Small Businesses Use E-Books to Build Their Brands

After 25 years in business, Ziva Jewels decided to bring its designs directly to consumers via online sales. But the personal service customers found in the retailer’s stores didn’t translate well online: Despite spending an hour or more with customers on live chat to educate them about diamonds and gemstones, the effort failed to generate new sales.

“Without pictures and diagrams, it was hard to get across the important points about buying fine jewelry,” says Felicia Ceballos-Marroquin, Ziva Jewels’s marketing director.

Ziva’s solution? Create an e-book to educate and keep customers engaged with the brand.


“We developed the Ziva Jewels Guide to Buying Fine Jewelry, Diamonds, and Gemstones e-book to aid our customers in the buying process,” Ceballos-Marroquin says. “It’s been significant in helping us to close the deal with customers interested in buying online, since it increases their comfort level and trust in our company. The e-book has been an important part of our strategy to sell directly to the consumer.”

According to the Book Industry Study Group, one in four Americans reads e-books, and small businesses such as Ziva are now taking advantage of this trend to supplement more traditional brand-building activities.

As with most marketing efforts, however, execution is everything. With free content-based giveaways such as white papers and e-books popping up on websites that sell everything from jewelry to overseas junkets, experts say it’s very important for a small business to think carefully about why and how to add e-books and other forms of online content to its marketing mix.

“To begin with, it’s useful to determine whether what you want to offer is a white paper or an informational e-book,” says Michael Stelzner, author of Writing White Papers. “A white paper is traditionally a short document (usually about six to 12 pages) that starts by defining a problem and provides a solution,” he says. “It’s a cross between an article and brochure, offering desired information in a persuasive way to the customer or prospect.”


According to Stelzner, an informational e-book for branding purposes (as opposed to a full-length nonfiction or fiction book that has been converted into an electronic document) tends to have more graphics and will be more visually appealing than a white paper. Most important, it is longer, usually 20 pages or more, than a white paper. Ziva Jewels’s e-book, for example, is 80 pages long.

Regardless of the format or what you call it, Stelzner says, if a small business can package content a customer will find valuable in a PDF file — the most commonly-used e-book format — then it has value as a brand-building tool.

FeeFighters, a comparison shopping site for small business owners who want to find a credit card processor for their transaction needs, is another example of a company that recognized the value of this approach.

“Our e-book, How to Be a Credit Card Processing Ninja, is different from anything you will find in the credit card processing industry,” says company representative Stella Fayman.

“It has a ton of useful information that explains the basics of how credit card processing works and what businesses need to begin accepting credit cards,” Fayman says. “The key beyond the content, though, is that it’s written in an informal tone featuring fun ninja characters. We definitely use our e-book as a tool to show domain expertise in our marketing.”

Fayman says that the FeeFighters’s 30-page free e-book is also a great customer-service asset that the company sends out to clients as a learning tool whenever they call in with questions. “To date, our e-book has been downloaded over 2,000 times, and we have found an overall higher correlation of conversion when users get the e-book,” Fayman says.


John Luginbill, chief executive officer of The Heavyweights, a health care marketing firm, isn’t surprised that the FeeFighters’s e-book has helped the company with its lead-nurturing activities.

“[An e-book’s] value is enormous, but it’s slow going getting most businesses to understand the significance of it,” Luginbill says.

“It’s better than a business card,” he adds. “It creates immediate credibility and is an important part of how you can convert to sales.”

Luginbill says that in his experience, when potential customers land on a company’s website, an e-book serves as a way for them to quickly decide whether the company can provide what they need. “An e-book immediately gives visitors a detailed account of your specific opinions, position, and knowledge,” he says. “Often they will read just the first few pages and go, ‘I don’t want to do business with this company,’ or, ‘I found it! This is the one!'”

The idea of producing a highly branded e-book — full of opinions and points of view that might lead a customer to choose not to do business with a company — may sound like a risky move for a small business owner. Yet there’s another way to look at the issue.

The skills required to build a successful small business are often the opposite of those required to succeed in a big organization. Giant corporations regularly reward predictable, risk-averse behavior. Small businesses, however, often succeed or fail based upon their ability to stand out in a crowd.

Producing an e-book that breaks the mold and takes risks can be provocative and get a business noticed. It gives a company the chance to craft an exciting, effective message to establish itself as an unbeatable source of expertise.

Karen Leland is a freelance journalist, best-selling author, and president of Sterling Marketing Group, where she helps businesses negotiate the wired world of today’s media landscape — social and otherwise.

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