Brochures vs Case Studies vs White Papers

Brochures vs Case Studies vs White Papers

You have a booth at a trade show and need something to give to attendees. Or your sales reps are making face-to-face calls and need something to leave behind. Or you want a document your website visitors can download. Whatever the case, you need to tell potential customers about your product or service.

You need marketing collateral!

Three of the most common pieces of marketing collateral are brochures, case studies, and white papers. What’s the difference between them? When should you use each?

These tools are all similar in that their purpose is to educate and persuade potential customers so they’ll become actual customers. Where they differ is how they achieve that goal, specifically whom they target, what information they provide, and how they provide it. To illustrate this, let’s pretend we run a company, Acme, that manufactures and sells internet routers. We’ll look at each of our pieces of marketing collateral in turn.

Brochures

Our 4-page, full-color brochure is all about the routers. It shows the various router models Acme produces, along with relevant facts and figures for each. It also includes a brief description of our company, highlighting Acme’s experience and expertise in router manufacturing; a couple of quotations from satisfied customers; and our company’s contact information.

Our brochure is graphics intensive. It’s colorful, following Acme’s chosen color pallet. It uses a few different typefaces to highlight the text. And it includes photographs. There are photographs of the routers, of course. But there are also photographs of people sitting on their sofa, using a tablet (suggesting Acme’s routers deliver home Wi-Fi that will let you do that) and photographs of brilliant city skylines (suggesting that the routers are modern and high-tech.)

While our brochure could just list the features of our routers, we make it more effective by highlighting the benefits of those features. For example, our routers include a firewall. Our brochure could simply state that:

All Acme routers include a firewall.

To which the savvy customer responds, “So what?” Instead, we explain why this is a plus, how the firewall keeps you safe online:

Our automatic firewall protects you against malicious attacks from the internet.

To appeal to customers with a little more technical knowledge we go a little further, explaining in brief how the firewall works:

Our stateful inspection and packet filtering firewall examines every bit of data entering your network to ensure it’s coming from the correct source, protecting you against malicious attacks from the internet.

By including the benefits, we help our readers understand how Acme routers will work for them.

Brochures are typically used in business-to-consumer selling. Most consumers are typically not interested in the arcane technical details. They just want to know generally what the product does and want some assurance that it will work as advertised. Those who are somewhat technically savvy will appreciate the technical details (like stateful inspection and packet filtering) while those who are not will simply overlook them.

Case Studies

Our 3-page case study provides a true-life example of how our routers helped one of our customers, and therefore how it can help others. It does this by answering the following questions:

  • Who is this customer?
  • What challenges were they facing?
  • What options did they consider?
  • Why did they choose this particular solution (the solution our company provides)?
  • How has it helped them meet their challenges?

For example, suppose that in addition to the consumer routers highlighted in our brochure, Acme also manufactures enterprise-class network routers for businesses. Our case study focuses on a company we’ll call BigTechMoney.

We begin by giving a brief overview of BigTechMoney, how they’re involved in capital finance and investments for technology firms. They have offices around the world, exchanging highly confidential, proprietary information. Their challenge was securing their communications against hackers.

BigTechMoney considered several options:

  • A competitor’s network routers
  • Outsourcing their network security to another firm
  • Designing and building their own routers from scratch
  • Having Acme train their in-house IT staff and install our routers

Of course, BigTechMoney chose Acme’s solution, and our case study explains why.

First, none of the other options were satisfactory. Our competitor’s products don’t offer the range of features or support our routers do. Outsourcing their network security would have been too costly. And building their own systems would have taken too long and led to security holes.

Second, our routers include specialized security features designed to block sophisticated hacking attempts. We briefly explain what these features are and how they work.

Third, we offered in-depth technical training and support for BigTechMoney’s IT team, so they’d be able to take full advantage of the capabilities of our routers.

Our case study goes on to show how BigTechMoney has benefited from using our routers. In the first month alone they successfully fended off hundreds of attacks, while tying together several satellite offices and dozens of remote users.

