Demand for traditional content marketing assets continues to fade. In the place of custom print publications and standard PDFs, companies are moving toward shorter, more visually oriented digital assets. At TDA Group, our clients are increasingly requesting blog articles as well as video, eye-catching infographics, and datagrams that can be posted on social media and consumed on mobile devices.

Clients are also asking for interactive assets. They want to engage prospects who are in self-service discovery mode. These potential customers are learning about products and services on their own without salesperson assistance. They crave relevant information and immediate answers to questions, but they want to click and swipe rather than dial or email.

Enter the “smart paper.” Smart papers hold the promise to better engage prospects than many traditional assets in part by capitalizing on new technologies. In particular, smart papers can offer several advantages over traditional PDFs.

But what exactly is a smart paper?

Recognizing the family traits of a smart paper
The idea of the smart paper has been around for a few years, but its definition continues to shift and evolve. (The fact that “smart paper” and “smartpaper” are terms also used to mean other technologies that aren’t related to content marketing has probably made it more difficult for marketers to establish a clear definition.)

Nevertheless, there are a few common characteristics—family traits—that most smart papers share. A smart paper is:

Digital
A smart paper might take a variety of forms, but all of those forms are digital. A smart paper might initially appear very similar to an infographic, web page, or mobile app. But the content and design are hosted online, much like a web page, with a URL. The smart paper can have a unique domain or a subdomain. Like other marketing assets, the smart paper can be promoted in email campaigns and through other channels by providing a link to that URL.

Interactive
What makes a smart paper “smart” is its interactive user experience. At a base level, a smart paper incorporates reader-controlled navigation. The reader can quickly skip from one section to the next, or from one chapter to another, by using an interactive table of contents.

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In addition to a table of contents, this smart paper offers an easy way to fast-forward to any part of the paper.

Of course, creative smart papers can do even more. For instance, you can “gamify” a smart paper, creating a digital asset that lets readers answer quiz-like queries, choose from among several possible outcomes, and progress through the paper in different ways depending on their input.

Mobile-optimized
Given the increasing prevalence of mobile devices, smart papers are optimized for mobile devices. First, a smart paper must use technologies that work on the full range of mobile operating systems. HTML5—not Flash—should be the starting point.

A smart paper should also be designed to look great on a variety of small screens, as well as large ones, and it should not require extensive input from a mouse or keyboard. Letting readers swipe, scroll, and touch-select options will help ensure they can participate and interact no matter where they are and what device they are using.

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Mobile-optimized smart papers should look good on a full range of device types and form factors.

Shareable
More and more prospects are getting their content from sources beyond a company’s traditional sales channels. A smart paper must be easily shared on social media, across professional networks, by email, and through other methods.

You can make it easy to share on Twitter, LinkedIn, and so on by using a shortened URL. Within the document itself, you might facilitate the process by incorporating social-sharing buttons. With a smart paper, those buttons do not have to be anchored to a nav bar—you can make them continuously accessible by having them float. Or you can place them next to particularly shareable content, such as a video or graphic.

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A floating bar with social media buttons facilitates sharing.

Search-optimized
Unlike a PDF, smart paper content is search-optimized. Search optimization will help make sure people can find your content even if they are just starting from scratch, typing keywords into a search engine.

Is a smart paper right for you?
Smart papers are not likely to replace all other assets. There are still places for noninteractive PDFs, straightforward blog posts, and appealing infographics. But many companies will find that smart papers can play an important role in educating and engaging customers.

Want to see how smart papers can work for you? Check out our post about the advantages of smart papers over PDFs. Or take a look at this sample and this sample of smart papers we’ve recently created. And please feel free to ask me any questions about these exciting assets.