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What to Do When E-Books and Round-Up Posts Just Won't Cut It

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In this article, you'll learn...

  • Why e-books and round-up posts work—and yet fail
  • Why your strategies should be unique and valuable
  • Six ways to create quality, one-of-a-kind content

Some strategies are tested and true. They've been used successfully by so many people in so many situations that we've learned to expect that they work, and will work for us. Period.

Round-up posts and e-books are both examples of that phenomenon. They've become ubiquitous, and for good reason. They seem to work, without fail. Or, do they?

Actually, no, they don't—and certainly not without fail. More and more, ubiquitous online marketing strategies, such as e-books and round-up posts, are working less and less.

Here's why those strategies are failing—and what you can do about it!

Why do round-up posts and e-books work, anyway?


Round-up posts are blog posts that "round up" the experts and stars in your industry, showcasing them on your blog. For example, you might ask contributors to provide their best tip about your subject area, to answer a relevant question, or to allow you to feature your favorite work from them in your post.

In all cases, the strategy behind that sort of post is the same, and it'll always work for the same two reasons:

  1. Experts will be flattered that you chose to feature them, which will make them like you and want to help you (e.g., by spreading the word about the round-up post).
  2. Round-up posts use the celebrity appeal of experts, as well as their insight and experience, to create compelling content for your audience.

E-books are just documents in PDF (or similar) format. A fancy cover and a graphic of the e-book as an actual, three-dimensional book might make it appear more than merely a digital document, but in the end it's merely that, and it's usually given away as an "ethical bribe" in exchange for the names and email addresses of your site's visitors.

The strategy behind e-books is familiar and simple:

  1. Create something valuable that people want and would be willing to provide their contact information to receive.
  2. Use the e-book as a lead-in to build trust and set the stage for the offers that you will subsequently make via email. It's simple, and it works.

So... what's the problem?

When a strategy is overused, it stops working

The first problem is ubiquity; when everyone is doing the same thing, the strategy isn't nearly as special.

Instead of being impressed with your round-up of 30 industry leaders, your audience will yawn because it just got through reading three other round-ups almost identical to yours. And rather than being impressed with your free e-book offer, your audience will think twice about signing up because of the commitment needed to read yet another fluffy and useless 30-page document.

Success can't be copy-and-pasted; it just can't be done. Those strategies were first conceived with a real understanding of what would be valuable to the audience. They weren't just tactics used because "well, everybody does it, and it works."

The result of the unabashed copying and pasting that afflicts the marketing world is e-books full of unhelpful, recycled material followed by a string of pestering emails and round-up posts—full of bland questions and uninteresting answers—that clearly intend to curry favor with bloggers rather than showcase their good work.

So does that mean that round-up posts and e-books are doomed strategies? No, of course not—but they work only if you make them special.

Special is in the eye of the beholder

What makes content special, of course, depends on the intended audience. Some audiences prefer short, one-line answers from experts in round-up posts and e-books, and some prefer paragraphs filled with detail and insight. Some audiences prefer high-level theory, and others prefer practical how-to information.

Do you know your audience? Do you know what it wants and needs? If you don't, find out. And if you do, get to work and create it. Avoid copying other tactics and strategies, and create something that will be valuable to your audience.

Just to get your creativity going, here are six ways you could try to make your content different and unique:

1. Ask great questions

Instead of the usual "What's your No. 1 tip about X?" why not ask something that will make contributors think a bit more? Something such as "What's the most important question that X should ask, but doesn't?" Or "What's the biggest misconception that X has about the industry?" Asking great questions will lead to great answers, and great answers make for great content.

2. Feature unusual content

Rather than pointing to your contributors' best work or asking them questions about best-practices; ask them to share their biggest failure, most dramatic mistake, or most inaccurate assumption.

3. Feature resources instead

Don't feature contributors' content at all. Instead, compile a huge list of valuable resources. So, ask your contributing experts to recommend items for the list, or even ask your audience... you might be surprised with the resulting suggestions.

4. Change the round-up into a contest

Ask contributors to submit entries, and have your audience vote to choose a winner—the entry that provides the best answer, or the one that offers the most useful information. A contest would spark some competitive interaction among the contributors, put you "on the map" as a center for discussion and debate, and draw your readers in.

5. Try a different format or medium

Instead of offering a free e-book, offer a free video course, or a set of interactive worksheets or infographics. You can even change your format to a webinar, or a series of webinars. A different format could be more useful than the tired old e-book, and it may just do a better job of grabbing your audience's attention.

6. Make the project bigger

Don't spend a weekend creating a post or e-book. Make the scope of your project dramatically larger and turn it into a pillar of your marketing strategy. That's what I did with my new book Engagement from Scratch!, and it's worked wonders for me.

* * *

The ideas in this article are meant to be a starting point, not meant to be copied outright (that would just create the same problem all over again), Use these ideas to start thinking about how you can innovate with your own content to create something special and unique.


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Danny Iny is a viral blogging expert and co-founder of Firepole Marketing. You can download his Naked Marketing Manifesto in exchange for one tweet. Danny is co-author—along with Guy Kawasaki, Brian Clark, and many others—of Engagement from Scratch.

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