Our case study includes direct quotes from BigTechMoney’s IT staff and management, gleaned from person-to-person interviews. There are a few graphics: A photograph taken during our training session with BigTechMoney’s staff, and a couple of charts showing the reduction in hacker intrusions after our routers were installed.

Case studies like this appeal primarily to business customers. They want to learn how our routers have benefited organizations facing challenges similar to their own.

White Papers

Our 7-page white paper is heavy on facts and figures, light on fluff. While our brochure only briefly mentioned our router’s firewall, and while our case study included our firewall as only one among several benefits to customers, our white paper focuses on one aspect of our firewall technology in detail.

We begin by examining a specific challenge facing IT departments in many large businesses, such as overcoming zone-based firewall policy deficiencies. (If you don’t know what that means, don’t worry. All you need to know is that it’s complex, it’s a real issue, and our target audience understands it.)

Rather than jump right in and show how our routers solve this problem, we discuss several possible solutions, of which ours is just one. And we do so fairly, including both pros and cons of each option. When we finally arrive at the logical conclusion, only then do we offer our routers as the preferred source for the best solution.

Despite the name, our white paper isn’t just plain text. It does include some color, but it’s used sparingly. There are no pictures of pretty skylines or families relaxing at home. But there are graphics. We’ve got diagrams showing network routing and charts showing traffic analysis.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but our white paper doesn’t even mention Acme until the conclusion of the document. This is because this is a soft sell. Of course the reader knows that we’re marketing to them, but we do so by informing them, by educating them. Only once we’ve convinced them that the solution to “zone-based firewall policy deficiencies” we’ve outlined is the best can we offer them a source for that solution, Acme.

Obviously, white papers are targeted toward business clients. They’re often used in technical fields, but they can be found anywhere companies are faced with complex issues with various possible solutions.

A Role For Each

Generally, consumers don’t care about the dry, technical details in a white paper, and they likely won’t identify with the business customers in a case study. Likewise, business managers want something more substantial, detailed, and practical than a brochure, something that addresses the challenges they’re facing.

Why not just combine them all into a single one-size-fits-all document? Because it would be cumbersome, inefficient, and irritating. Readers would have to dig through it to find the parts that interest them, while ignoring the rest.

White papers – by their length and complexity – require the most effort to produce. They call for extensive research and often incorporate facts from expert third-party sources.

Case studies tend to be shorter, but they still require time spent interviewing the customer, identifying the important issues, and conveying the facts in a persuasive way.

Although targeted at consumers, brochures also require thoughtful analysis to distill all the information available down into salient points the reader will want to know, as well as an artistic touch to make the document visually appealing.

Whatever type of document you decide to use, take the time to do it right and you’ll succeed in turning potential customers into actual customers.

Brochures, case studies, and white papers are valuable pieces of marketing collateral that can help you get your message across. But producing them takes time and skill. If you don’t have the time, contact us. We’ll be glad to help.

Has Digital Content Killed Paper Marketing Collateral?

Has Digital Content Killed Paper Marketing Collateral?
“Video Killed the Radio Star,” written by Trevor Horn, Geoff Downes, and Bruce Woolley, and performed by the Buggles in 1979.

Do you remember “Video Killed the Radio Star?” The kitschy pop song laments the fading glory of radio talent when the rise of music videos caused radio to lose much of its appeal. The same thing happened back in the 1920s when talking pictures stole the focus from silent movies.

Today, we’re witnessing a similar media transformation. Many magazines, including such notables as Time and Newsweek, have reduced or even eliminated their print publications in favor of online digital editions. Most of us watch the news, we don’t read it, and either way we’re likely doing so online. Much of the marketing content we consume is online. You’re almost certainly reading this on a computer screen, a tablet or a smartphone, not on a piece of paper.

But does that mean paper is passé? Should you still include print in your marketing budget? Consider a few areas where printed material still has value.

