eBooks used to be the latest, greatest tool in the marketer’s tool chest — but 20+ years on, and a lot of folks are starting to wonder about their relevance in the modern marketing landscape.
After all, haven’t we evolved? Shouldn’t we be spending our time on fancy CSS doodads and SEM? People don’t even read anymore, right?
Just like email, eBooks are a form of marketing (and a retention tool) that won’t be going away anytime soon.
People have been ringing the death knell for email for ages — email isn’t dead, and neither are eBooks.
Now, your eBooks might be dead, or you might have come across some eBooks that seem to be dead, and when you get one that’s garbage, it’s easy to say “Well, this is a form of marketing that’s dying,” but that’s not a good representation of the whole. Many firms and small businesses still regularly use eBooks to educate consumers, to capture leads, to convert, and to retain.
Depending on how you’re using eBooks and where in the sales cycle they’re falling, they can be incredibly valuable tools.
It’s like any tool — you have to use it correctly to get the most out of it.
But there’s more to it than that…
eBooks MUST Be of High Quality
OK, so I’ll admit that, in a way, the critics who say email and eBooks and other, older forms of marketing are dead have a point — they’re not dead, but they’re not as effective as they once were.
People have developed some ad blindness when it comes to these forms of marketing, so to really make the most of them, you need to shoot for a high level of quality.
With email marketing, that can be done by a single person — a good writer just has to cast some copywriting magic spells, and badda-bing-badda-boom, you’ve got some sales (or whatever).
But eBooks can’t follow that same formula. They require design. They have to be as functional as possible, they have to have a good navigation system, and, for people to really feel like these things are worth their time, they need to be long and detailed.
There’s nothing quite as frustrating to consumers as going through the process of entering your contact information just to get a free eBook that’s barely 10 pages — half of which is design.
It’s like, why bother? Why not just make that a blog post? Don’t pretend this is something special.
The information inside an eBook needs to be useful and valuable, but it also needs to be exhaustive and detailed so that the reader strongly feels that they’ve gotten more out of the eBook than they might have gotten off a few blog posts online.
The Format and Content Will Vary Drastically – Focus on Needs
If you look up most lists of eBook ideas, they’re filled with ideas on the content of eBooks themselves, so I’m not going to rehash that here.
Instead, I want you to focus on the purpose behind the eBook, both your purpose behind making and distributing this thing and your customer’s purpose in getting it from you in the first place.
Everyone has different customers, and the sales cycles for every product is different — the needs of your customers are going to vary drastically depending on where they are in the sales cycle.
What you should consider is this — what is the content my customers need most in different points of the sales cycle?
Whether you make a how-to guide, a list of ideas or resources, a checklist, an instruction manual, bonus content, a comparison sheet, or anything in between, the most important thing to consider is not your content and what you want to put in an eBook, but what your customers need.
This list breaks down the different types of content that can be useful to customers at different points in the sales cycle and provides tips on how to leverage each piece of content, to move folks from “I know nothing about this product or my problem or this company or anything, really,” to “I want to know everything there is to know about this product so I can make the most out of it,” to…
Customer for life.
But I’ve also thrown in some specific types of content that have specific marketing/retention goals, just to spice things up.
Your business has to benefit from this stuff, after all — it’s a lot of work to write an eBook (trust me), and when you pour dozens or hundreds of hours into a piece of content, you want to make darn sure that the content is going to provide a return.
But now we’re getting into techniques, so let’s just jump right in:
5 Ways to Use eBooks for Marketing and Retention
#1 Customer Education Early in the Sales Cycle — Awareness
Everyone has a different sales cycle, but there are a few places early in the sales cycle where eBooks can be incredibly useful — let’s start with awareness.
Very early in the sales cycle, customers are often completely unaware that they have a problem/desire in the first place — in fact, it’s often up to you to create the awareness of the problem or to inspire desire.
Apple does the desire thing well. No one knew they desired an iPod before it existed — but when people saw that thing, boy oh boy did they want one.
Your goal in the awareness stage is not to push your product, but to talk about problems/issues related to your product that your product will eventually be able to solve.
Here’s what that looks like:
- An eBook on the differences between QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop (your product integrates with both and provides separate functionality)
- A discussion of different types of mobile gaming platforms and which platform has the best games (you sell a mobile game on a specific platform)
- A how-to guide on DIY book binding (you sell a product that makes the process much easier)
- A list of 100 awesome places to hike across the United States (you sell an app that makes hiking safer and helps hikers find trails)
- A list of 50 places to submit your short stories for publication (you offer short-story editing services)
- Best practices for inventory management (you sell a warehouse management system)
A lot of what you’re doing here is approaching at an oblique angle — you’re talking generally about an industry or subject, and you’re not really pushing whatever it is you sell.
Your goal is to target an audience who doesn’t know much about you to get that traffic to your website. You host your eBook on your website and hide it behind a form that requires an email address, and stuff like this you give away for free because your aim is to get that email address and make these people aware that you even exist.
