White papers can be extremely effective when it comes to lead generation.
A recent Demand Gen report found that 63% of B2B buyers surveyed shared their contact information to download a white paper. The same report noted that B2B buyers find white papers quite valuable during the early stage of the buying process. White papers are also the No. 1 shared content among B2B buyers surveyed. Webinars and case studies followed.
The 2020 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends—North America report by the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) shows that ebooks and white papers — along with social media and blog posts — are still among the top 10 top types of content used by B2B marketers to help them achieve their specific objectives.
There are a number of ways to ensure your white paper is an effective tactic in your marketing plan. Like any other piece of content, it has to focus on the primary needs of your targeted audience. But there’s much more to it than that.
Here are four tips to help you write a great white paper.
If you’ve read white papers, you’ve probably seen that they vary in terms of content and style.
However, the intent of a white paper is to pinpoint a problem that’s particularly vexing to your target audience and demonstrate not only that you understand their problem, but that your company has the solution.
Those two aspects — an issue of high interest to your audience that can be best solved by you — are the two pillars of great white paper topics, according to Steve Slaunwhite, best-selling author and “Copywriting Smarts” blogger.
For Janeen Hazel, director of marketing at Luth Research, it’s a similar story. The leading marketing research company uses white papers as a call to action in its advertising campaigns, as press opportunities and as added value for existing clients. The content must be relevant to the specific audience the firm is targeting.
“It is very important that our white papers focus on how the data we are reporting can apply to a handful of industries,” she says. “We are careful to point out in every white paper the ‘how’ and ‘why’ this data is important to the reader.”
If you’re considering a white paper, keep in mind who you’re writing it for and why it matters to them.
You may have what you think is the greatest white paper topic ever, or your CEO may want to expand on his or her favorite subject, but if it doesn’t speak to the needs of your potential client, then it’s time to have another brainstorming session.
Good white papers will give your potential clients more detailed information about an issue without overtly selling your product.
Even if the white paper uses someone from your company as the primary source to show them as a thought leader, you should avoid talking only about your product. Instead, do your research. In fact, the Demand Gen report noted that 66 percent of B2B buyers want vendors to use more data and research to support content. How do you do that?
While the white paper is definitely a marketing tool, it is presented as offering unbiased and objective information, so your product or service is only mentioned generically, if at all.
Good white papers will introduce the solution in one of several ways:
It’s a fine line. You want to make it clear that you have the solution your customers are looking for, but you don’t want to beat them over the head with it.
This may seem obvious. Why would anyone produce a piece of content that wasn’t good? But in the rush to feed the insatiable content beast, some folks pull stuff out of the oven before it’s ready to serve.
Michele Lin of the Content Marketing Institute puts it simply: “I would like to see marketers focus more on creating fewer but exceptional white papers and then truly putting a strong promotional plan behind them.”
Maybe you can live with a less-than-amazing blog post or tweet, but your audience has higher expectations for a white paper.
There’s another reason, too. People’s BS meter. According to the Demand Gen report recently cite, 96 percent or respondents said they’d like B2B vendors to curb the sales messages, thereby improving the content. They want advice they can trust, not an overt sales push.
Since you’ve invested the time and money in creating a white paper, you’ll need to make it shine in the design phase.
This is not the time to go “casual Friday.” You want to dress up this content and present it as professionally as possible.
Even if the content is terrific, your audience may not give it a second glance if the design is amateurish.
It’s also a long document, so break up the text as you would a web page and make it more readable by using some of the following:
As an example, here’s a page from a white paper on energy efficiency in the private sector in the U.K. that uses strong images, white space and graphics:
Here’s another example from LifeMed ID that shows data presented in a graph, a research citatation, short paragraphs and headings:
If you’ve decided to move ahead with a white paper, you need a writer. You can always try tasking a writer in your own marketing department to write the white paper, if he or she has the time.
Or you can hire a freelance writer to do it for you. I’d love to hear about your project. Feel free to contact me.