Trade Shows

Visitors drop by your booth and you explain your products and services. You get their email address and phone number so you can follow up with them later. You also hand them a brochure, a white paper, or at least a sales sheet. Having something physical they can hold in their hands makes your business that much more real to them. Sure, they may toss it in the circular file as soon as they get back to their office. But they might read it first. They might pass it on to their co-workers.

Seminars

Will your attendees take notes? If so, will they take the right notes? Will they get the points you want to make? Make sure they do by giving them a handout with your main points, either at the beginning so they can follow along, or at the end so it doesn’t distract them during the presentation. But either way, before they leave, make sure they have something in their hands to remind them of your message.

Direct Mail

People are so used to receiving email and texts, that personally-addressed letters delivered by the post office, once the norm, now stand out as special. While an email message may be immediately deleted unread, an envelope with the person’s name is more likely to arouse curiosity and be opened and read.

None of these situations require an either-or approach. Printed marketing collateral can co-exist with digital material. One should complement the other. But however you deliver it, you still need a message that will motivate your readers to action.

There’s much more to producing effective paper-based marketing collateral than just printing out what you already have online. Give LightningStrike Studios a call. Online or off, we’ll help you get your message across.

Building Your Business With Social Media Marketing

Building Your Business With Social Media Marketing
CC0 Gerd Altmann

You know that social media can be a powerful tool to help you build your business. But how does that work, exactly? Do you just open a Twitter account or a Facebook page, post some stuff, and then sit back and watch the customers beat a path to your door?

Oh, if only it were that simple!

Using social media as a tool to promote your business isn’t difficult, but it does take time. Basically, there are 3 phases to this.

Establish Contacts

The “social” in social media requires interacting with people. You do this by following other people, liking and commenting on their posts, and sharing them. Some of those people may view your profile, follow you back, and like and share your posts. A few may visit your site.

Should you share content from your competitors? That depends. Is the other business really a competitor? Do they provide a service similar to yours, but for a whole different geographic area? Or do they cover the same region, but provide a different but complimentary service? Especially if the latter is the case, sharing content from such a business could actually help you. They may be inclined to share your posts in return, which would increase your exposure. It could even lead to an exchange of business.

Draw The Right People To Your Site

You do this by posting your own content and linking back to your site. These posts need to highlight the value of your business, such as by featuring the services you offer that people may not be able to easily handle on their own, or the products you provide that people need.

Your posts should have real value. Entertaining posts, or posts about controversial subjects that have nothing to do with your business may generate views, but are unlikely to attract paying customers.

Once People Are On Your Site, Turn Them Into Customers

You’re not going to see the results you hope for unless your site is able to convert visitors into customers, to convince them to do business with you. Building an effective website that does this is an art in itself, but here are a few basic points:

  • Have a visually appealing, easy-to-navigate site with quality content.
  • Highlight the benefits of your service and establish your expertise.
  • Make sure that each page has a single, clear focus.
  • Make sure that each page and each blog post has a call to action, linking to your contact page.
  • Make your content worth sharing and easy to share, with properly functioning social media buttons.
  • Ensure your site is fully responsive, easy to see and easy to use on a small screen mobile device.

Related platforms, such as your YouTube channel, should have a look and feel consistent with your own website. Your profile on those platforms and all content should link back to your site. Here, too, your content should reflect your business. If you want to share your liked videos, playlists, and subscriptions, do so under an entirely separate personal account.

This list is by no means an exhaustive How To; there’s a lot more involved, but you get the idea. And if you haven’t realized it yet … Yes, this all takes a lot of time. But in today’s online, internet-centric world, investing this time is often essential to building your business.

LightningStrike Studios can help you design and build an effective website that will convert visitors into customers, and then help you use social media to drive visitors to your site. If you don’t have the time, contact us. We’ll be pleased to help.

