3 Examples of How Interactive PDFs Crush Static Competition

November 27, 2018 | Caitlin Smith

Are you still marketing like it’s 1990?

If you’re using static PDFs, then maybe you are.

For nearly thirty years, the portable document format (PDF) has served marketers well. They’ve converted countless white papers, ebooks, contracts, reports, and other documents, helping them bring leads into the sales funnel, qualify those leads, and nurture them toward conversion.

In the B2B space, marketers use PDFs all the time. They put valuable information into PDFs and offer them as the reward for filling out lead gen forms. They use them to nurture leads. Most marketers have all their long-form content converted into PDFs.

The sales team is heavily dependent on PDFs, too. If your marketing automation system is hooked up right, salespeople should be able to look through your prospect database and see which PDFs each prospect has downloaded.

So, PDFs are important. Really important. If PDFs stopped working, we’d all be in a fix.

Trouble is, there are already signs that static PDFs don’t work as well as they used to. Here’s why:

  • Static PDFs are built on a monologue rather than a dialog model.

Buyers’ attention spans are short: they want to learn what they need to know and move on, immediately. This urgency makes them less willing to listen to a monologue of information. They want (and need) content customized for them.

But at the same time, many buyers don’t really want to talk to a salesperson until they have to. They want a self-serve buyers’ journey. This is why conversational marketing is getting so much attention now. It provides an experience that aligns with what buyers want – customized content available at a moment’s notice, without having to schedule calls or hear a sales pitch.

  • Gated content is (put nicely), problematic. As you know, getting access to most PDFs requires filling out a form. That “gate” can turn prospects away from engaging with your content.
  • The qualifying/disqualifying information provided in lead gen forms aren’t enough to accurately score potential customers. Even if a prospect is willing to fill out a form, who’s to say they’ll put accurate information into it? And who’s to say the prospect wants to talk to a salesperson just because they downloaded that particular PDF?
  • There are no post-download metrics for static PDFs. It’s good to know who’s downloaded a PDF, but that’s where the data ends. How can you tell how much of the PDF has been read? Moreover, how can you connect prospects with relevant content that aligns with their unique interests and questions?
  • Conversion rates for static PDFs are around 1-3 percent. Ultimately, all your work (in sales or marketing) comes down to results, and it’s becoming clear that static content no longer drives the kind of results brands need.
  • Static PDFs can only offer static calls to action. That used to be okay, but now most marketers want to do better. Most prospects expect marketers to do better, too.

So, what’s the solution to all these problems? Content that engages readers while providing marketers and salespeople with the information they need to nurture prospects down the funnel. In other words, interactive PDFs.

To give you an idea of what’s possible with interactive PDFs, we’re exploring three strong examples of interactive B2B PDFs. Let’s walk through each one and see why it works (and how it could work for you).

1. The Demand Gen Marketer’s Guide to Interactive Content

Here’s a PDF developed to help marketers better understand interactive content. The twelve-page whitepaper is broken up with a series of content-related questions. In order to continue reading, viewers have to answer questions.

The first question appears right after page three.

an example of an interactive pdf that asks questions

There are three questions like this – each spread out every three to four pages.

The questions give the reader a way to interact with the PDF (which helps hold their attention). That’s certainly a good thing, but there’s something more strategic going on here: The answers to the questions are being captured and appended to the prospect’s information.

This means every answer the reader gives is populating into the information file a salesperson will look at when they decide whether or not to follow up. If the PDF asks the right questions, it will give salespeople the exact information they need to know whether someone is worth contacting.

We’ve found that questions tend to work best in interactive PDFs if:

  • There are only two to three questions: any more than three questions in a short PDF becomes distracting.
  • The questions are relevant to the content: this helps hold the reader’s attention, but it also helps the reader to feel more comfortable answering the questions. They shouldn’t feel like they’re just answering a slow-roll lead generation form.
  • The questions are aligned with sales qualifiers: with some help from sales, marketers can include questions that effectively determine whether a prospect is a strong lead, or simply an interested reader.

2. Seven Ways AP Automation Can Pay for Itself by Bottomline Technologies

Now let’s talk about forms. They are, after all, kind of the whole point.

One of the best features of interactive PDFs is that they let you have forms (and generate leads) without gating your content. Take this interactive PDF from Bottomline Technologies for example.

Simple and ungated, this PDF is a great example of how to leverage form fills because it:

  • Lets the reader get several pages into the PDF before the form appears. We’ve found that somewhere around page five tends to be the sweet spot. The opt-in form below appears right at page five in an 11-page PDF.
  • Provides an optional form fill. In the example below, there’s a “Skip” link in the bottom left-hand corner of the opt-in box.
  • Keeps the lead form short and sweet. You’ve heard this advice before, but it still applies to interactive PDFs. Two to three fields are ideal, but you can stretch it up to seven fields. Just don’t have any more than seven fields – we’ve found that eight or more fields is around the point where conversion rates start to fall off sharply.

This interactive PDF prompts readers to sign up for an email list.

Being able to move a lead form around has other benefits, too.

  • If the form is placed later on in the content, readers will have already consumed the early part of the PDF. This removes all the problems gated content can have – namely, people won’t see any of your content if they don’t fill out a form, and that gated content rarely gets shared.
  • Because people have already seen some of the PDF content before they see the form, they’re more likely to say yes to more of your content.
  • Because an interactive PDF tracks how people use the PDF, you can test the location of the form. We like to put forms a few pages in, but who knows – maybe your prospects will fill out the form more often if it’s towards the end of the PDF.

3. CoreSite’s Bringing Content to the Edge

We mentioned in the opening that static PDFs don’t allow for flexible call to actions. So here’s an example of what an interactive PDF can do.

This is a screenshot of the last page of CoreSite’s PDF.

An interactive pdf that has a two question call to action at the end of the document.

Here’s why this simple two-question call to action works:

  • It makes reaching out to a salesperson (by clicking the “Ready to chat about your infrastructure strategy” box) optional. That means sales won’t have to talk to everyone who reads this PDF – they’ll only talk to the people who genuinely want to talk to them. This small change results in dramatically better leads and will save your sales team hours every week.
  • Even if the reader doesn’t opt to talk to sales, if they choose to download the PDF, that gives the marketer two important signals: The reader is interested enough to want to keep this PDF, and they read it all the way through.

Static PDFs can’t do that.  

Final Thoughts

We’ve barely scratched the surface of what interactive PDFs can do, but you’ve already learned enough to radically improve your lead generation and demand generation efforts. With just a few minutes of extra work (interactive PDFs can be made in as little as 20 minutes), it’s possible to deliver higher-quality leads than ever before.

For some creative ideas on how to use interactive PDFs to help boost your content performance, check out SnapApp for PDF. We highlight how to quickly engage readers, while qualifying and disqualifying prospects for better leads and faster sales.

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