White papers are a powerful tool for marketing, communications, and education, but you may have wondered whether white papers are right for your organization. If you can answer “yes” to any of these five questions, it’s likely white papers can help you … and the more “yes” answers you provide, the more likely white papers should be part of your organization’s toolkit.

1. Is what you offer complicated, innovative, or different than your competitors?

If your company’s product or service is complicated, innovative, or significantly different from what your competitors provide, creating a white paper may be one of the most effective ways to convince people it’s the right choice for their needs.

That’s because selling something complex or innovative demands educating the prospect so they can understand why it represents a better choice. It’s hard to do that convincingly in an ad or email, but white papers are viewed as more serious documents that go into greater depth. A well-written white paper provides enough facts and arguments to educate them while helping them reach the decision you want.

2. Is advertising not sufficient to explain the advantages of what you offer?

Companies have high expectations for advertising or other traditional marketing methods. While those channels can be effective, they rarely allow you the opportunity to explore what makes your product or service better in any depth.  In addition, prospects are wary of channels such as advertising because they know it’s a blatant sales effort.

A well-crafted white paper is more of an informational tool that seeks to educate the reader. Even though it’s coming from the same organization that places an ad, the white paper doesn’t appear to be as promotional, so they’ll give it more credence. Plus, people tend to hang onto white papers longer than they retain ads, giving your message a longer life.

3. Do prospects and customers find it hard to grasp your value proposition?

If I asked you what makes your product or service better, you could answer in an instant. But prospects and customers probably don’t know your value proposition at all or as well as you do. Like you, your customers and prospects are hungry for good information, but they’re also busy. Because their time is limited, they appreciate practical guidance that’s focused on their specific needs, and they trust white papers more than other channels.

They’re willing to take the time to read white papers because they need to know something. Maybe they want to better understand a new technology. Perhaps they’re desperately seeking a solution for a problem that’s hurting their business. Or it could be that they want support for a recommendation they’re making to their bosses. Whatever the reason, white papers provide trustworthy information and improve their perception of your organization and what you offer.

4. Is your sales process lengthy?

If your product or service is a commodity, is easily understood, or typically involves a purchase process that borders on an impulse buy, a white paper is not likely to do much for you. But if you’re selling a high-value product or service that takes many weeks or months to move from initial interest to finished deal, a white paper can help you speed the process along.

5. Does your customers’ decision-making process involve many people?

Often — particularly with items that involve a significant investment of capital, such as plant equipment — purchase decisions are not made by just one or two people at your prospect. Those individuals may have the status and authority to make a recommendation to buy what you offer, but getting final approval may involve earning the blessing of everyone from production engineers, to the operations team, to the CFO and CEO. Unfortunately, you and your team don’t have access to speak with everyone who will play a role in the decision.

That’s when a white paper can stand in for you. A white paper that discusses the advantages of what you offer, contrasts it with other options, and explains how users can get the greatest value from it will help you communicate with decision-makers you can’t reach directly. When your contact attaches your white paper to their recommendation, it not only provides evidence that it’s the right choice, but it may help to answer questions and overcome objections other people in the process may have.

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