Six Ways To Avoid Being A Social Media Jerk

Six Ways To Avoid Being A Jerk On Social Media
Misuse social media and you risk appearing to your peers – and to potential business prospects – like a jerk.
CC0 Erik Lucatero / CC0 Vigan Hajdari

Watch any recent superhero movie and you’ll hear the adage, “With great power comes great responsibility.” That certainly applies to the power of social media. Use it wisely and you move closer to your business goals. Misuse it and you risk appearing to your peers – and to potential business prospects – like a social media jerk.

Here are six ways to avoid being a jerk on social media. (We’re going to focus on LinkedIn and Twitter, but the principles apply wherever you interact with people online.)

1 – Don’t try to trick people into following you

Here’s a common strategy for building a follower base on Twitter: First, you follow a bunch of people. Since some people automatically follow back anyone who follows them, at least some of those people will follow you. But since you want to keep your follower-to-following ratio high (supposedly it looks better) you unfollow anyone who hasn’t followed you back within a couple of days, at which time you repeat the process with a fresh batch of prospects.

While this strategy works – it can quickly increase your follower count – it also shows that you don’t really care about the people you follow. Instead, only follow people you really want to follow, and don’t worry about whether they follow you back or not.

The process on LinkedIn is a little different. LinkedIn allows you to send connection invitations to individuals whom you would like to have in your network. The problem is, some people send these out randomly to people they don’t really know and who don’t know them. Instead, send connection invitations to people with whom you already have at least a casual relationship. If you must send an invitation to someone you’ve never met, give them a reason to accept. Include a message introducing yourself and explaining why you want to connect and how it might benefit them.

Focus on earning followers and connections by posting valuable content. Will it take longer to build your numbers? Absolutely, but those who do follow you or connect with you will be more valuable, doing so out of a genuine interest in your content, rather than from a knee-jerk follow-back reaction.

2 – Don’t tag people for no reason

On most platforms, when you post a message you can include another user’s handle or username. They then receive a notification that they’ve been tagged or mentioned. You might do this because your post originated with them or refers to them. Or you may tag someone because you sincerely believe the post will interest them and you want to draw them into the conversation.

Don’t tag people just to get their attention in the hope they’ll follow you or share your post. If you tag someone, make it plain in your comments why you’re tagging them.

Recently, someone used my Twitter handle in one of their posts, thanking me. How nice! Except … I had had no previous contact with this person. I wasn’t following them and they weren’t following me. I had nothing to do with what they posted, nor had I ever expressed any interest in it. They tagged me – apparently – simply to get me to follow them. It didn’t work.

3 – Don’t misuse direct messages

Imagine you have just met someone at a conference and exchanged business cards. A few minutes later you receive an automated phone call prompting you to buy their products. Would you appreciate it? Probably not.

Twitter and LinkedIn – as well as many other platforms – allow you to send private messages to your contacts. There can be many legitimate reason for these. Perhaps you want to set up a meeting. Maybe you’re exchanging contact information and you don’t want to make it public. Some people, however, use this facility to send automatically generated messages trying to get the recipient to subscribe to their newsletter, read their blog, or buy their products.

Like automated phone calls, these messages are simply annoying. If you send a direct message, take the time to write it yourself. Make it personal. You’ll be more likely to get a response.

4 – Don’t expect everyone to agree with you

You have an opinion on an important subject, perhaps something related to your business, or maybe some current social or political topic burning up the airways. If it’s the latter, your business social media stream probably isn’t the best place to discuss it. But even if it’s the former – directly related to your business – you need to be careful how you address it.

Don’t expect everyone to agree with you, and don’t resort to insults, threats, or other abuse to get your point across. Doing so just makes you look immature and ignorant. And who wants to do business with someone like that?

Keep your online conversations respectful and professional. Disagree without being disagreeable.

5 – Don’t spam your followers

Look at the social media streams of some people and all you’ll find is post after post hawking their services. While it’s fine to use these platforms to promote your business – that’s one of the main reasons for their existence – if that’s all you do you’re not giving people a reason to follow you.

