Realizing The Potential Of PDF

In many ways PDF (Portable Document Format) has been the ugly duckling of the digital media revolution, lacking the cachet of search, the buzz of mobile, the glamour of video and the whimsy of widgets. Yet it's arguably the most ubiquitous distribution vehicle of online information, a primary conduit of public communication for nearly all large companies and a repository of rich wells of user data. Data which, as Pat Weilmeier, director of marketing at Vitrium Systems, explains below, has till now remained unused.

Behavioral Insider: How did Vitrium come to focus on PDF documents, and then in particular on analyzing reader behaviors?

Pat Weilmeier:
We first got into the area of PDFs because we were a provider of digital rights management tools. But the more we looked at the issues the content publishers faced in distributing content via PDF, whether it was in white papers or promotional literature the more we realized there were a whole set of needs beyond securing or locking access to documents.

Protection was important but the real questions, which had up till then not really been addressed were: how do you secure documents without hurting the reader's experience, and how do you understand how readers interact with your content. Publishers may have known that X amount of documents were downloaded from their Web site but they didn't know WHO was reading them and how they were reading, or, in other words, what content was really interesting and useful to people. That struck us as counter-intuitive because if there's one nearly universal format that all corporations use, it's PDF. Think about how much of their primary marketing information is contained in PDF files.

BI: Describe how your platform evolved.

The first product we brought out addressed the question of how documents were being used once they were downloaded. The technology allowed publishers to record how often documents were actually opened, how long they were open or read and what content they are reading and not reading. So if you have a 14-page white paper you can see that 450 people downloaded the document and it was opened 750 times. You can study the amount of time and find out important patterns. For example you might find out that nearly everyone read through pages 1, 2 and 3 but that a drop-off started by page 4 and nearly everyone or at least a very large majority skipped pages  6 and 7. All of this data will allow marketers to test different page combinations, or a 7 page vs. 14 page format.

It can get far more granular. If I note certain bullets text is much more popular than a table or vice versa, you can create multiple versions of documents and test them.

BI: Who are the primary users at this point, and what are their marketing goals?

The ultimate goal is to produce content readers want to read. What we're attempting is to provide unbiased feedback. The premise is, you increase reader interaction, you increase ROI. At this point I'd put customers into three broad buckets. First, we're seeing a big uptake in lead-generation-oriented marketers, from high-tech and business to business more broadly. For them the goal is to be a thought leader within their industry and leverage that to generate leads. Then we have marketers who aren't really interested so much in lead gen but rather to gain knowledge about customers and what they're most interested in and responsive to. This might be to gain insight into customer interests. Still another group of clients simply want to study behavior to help in preparing more widely read materials by better understanding what appeals to readers.

BI: How about in terms of specific verticals?

From a vertical standpoint, interest is broad within the business space. We're finding expanding use by financial services, software, insurance and hardware. There's great interest coming from educational institutions, nonprofits and government organizations -- all of whom are tremendously heavy users of PDF.

BI: You also mentioned that it was important knowing who readers were. Why?

As important as knowing how PDF documents are used is knowing who exactly is using the documents. Most organizations gain whatever information they can get from Web forms. By placing questionnaires within the PDF document and, more to the point, at optimal locations within documents which are generating highest engagement levels, you can generate much higher participation rates and develop far richer customer profiles.

BI: Would you see this mode of targeting as intrinsically for b to b?

There's great potential in the business to consumer arena. You can imagine packaged goods or consumer electronics manufacturers, for instance, leveraging behavioral data to gather very granular information from customer segments. Let's take a TV manufacturer. People buying a new HDTV download the product info from the Web site and you notice that there's a spike of activity and engagement on pages 5 and 6, where people are focusing on remote controls. You can place your questionnaire on those pages and get much richer data about the uses of different remote controls but also about other user data that might be leveraged for cross-sell or up-sell.

BI: What kinds of new iterations do you expect over the rest of the year and beyond?

One key initiative of the next 6 to 12 months is to take a closer look at how PDFs are distributed beyond their initial downloads. Up until now marketers have entirely missed the whole area of content sharing, influence and recommendation behavior. Beyond that we believe that over the next 6 to 12 months a far wider range of organizations will understand how integral PDF documents are to their entire public promotional presence. Going forward, we see many potential points of integration emerging between our document analytics and Web analytics and CRM.



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