When planning your 2011 marketing strategy, consider the benefits of white papers. They are influential information tools that can significantly boost your credibility and marketing capabilities.
Nearly three quarters of business leaders read at least one white paper every six months, according to a November 2009 study from Eccolo Media. The same study found that 84 percent of respondents considered white papers very influential when it came time to make purchasing decisions.
Consumers and business leaders have a constant influx of marketing materials. Well-crafted white papers can cut through the fog to illuminate your company and the targeted solutions that you offer. Decision-makers and potential purchasers crave simplicity, authority and authenticity, and the clarity of a great white paper can boost the marketing strategy of any small business.
What Is a White Paper?
Ask 10 different business leaders and marketers and you'll get 10 different answers.
Traditionally, white papers were used for educational and governmental purposes. They were seen as informational and analysis-based, and used to help persuade readers regarding a position or a solution.
Today, companies, corporations and small businesses use white papers to spotlight their brands, convey key information about their products and carve out competitive space. They’re typically documents of substance, on average between four and 10 pages with graphics and illustrations.
White papers provide readers with unique information that they can’t find elsewhere. The search marketing firm iProspect publishes a list of white papers and studies for consumers and influencers. Global real estate firm CB Richard Ellis has its own line of white papers geared toward the distinct needs of its clients and prospective partners.
A well-written white paper isn't a glorified sales sheet. The phrase “white paper” conjures an image of credibility, due diligence and careful consideration. Consumers and business leaders expect a white paper to offer a high degree of quality and expertise. These documents tackle specific issues and questions. They provide insight and concrete solutions, and illuminate trends.
Tips for Maximizing White Paper Potential
You can’t just sit down and bang out a white paper in 10 minutes. These take forethought, planning, and a deft writing touch. Entrepreneurs should also use the web and social media to gain exposure to their white papers.
Here are a few tips for maximizing your white paper potential:
- Tee up the right topic: Consider your target market and what questions you'd like to answer. Interject your own expertise into existing problem. Look ahead to future product launches and examine ways to lay the groundwork for solutions.
- Make it sing: Your writing must be top notch. Half of respondents in the Eccolo Media survey said that good writing is very influential. Entrepreneurs can hire companies like iCopywriter or individual journalists/writers to help out.
- Limit the hard sell: The best white papers provide information, illumination, solutions and insight. Avoid blatant marketing and self-serving prose. Focus on consumers and prospective partners and ways their needs can be met.
- Take a journalistic approach: Don’t be afraid to interview experts in your field as well as in your own company. Get as much information as possible to flesh out your argument.
- Consider the time: Consider the content-production side as well as the reader’s time. Excellent white papers take a while to create, so don’t expect 10 or 20 hours to be enough in some cases. Aim for a final product no longer than eight pages.
- Make a great landing page: Build a crisp landing page. Consider creating a short video that explains the paper and guides readers through an overview before they download. Capture email addresses through the download process and start building a marketing list.
- Push them out: Businesses can syndicate white papers through several outlets and websites. A basic white paper sponsorship at technology hub TechTarget ranges from $10,000 to $15,000 for a three-month posting. You can also use white papers to provide incentives and giveaways in pay-per-click advertising campaigns.
- Don't stop at one: White papers can steamroll once you start. Crank out a half-dozen to 10 white papers and build a separate Education Center or Resource Center on your website to house them. Each white paper will add to your marketing strategy.
Chris Birk is director of content and communications for VA Mortgage Center.com, the nation's No. 1 dedicated VA lender. A recovering journalist, he also teaches at a private Midwestern university. Follow him @cjbirk.
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