How much of your content should be promotional? The 80/20 rule is a good place to start. 80% of your posts should be value content – content that informs, educates, and engages – while 20% should promote your brand or business. And if you can make that 20% engaging as well, so much the better.

6 – Don’t dox people

Doxxing is the practice of publishing someone’s personal information online without their consent. Besides being illegal in some jurisdictions, it’s downright rude. People value their privacy and if they wanted to post their home address, phone number, and other personal information online, they would.

If you dox someone, don’t be surprised if you discover business prospects no longer trust you.

Use your power wisely

Social media can be a powerful business tool, but using it properly takes time. It can be tempting to take shortcuts, and in some cases it makes sense. You may manage to increase your number of followers or gain new clients. But take the wrong shortcuts and you risk alienating the very people you’re trying to attract. Good manners, on the other hand, may slow the process, but you’ll form stronger relationships and, in the long run, be further ahead.

At LightningStrike Studios, one of the services we offer is managing your social media presence. When we do so, we’re careful to avoid tactics that could undermine your reputation and make you look like a social media jerk. If you’d like us to help you manage your online presence, contact us.

5 Ways To Keep Your Website Safe

5 Ways To Keep Your Website Safe
Gerd Altmann / Silvia

You put a lot of work into building your web site, making it look and perform exactly as you wish. The last thing you need is for some miscreant to deface it, take it down, or take it over. To prevent that, you need to be proactive.

1 – Strong Passwords Matter

Your first line of defense is a strong, unique password. WordPress generates complex random passwords for you, but many people choose to use something easier to remember. Worse, they often use the same password across multiple sites. Sure, it can be tempting to use something like Rover2018 as your default password for all your accounts. It’s easy to remember, easy to type … and easy for hackers to exploit. In fact, hackers count on this behavior.

In recent years, cybercriminals have captured millions of passwords from a number of popular sites including LinkedIn, Equifax, and Yahoo. Thus armed, they try those same passwords on other sites. So if you use a password on one site, and that site is later compromised, hackers may try using that same password to access other sites, including yours.

WordPress is, by far, the most popular Content Management System in use today – according to W3Techs, more than 30% of all websites run on WordPress – so we’ll focus our discussion on WordPress, although the principles apply to whatever system you use.

Does a variation of a standard password help? Not really. Hackers know that if you used Rover2017 last year, you’re likely to use Rover2018 this year. They know that if you use LinkedIn12345 as your password for LinkedIn, you’re likely to use Facebook12345 as your password for Facebook.

Of course, cybercriminals don’t sit at a keyboard and manually type passwords. Instead, they use programs that run complex algorithms to do the work for them. These programs, often running on sites the hackers have already compromised, attempt to break into other sites. Depending on how your site is configured, they may be able to try tens of thousands of passwords a minute.

So what should your password look like? A strong password is long – aim for at least 16 characters – and incorporates both upper and lower-case letters, numbers, and symbols, all in a random order. Of course, no one wants to try to type or remember something like V33AOsT+N\iJyP57t-:S(L~zf every time they log into their site. Fortunately, with a good password manager, you don’t have to.

Password managers allow you to store all of your passwords in a database, secured with a single master password. You only have to remember that one master password to open the database, and then you can copy and paste the password you need, without having to retype it. Some managers will even enter the password for you when it determines which account you’re trying to access.

There’s a wide array of password managers available, both free and commercial. If you’re looking for a good, free solution, consider KeePassXC, available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Whatever system you use, just make sure to keep a backup of your password database. Of course, you regularly back up your computer anyway, don’t you?

2 – Keep Your Site Updated

In an ideal world, everything would just work and keep on working. There would be no need to update the software that runs your website. Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world. While the developers who create and maintain WordPress, its themes, and its plugins do an excellent job of making sure the software works the way it’s supposed to, occasionally bugs creep in. To counter this, the developers issue updates … so many updates.

