Finding the Right Content Mix on CD-ROM

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Business-to-business companies have discovered the marketing power of CD-ROMs. Besides being inexpensive to reproduce, CD-ROMs are easily updated and allow for the dynamic communication of a company's product and corporate messages. CDs also hold an enormous amount of information.


This particularly benefits BTB companies selling complicated technology solutions or intricately manufactured products. Best of all, a well-designed CD gives viewers choices: The viewer can review the engineering specs or skip them to see something more exciting.


There are many aspects to designing a CD. Before production starts, you must pinpoint how the CD will be used, identify the audience and determine what action you want viewers to take after viewing it. Design and programming matters also must be thought out.


While most marketers consider all of these things, they give surprisingly little forethought to the writing. Many people think that writing is intuitive - we all do it, so there's not much to think about, right? Not exactly. How you communicate your messages can make or break the project.


The good news is that there are many ways to communicate using CDs, including video, still text, moving copy, voiceovers, interviews, speeches and downloadable information. The bad news is that with this variety comes critical decisions on which communications will best help you reach your objectives. Here are a few writing styles for CD-ROMs and a guide for when and how to use them:


Writing straight up. Every multimedia project at some point integrates static text to communicate information. Though this type of treatment sounds bland, it can be the most effective way to communicate the contents of a list or a lot of information at once. Don't distract viewers with razzmatazz when you need to highlight engineering specs or product details, define a new technology or communicate a complicated message. Instead, use still text that's short and to the point. Use the active voice, and fill the screen with bullet points made up of verbs and nouns rather than laden with adjectives that tend to make you sound bombastic.


Words that move you. Just a step away from static text is moving text - a more exciting, playful way to communicate that you can easily program into a CD-ROM. Use this approach throughout the CD-ROM to break up presentations that are designed to communicate detailed information.


With only three or four words allotted to you, carefully select the ones that will have the biggest effect on the audience. Consider the feeling you want someone to get when your words flash by. And, speaking of flash, remember that you only have a few moments to communicate so choose words that are short, hard hitting and that relate clearly to any visuals on the screen. In addition, talk in terms of performance benefits rather than technical features; save features for the static text sections.


Finding your voice. High-quality voiceovers and music at a low compression sound great, but take up a lot of space on a CD-ROM. Before full production, therefore, it's vital to determine how many voiceover sections you want and at what intervals (90 seconds, etc.).


How do you determine this? Decide what messages you want to emphasize, or think about what sections need "a little something" to help them sound believable. For example, voiceovers work well when you want to describe a successful product implementation for a customer. The "voice of the customer" adds credibility to the story.


Hire a professional with experience in developing voiceover scripts. This type of writing is tricky. The writer needs to consider the communications points as well as the personality of the "voice." The words must come alive, yet sound natural. Nothing is more of a turn-off than an introductory voiceover that sounds like a reading of the company's annual report or like a used-car salesman's pitch.


One hint: Make sure the writer is present during the voiceover takes. Only the writer knows exactly where there should be vocal emphasis, and a good writer also will want to make minor improvements to the script after hearing the voice talent rehearse.


Video killed the writing star. Video files take up more space on a CD-ROM than any other file type. So, again, use this communications tool to convey the most important message. Consider integrating video when including a message from the president, chairman or CEO. Seeing him or her live makes the speech much more credible and meaningful to the audience. Or, use video to show something that's hard to demonstrate with words.


Scriptwriting for a video is twice as complicated as it is for a voiceover, and 10 times as complicated as for static text. The video writer must consider the body language and natural personality of the on-screen talent in addition to the message she is trying to communicate. In some cases, corporate executives will be the "talent," making the job of infusing energy into someone else's speech even sketchier.


There are many ways to use a CD-ROM, including employee training, sales presentations, direct mailings and trade show giveaways. It can include company Web site links, e-mail connections to company personnel, downloadable documents or videos, messages from the president, corporate branding screen savers and anything you can dream up that will interest your audience.


Just don't forget that despite all of these features, your CD-ROM's success comes down to the words. So make them count, and everything else will fall into place.


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