More and more people are using the Internet, Social Media, and mobile apps to stay on top of critically important information. Much of this online content is presented in brief hyperlinked messages attached to or extracted from larger information sources. Terms such as “the 3-second rule,” 140-character Tweets, and short hyperlinked Facebook posts provide excellent examples of this new form of abbreviated online content.
As a result of these concise formats, today’s online reader can quickly scan hundreds of such messages until they find ones that engage them, an indispensable skill that was not necessary 25 years ago before the Internet. Once engaged, these “short content” readers can decide to click on that message to scan a larger portion of information, watch an online video, or interact with some online app or widget.
As a result of all this brief messaging, the online reader has developed a short attention span, quite unlike the prior generation. Today’s short-attention readers tend to skim, scan and skip their way through a document. They will scan an entire page of text as a single unit, with their eyes focused on the biggest and boldest elements like headlines, color graphics, or bullets. If they find nothing to catch their eye, engage their senses, or arouse their curiosity, they will skip on to something else. If all they find is a series of text paragraphs, they won’t delve any further into that content.
Instead of the traditional practice of reading an entire article to get to a bottom line, today’s online reader wants that bottom line message instantly. They certainly won’t devote an extensive amount of time to reading large blocks of text in order to get to that bottom line message. I’ll explore 6 techniques to engage the short attention-span reader in a free webinar, Designing White Papers that Grab Prospects, Nurture Leads, Get Shared and Produce Sales, on May the 2nd.
This presents a conundrum for the modern white paper writer. To appeal to the new online-oriented, short attention reader, white papers must incorporate formatting techniques similar to online or mobile information. White papers must include a greater number of visual aids, such as one would find with information presented in popular Social Media sites.
This includes attention-generating elements such as: colorful design, illustrations, callouts/pull quotes, business charts, concept graphics, and video. While many business writers may find the use of these elements falling outside the realm of the traditional text-only white paper, they are the new requirement needed to engage today’s short-attention, Social Media-savvy reader as the most effective way to quickly deliver key bottom line solution-oriented messages.
Distributing a traditional, all-text white paper to today’s online audience will typically result in fewer downloads, fewer reads, and ultimately fewer qualified business leads.
What This Means for B2B White Paper Marketers
Therefore, for B2B marketers, the traditional white paper must evolve, or risk becoming as irrelevant as printed newspapers are for today’s online generation. To remain a viable and influential B2B communications medium that can influence Social Media-savvy readers, the white paper must adopt these new attention-grabbing principles, or fade away like the traditional newspaper.
White papers remain an effective way to generate high-quality leads, build mindshare, and explain the benefits of complex new products and services. But many B2B marketers find themselves at an important fork in the road. Do they give up on the narrative documents we call white papers, and throw all their efforts into blogging, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn? Or do they find some way to update and re-energize the venerable white paper so it can once again wear the crown as the undisputed King of Content and Master of Lead Generation?
If today’s marketers choose to build in elements that appeal to today’s expanding short-attention reading audience, then white papers will remain a strategic part of the B2B marketing toolbox for the foreseeable future. I’ll explain this in greater detail at the webinar on May 2nd. I hope to see you there. Register today!