By default, WordPress applies minor system and translation updates automatically. While it’s possible to configure WordPress to apply major updates as well, you shouldn’t. Instead, only apply major updates of the core WordPress system yourself, and only after taking some preliminary steps.

Make sure your site is fully backed up. (See the section Backup Your Files And Database below.)

Make sure that any plugins and themes to be updated are compatible with the latest version of WordPress.

If you’ve made any modifications to your theme, be sure to take note of them so you can re-apply them afterward, since updating the theme may overwrite them.

When you’re sure everything is ready, update WordPress, followed by your theme, then your plugins. After the updates are complete, examine your site carefully and make sure everything still looks right and works as it should.

3 – Use A Firewall

On its own, WordPress is remarkably secure, due in no small part to its open source nature. With hundreds of active developers and thousands of others examining the code, bugs and vulnerabilities are quickly found and corrected. Well, most of them. The occasional bug does manage to slip through, leaving a hole in your site’s armor. And there’s a never-ending hoard of hackers always probing your site, looking for those holes. To stave of that assault, you need a robust firewall.

As always, with WordPress you’ve got an array of options. One excellent choice is Wordfence, from Defiant. Installed and managed as a WordPress plugin, Wordfence keeps attackers at bay by:

  • Blocking brute force attacks
  • Blocking login attempts from known attackers
  • Scanning your site for known malware and suspicious activity
  • Repairing damaged files
  • Alerting you to available updates

For the most part, Wordfence is install and forget. However, the application includes a variety of monitoring tools that let you see – in real-time – who’s accessing your site. There’s something very satisfying about watching a storm of hacking attempts, knowing your firewall is keeping them out.

4 – Backup Your Files And Database

Even with strong passwords, regular updates, and an impenetrable firewall, your site can still fail. Bugs can sneak past the developers of WordPress, its themes, or its plugins; or into any of the multiple layers of software supporting your site. Any one of the countless hardware components on which your site resides can malfunction.

To recover from these eventualities you need a reliable backup. How you back up depends on your circumstances. How large is your site? How often do you make updates to your content, including your blogs?

In most cases, a plugin like UpdraftPlus will serve you well. It’s free option backs up your files and database to your own Dropbox account, Google Drive, or other locations, while, for a small fee, you can encrypt your backups and have them stored on UpdraftPlus’ own servers.

Assuming your hosting provider offers you the necessary access, you also have the option of backing up your site manually using tools like sFTP for the files and phpMyAdmin for the database.

Whatever option you choose, it’s important to periodically test your backups. Ideally you’d use your backup to create a temporary parallel site. Of course, that’s a lot of work and likely not practical for most people. Instead, periodically download your files and database exports from wherever your backup stores them, and examine them to be sure they’re complete.

5 – Get Help

WordPress makes it easy to maintain your website. It alerts you when updates are available and allows you to apply those updates with a couple of clicks. It’s an excellent system and it usually works well.

Every once in a while, however, bad plugins, conflicting plugins, or a broken theme can make your site – including the dashboard – inaccessible. When that happens, sometimes the only way to fix it is by editing your files and database directly, performing WordPress surgery. If that prospect seems a bit daunting, contact your web designer.

Any half-decent web design company will provide a maintenance agreement under which they’ll take care of all of your site maintenance – updates, security monitoring, and backups – for a modest annual fee.

Don’t Leave Your Site’s Safety To Chance

Considering all we’ve discussed, taking care of this on a regular basis may seem like a lot of work, and it is. Is it really worth it?

Figures vary, depending on who you ask and how they calculate their results, but estimates put the number of websites hacked at more than 30,000 every day. A recent survey of web developers found that 38.9% had seen their website compromised in the past 12 months. At the same time, those who are more experienced web developers are also the most concerned about security; they understand the dangers.

If your website is important to your business – or just important to you – don’t leave its safety to chance.

If you don’t have the time to create and maintain your own web site, contact us. We produce modern, responsive sites with compelling content, and then maintain them to keep them functional and safe.