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Why it’s time to kill the PDF

Content marketing is central to the modern marketer’s toolkit, but too many businesses are still relying on the clunky PDF to deliver their messages. Nick Mason, founder and chief executive of Turtl, explains why it’s time to finally ditch the downloads

It’s been around so long that most of us don’t question using it. But when you stop to think about it, does anybody actually like the PDF? It’s awkward to use, takes ages to download and it’s not even optimised to be viewed digitally, so the text is often too small to read comfortably and scrolling is a nightmare. What’s more, it’s horrible to view on your mobile and it’s difficult to share. The list of problems is endless.

And not only is the consumer and reader experience terrible with the PDF, but it’s pretty dreadful from a marketing perspective too. Data is everything to marketers nowadays, from tracking click-throughs, to seeing who has read your blog or shared your latest tweet.

Business leaders want to know where their money is being spent and what the results are. The PDF is often lauded for the ability to track downloads, but there is no way of seeing whether anybody has actually read the thing, let alone which parts they’ve read or for how long.

In the age of digitisation, when forward-thinking organisations are talking about artificial intelligence, the internet of things, virtual reality and drones, it is incredible that we’re all still reading and distributing content in a format that was created in 1993; that’s more than 25 years ago. The internet was barely invented then. So why has nobody come up with anything more innovative and inspiring? And why aren’t marketers demanding more?

These were the questions I asked myself when working as a software consultant with University of Oxford Medical Sciences Division a few years ago. I heard about some research showing  that we are more likely to retain information if we have autonomy, control and connection to the reading experience.

Hence, a non-linear reading journey, where you have control over how to explore information, including interactive multimedia elements, is more likely to tap into these intrinsic drivers. This led me to look further into the psychology behind how we read and what I discovered made me even more determined to bin the PDF forever.

For example, another famous study found that readers are more likely to take on board new ideas when they’re feeling relaxed and calm, known as open mode, as opposed to when we’re feeling stress and pressure, or in closed mode. And, as I’m sure most of us can attest, struggling with the PDF rarely succeeds in creating the kind of zen-like atmosphere required.

Images are another big factor, with a study by 3M finding that people are around 45 per cent more likely to agree with an argument if it is presented with contextual imagery, rather than text alone. What’s more, presenting information with contextual images is not only more persuasive, but also makes people more likely to remember what they’ve read.

In one test, subjects who received a visually enhanced presentation could recall the information 6.5 times better three days later than those who were given just the words. Other studies have shown the merits of page and column-based layouts over document scrolling for ensuring comprehension and understanding of information.

All this new knowledge set me on a path to create something more inspirational, accessible and engaging for readers, while also meeting the data-tracking needs of modern marketers. And from there Turtl was born.

We aim to offer readers an experience that takes them out of their everyday mindset and carefully applies psychology to help them to concentrate, understand and retain content as effectively as possible. Plus, it’s super easy for marketers to use, with a drag-and-drop design so anybody can create amazing looking content, fast.

Content marketing has gone stratospheric in recent years and it feels like we’re reaching a tipping point. Smart marketers are thinking not about how much content they’re pumping out, but its quality and whether it really inspires readers to act. And for that, we need to kill the PDF once and for all.

For more information please visit turtl.co/cmo

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