October 19, 2005
Case Study

How to Use eBook Offers to Stand Out in a Sea of White Papers

SUMMARY: As of this moment, roughly 48,000 white papers are being promoted online by business-to-business marketers. The good news is, prospects are still interested -- 38.5% say they pay more attention to white paper offers than any other type of B-to-B ad. The bad news is ... 48,000. How can your offer stand out in the sea of white papers? Check out our new Case Study on a marketer who's testing ebook offers instead. Includes white paper versus ebook click and conversion data for ads and emailed offers:
CHALLENGE Like hundreds -- possibly thousands -- of business software firms, AlterPoint's marketing campaigns are aimed at IT managers and executives in the Fortune 1000.

"It is extremely competitive," says Marketing Communications Director Barbara J. Prinsell. To succeed, AlterPoint needed to generate both higher brand visibility and top-notch sales leads.

White papers are the automatic fall-back position for situations like this. The good news is, they work. According to a MarketingSherpa & CMP study, 38.5% of IT professionals said the are most likely to respond to a white paper offer -- and seriously consider the technology -- compared to any other type of advertising offer online.

(Yes, white paper offers beat other free giveaways, "we're #1" bragging ads, fear-based headlines, and even humorous ads.)

However, according to our last count, there are 48,000 white papers currently sitting in the searchable archives at major IT news and info sites, hoping someone will notice them. How can you stand out in that crowd? (Especially with a moderate budget and smallish marketing team?)

CAMPAIGN Instead white papers, AlterPoint decided to sponsor an ebook. Just like white papers, the ebook could be distributed in PDF format and offered as a download in exchange for a prospect registering online.

However, most white papers are five-eight pages long. AlterPoint's ebook was over 150-pages. In the publishing world, that's known as "heft value."

Just as some lesser known technology firms get brand name (Gartner, etc) analysts to write their white papers in hopes of higher offer response rates, AlterPoint got a famous name to write their eBook. However, instead of an analyst, they chose Don Jones, an well-known IT book author, speaker, and columnist.

The implication, they hoped, was not only is this document *not* a thinly disguised sales pitch, the content will have every-day use beyond that of eagle-eye prognostications from analysts.

"It's edited and positioned in such a way that's educational in nature," Prinsell says. "It's building trust in the readership, and that tends to create a nice climate for AlterPoint to market into that lead."

Unfortunately, the ebook cost far more than a white paper would. A typical outside-written white paper can run you $3,000-$15,000 depending on the fame of the author and complexity of topic. In comparison, AlterPoint paid $10,000 per chapter for a two-year exclusive right to sponsor and distribute the ebook. Which bought the final price tag up well over six figures, not including promotions.

To offset this major investment, the marketing team:

#1. Picked a fairly evergreen topic

They wanted to be able to promote that ebook continually for the entire two-year period without it going out of date. This could serve as a time-saver for the team as well. Instead of continually coming up with new white paper topics and promos for two years, they could focus on making one really good content offer truly famous.

The title chosen: 'Tips and Tricks Guide to Network Configuration Management'.

#2. Released the ebook in stages - chapter by chapter

Why give away the candy store all at once if you don't need to? Instead, the team had the ebook would come out in installments. Everyone who registered could download the first chapter and then would get a text-only monthly email alerting them with a link for the next chapter.

The notifications for every new chapter stuck with the low-key, no-sales-pitch tone: They just gave instructions on how to access the latest chapter, along with a recap of the whole book, with a summary of each section.

The ebook alerts became as an ongoing prospect nurturing campaign, keeping AlterPoint's brand top of mind with prospects months after they first accepted the offer. The content was definitely something that prospect was likely to be interested in, plus it was less work for the marketing department than creating a fresh email newsletter articles from scratch each month.

#3. Create a printed mini-book for tradeshow leads

The team printed up their favorite chapter from the book, plus a table of contents for the entire book, in a pocket-sized format to give out at trade shows. Show attendees could sign up on the spot at a PC in the booth to get the rest of the chapters emailed to them. Or they could sign up later when they got back to the office.

The team hoped the leads who took the step of signing up for the ebook would be higher quality and more worthy of sales rep attention than the masses of attendees who oked having their badges zapped.

#4. Aggressive Online Promotion

AlterPoint aggressively promoted the eBook through PR to online journalists, syndication into white paper libraries on IT news and info sites, ads in third-party newsletters, banner ads, and dedicated blasts to rented email lists (link to sample below.)

In short, they used every trick that works for promoting white papers... the only difference was the offer was for an ebook.

RESULTS "We have always gotten extraordinary results with the eBook campaigns. It's been an extremely successful program for AlterPoint," says Prinsell.

AlterPoint gained a house opt-in list of 28,000 names by promoting the first ebook for two years, and a second title 'The Shortcut Guide to Network Compliance and Security' for about a year so far. Plus, this summer the team asked the author of their first eBook to write a second revised edition so they could keep the promotions going strong.

According to September 2005 data from a third-party IT news network AlterPoint promoted the ebooks with, clickthrough rates (CTR) and conversions (clicks who fill out a registrtaion form to get the ebook) are far above typical white paper offer response rates running on the same media: White paper round-up offer page online: o Alterpoint ebook .56% CTR 36% Conversion o Typical white paper .2-.35% CTR 20-30% Conversion

Ad in email newsletter o Alterpoint ebook .38% CTR 37% Conversion o Typical white paper .15-.2% CTR 15-20% Conversion

Dedicated email blast to rented list o Alterpoint ebook 1.4% CTR 49% Conversion o Typical white paper .75%-1% CTR 20-25% Conversion

There's also been sustained interest: When AlterPoint published its second eBook, the open rate for an email pitch to the original eBook readers was 30%, with a 15% clickthrough rate.

As new readers signed up to get chapters emailed over time, they continued to click month after month at higher rates than one might expect from a typical monthly email newsletter: Chapter 1 - 15% CTR (notice sent to all past ebook readers) Chapter 2 - 37% CTR (notice only sent to new ebook readers) Chapter 3 - 31% CTR Chapter 4 - 29% CTR

Prinsell has also seen evidence that the chapters have a strong viral component. "We have 9.8% more download page views than we have registrants, and it should have been the other way around!"

Useful links related to this article:

Creative samples from AlterPoint's campaign: http://www.marketingsherpa.com/alterpoint/study.html

The MarketingSherpa & CMP study cited above is contained in the IT Marketing Benchmark Guide 2005, available at: http://sherpastore.com/store/page.cfm/2150

realtimepublishers.com – the publishing firm AlterPoint hired to produce the ebooks: http://www.realtimepublishers.com

TechTarget - one of the many IT news sites that AlterPoint promotes the ebooks on http://www.techtarget.com

AlterPoint http://www.AlterPoint.com

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