Struggling to deliver content optimized for mobile and social audiences? The recent history of marketing and publishing suggests you could be using the wrong format to attract and retain prospects and clients. If you mostly rely on the venerable Portable Document Format (PDF), you may be better served by content published in an HTML5 smart paper format instead. Read on to see why TDA—Silicon Valley’s premier content marketing consulting and services firm—urges its clients to consider this format to better engage audiences.

Document formats evolve to meet specific needs
There are five main reasons to choose smart papers over PDF—as well as the historic tendency for people to gravitate to formats they are most comfortable with. Take the history of PDF itself, about which I know a fair bit.

Many years ago, I worked on the “Carousel Project” at Adobe, which led to the eventual launch of the Adobe Acrobat family of application software and Web services for viewing, manipulating, printing, and managing PDF documents. Since that time, PDF has become the de facto standard format for electronic documents. While working on the Carousel Project, John Warnock, Adobe’s co-founder and chairman, would remind all of us that documents evolved over thousands of years to meet the specific needs of human beings.

Consider the game-changing PDF precedent
While I was working on what would eventually become Acrobat, the founders of TDA were busy building a custom publishing powerhouse. Keep in mind that during the 1980s and 1990s, just about everything marketers produced was printed. The world in which we now live—based on the sort of digital content marketing campaigns and programs we now provide for large technology enterprises—was just a blip on the horizon.

But along came the Web, and with it, Acrobat and PDF—and a massive re-envisioning of format. Suddenly, a big chunk of marketing collateral migrated to PDF. Custom magazines, newsletters, case studies, solution briefs, data sheets, brochures, white papers, and more appeared online. Some of these items morphed into HTML, but many of them were produced and distributed as PDF documents.

Even today, marketers live in an environment many of my colleagues at TDA call “PDF Land,” a world where PDF documents are created, posted, and downloaded through the Web, or attached to email campaigns.

Readers have been waiting for a new format for years
For the last decade or so, I’ve led TDA Group. A significant percentage of the materials we produce continues to be PDF content. And for good reason: Recent research suggests marketers still find these campaigns to be more effective than many other approaches.

But the advent of smartphones has irrevocably changed reading options, similar to the way the Web changed audience expectations. When the first iPhones shipped in 2008, few marketers foresaw the tidal wave of smartphones that would eventually flood the marketplace and become inextricably linked to the way prospects and clients live and work.

So if your marketing goals include maximizing reach, your top priority must be smartphones. And that means rethinking how your audience will read—and hopefully enjoy— your content.

Tally up the smart paper advantage with these five benefits
Many marketers remain mired in PDF Land, possibly because the term “smart paper” means different things to different people. For us, it’s an HTML5 Web page that provides five clear advantages over PDF:

1. It’s more responsive. Readers get a single page that’s quite readable on a phone, phablet, mini-tablet, tablet, laptop, or desktop.

2. It’s more compatible. It works on multiple versions of all browsers on any platform.

3. It’s far more scannable and easier to share through social networks. Social-sharing buttons in a smart paper aren’t confined to the top or the bottom, but “float” alongside the reader at all times. Plus, it’s easy to find and share specific nuggets of content (such as Instagram items, quotes, and images).

4. It’s simpler to navigate, regardless of device. Visual clues in a smart paper help readers understand the progress they’re making through the material, and enable them to easily jump back and forth between sections. First-time readers can quickly scan documents using these controls. Later, readers can use them upon return when discussing particular points with colleagues.

5. It’s better for SEO. Hey, a smart paper is built with HTML5. While search engines can find PDF content, experts in the SEO community usually prefer to use HTML instead of PDF for better search performance.

Of course, if your audience expects and prefers content in PDF, by all means use that format. PDF, like paper, isn’t going away completely. But there’s no doubt that readers expect your content to be mobile-friendly and utterly shareable—and smart papers can meet that expectation right now.

Have you used smart papers? If so, I’d love to hear about your experience. My email is [email protected]. Drop me a line and let me know how you’re using this format.