#2 Lead Magnets to Capture Emails
This is another type of eBook that has a sole purpose — regardless of where your potential customer is in the sales cycle, get them on your email list.
You might want to do this for a number of reasons, but basically, you want to build that list so you can start nurturing the leads in there and building a sales funnel around email marketing.
It also helps immensely with programmatic marketing efforts to have someone’s email and a little profile built up, so there’s great value in getting someone to fill out a form in detail.
Which means you have to offer something of immense value in return.
These are often guides or explanations, pieces of content that dive heavily into a subject, but they can also be gargantuan lists that aggregate data in a useful way and give customers what they want.
For example, you can find writing prompts all over the web, but this ebook has it all in one place — which makes me want it.
All I have to do is give up my email address (and with these guys, it’s worth it).
#3 Customer Education Late in the Sales Cycle — Consideration
Now that you have the general idea, we can speed things up a bit — let’s discuss the consideration phase.
The consideration phase is where you can actually start pushing some product a little bit. Your potential customers are aware that you exist and are aware of what you offer, and they’re starting to become interested in what you’ve got.
The awareness of the problem or that feeling of desire is building.
So you can do things like this:
- A deep comparison of your product versus another
- A detailed case study of how customers have leveraged your product successfully
- A complex spec sheet on your product along with detailed explanations
You get the idea — at this point, your customer is looking at options, so you need to provide them with something substantial that will help them make a choice.
But there’s a secondary goal here. You want them reading your narrative, your marketing materials, not someone else’s. You want to keep them in the loop.
By requiring form fills for this type of content, you ensure that your sales team is aware that the customer may be a genuine lead and worth reaching out to.
#4 A Standalone Product
So this is a bit different from the eBooks we’ve discussed above, but it still follows the same general principle — offer something of value, but this time, charge for it.
Now, if you’re going to charge for an eBook, it can’t be some 20–50-page piece of hooey — it needs to be significantly close to 100 pages (200 is probably better), and those pages need to be jam-packed with valuable information.
Here’s the fun part though — you can use the free eBook ideas listed above to get people thinking about your paid eBook — just expand the ideas. And what’s more, if they’ve already downloaded several of your free items, they’ve demonstrated a potential willingness to make an actual purchase, so you can leave calls to action in your free eBooks that lead to the paid one.
If your main product offering or service offering is quite expensive, it can be hard to jump from free content to a point where you’re spending $500, or $5,000, or $50,000.
It’s good to have a smaller product in between, something that draws them in further, that requires some (literal) buy in, but that also pushes them toward your real goal.
Or heck, maybe this is the real goal — and that’s OK too. Just create a progression. In the real world, marketing takes many touches to be successful. You’re not going to get a sale based on that first piece of free content (probably), but you need to leave calls to action and hints about the product you really want them to buy.
That’s the whole point of this, after all — use the free stuff to lead them to the paid stuff.
Your paid eBook could be an actual novel, like a novel or biography, or it could just be an extremely detailed how-to guide — it could even simply be a very, very long list of valuable resources.
Whatever it is, don’t miss the chance to use this product to sell your other products. Include calls to action throughout pointing your prospect to the next product/service you’d like them to learn about/purchase.
#5 Product/Service Education and Additional Content
Now we’re in retention land.
Once someone has made a purchase and given you a shot, you need to make the most of your chance to turn them into a customer for life.
This requires education — lots of education.
While a quality customer-education program is going to deliver content in a variety of formats (lots of customers prefer video content to written content), an eBook is still a viable means to provide valuable customer education.
This can come in the form of an instruction manual in eBook format (which, contrary to popular belief, most people still read), but don’t limit yourself there — digital quick start guides are excellent ways to ensure your customer actually uses the product and you don’t get a return in a week or a month.
Such an eBook can also come in the form of a large compilation of tips and tricks, helping a customer to make the most of the product or service they’ve signed up for.
It can even come in the form of additional, valuable content — for example, they buy your novel, and you send them a secret additional chapter months down the road that explains some things in the novel, or you send them the first chapter of your upcoming novel.
This can be strung out through the life of the product or service, depending on what it is.
The more resources you provide your customers to get the most out of their purchase, the more you draw them into your world and show them that you care about their enjoyment and success with your product — in turn, it becomes more likely that your customers stick around.
When people make a purchase, they want to feel like it was worthwhile — education can empower them to feel that way.
There’s nothing like getting a new piece of software and having no clue where to begin. It’s just as frustrating to get a basic understanding and then feel like you’re not using it to its full potential.
But, when a company supports you with educational materials — which often look great in the form of an eBook — it can make you feel like they actually care about your success…
And not just your dollar.
So go out there, and write your eBook. Make the most of this definitely-not-dead form of marketing.
And while you’re at it, use these 6 super-psychological triggers (from the extraordinary Sam Hurley) to inspire even more retention in your customers.
Good luck out there, marketer.