presentations quickly, but more importantly they let you share and explore your presentations with others. They’re a good way to pair text and images in the layout you want, without worrying about how it might change when viewed in a browser or mobile device. Break up your content into bite-sized chunks and readers will be able to skim the content quickly.
Secret tips for online presentation success
Some brands are using them as mini-brochures, like The Palms Hotel and Spa, while others are using the SlideShelf feature to gather content on similar topics and direct viewers to the single page.
Stats on presentations for B2B marketers:
- 65 percent are using them, according to CMI’s 2015 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks and Trends report
Attend any conference today and chances are there’s a mobile app for it. Event hosts use them to publish branded content, speaker profiles, the conference agenda, and more importantly, to connect attendees with each other. We don’t see many limits to the kind of content you can publish on it: text, images, videos, gifs, presentations, audio clips, quizzes, and more.
The main issue with mobile apps is the cost to develop them. You must support different mobile operating systems, hire/work with specialized developer teams, and the time to develop/update/maintain the app can significantly add to your costs.
Stats on mobile apps for B2B marketers:
- 89 percent of online time spent on media is thru mobile apps, according to SmartInsights
- 30 percent of B2B marketers use mobile apps for their content, according to CMI’s 2015 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks and Trends report
Whether it’s a branded video, gif, or webinar, audiences love their interactive content. It has all the benefits of a standard web page and custom mobile app, and uses text, images, animation effects and more to provide a flexible, immersive experience to your B2B audience.
Depending on your choice of content, you may need a dedicated development team, which increases your marketing budget, but it may be worth it in the long run. Video platforms such as Wistia lower the cost-to-entry, and may offer other cost reductions as well, so explore your options and see what works best for you.
Stats on interactive content for B2B marketers:
- 65 percent of audiences watch a video three-quarters of the way through, according to Invodo
- Videos increase the purchase likelihood by 64 percent, according to Hubspot
- 61 percent of B2B marketers use webinars, according to CMI’s 2015 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks and Trends report
- 54 percent say webinars are effective, according to CMI’s 2015 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks and Trends report
- 8 percent say video performs best on either desktop or mobile platforms, according to the Visual Marketing: Scale to Win report from Chute and Digiday
The email newsletter is most certainly not dead, with 30 percent of emails sent to B2B readers getting opened. B2B emails also had higher click rates, with a median rate of 6 percent each month when sending 16-30 emails per month. (Stats from HubSpot.) Create a newsletter that’s 90 percent educational and 10 percent promotional, and you’ll have a winning newsletter that works for you every time.
(Be sure to read the B2Bnn report on 5 ways to create killer newsletters for your customers)
Stats on email newsletters:
- 83 percent of B2B marketers have email newsletters , according to CMI’s 2015 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks and Trends report
- 58 percent say they’re effective, according to CMI’s 2015 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks and Trends report
- 91 percent of consumers check their email at least once a day on their smartphone, according to Exact Target’s 2014 Mobile Behaviour Report, which makes it a good idea to have a newsletter
Consumers, whether B2C or B2B, are immersed in a very visual digital web experience. B2B marketing has jumped on board with visual marketing, creating more visual content than ever before.
Visual content makes the data-heavy content B2B brands need for their sales cycle more consumable and shareable, both on desktop and mobile platforms.
Stats on illustrations/photos/infographics for B2B marketers:
- 62 percent create/publish infographics , according to CMI’s 2015 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks and Trends report
- 69 percent create/publish illustrations/photos, according to CMI’s 2015 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks and Trends report
- 33.5 percent feel visual content is more than 4X more effective than text-only content, according to the Visual Marketing: Scale to Win report from Chute and Digiday
B2B firms are using branded content to break through the noise and clutter of the digital mailbox by delivering them to our often-empty physical mailboxes. For example, Lincoln Electric, a global maker of arc welding products, launched ARC, a quarterly print magazine that celebrates the passions and lifestyles of people associated with the welding and metalworking trade. John Deere still publishes The Furrow, educating farmers on new trends and technology in agriculture (it began in 1895!)
Stats on branded content for B2B marketers:
- 38 percent use branded content tools, according to CMI’s 2015 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks and Trends report
- 42 percent use it, according to Statista
- Magazines saw a 65.5 percent growth in mobile web audience in 2015, compared to 0.2 percent for print, according to MPA Magazine Media 360 (taken from this Hubspot report)
Customers want to interact with words
When you look at your web marketing stats, the above sub-head is true. B2B readers, audiences, and web visitors want to interact with the words you’re publishing. PDFs have their place in the B2B content marketing strategy, however they’re not the best way you could be producing your content. Especially if you want to know how you’re doing with your efforts.
Good content marketing is useful, accessible, shareable, and measurable. It has to serve both your and the audience’s purposes, otherwise there’s no point in creating it. By expanding beyond the simple PDF, B2B marketers will be “supporting tools that let audiences do things with (your) information.” Work with those supporting tools, and you’ll see your content be used and shared more by your audience.
Photo via brbconline
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