The average value for white papers varies, depending on how and where a company uses them. Whether a company devotes staff time to develop white papers or hires a professional white paper writer to handle the process, it normally involves a significant investment, so the company hopes to get more than average value for white papers. Generally, though, the value to be gained from white papers has more to do with how a company uses it than what it costs to develop. The more ways a company leverages a white paper, the greater the value it provides.
White papers: what exactly are they?
In simple terms, white papers are documents that explore complex issues to educate audiences. In the context of business-to-business marketing (or policymaking), a white paper provides enough facts and arguments to convince your target audience that your product, service, or strategy offers the best solution for the situation, educating them about the issue and making a case for your position or advice.
White papers facilitate decision-making because they offer an excellent way to explain what makes your solution better than competing alternatives. Writing white papers can summarize key information about a particular issue or problem to help the reader develop a stronger understanding. White papers can can also describe common problems your target audience faces and provide detailed explanations as to how your approach provides the best solution.
White paper format that works well
Developing a white paper format is very different from creating other kinds of marketing-related writing such as websites, brochures, and blog posts. That’s primarily because white papers are more factual and educational than those other types of content, which tend to be promotional. The difference explains why even experienced marketing writers will turn white paper projects over to professional white paper writers. The non-promotional nature of white papers is why most are simply set up to look like trade magazine articles with fewer pictures. Target audiences are looking for trustworthy information instead of a sales pitch.
White papers tend to begin with a general summary of the problem white paper readers are seeking to solve or the issue they want to know more about. Once that matter has been explored at length, the white paper typically explains the solutions or approaches that have been developed to address the problem or issue, focusing on the solution or approach that you want to advance. White papers often end with a brief message about your company and what it offers. You can also place a list of other references and sources that the reader may find informative at the end of the paper.
Sometimes, white papers include a short abstract, introduction or executive summary at the beginning of the paper to summarize the key messages and conclusion.
Getting more value from white papers
The key to getting the greatest value from your white paper is promoting it effectively, so it reaches more of the audience you wish to reach. There are several content marketing strategies that can be used in conjunction with white papers.
Why are marketing tactics like promotion so important to companies with a white paper? Because all the work you devote to developing your white paper will be meaningless unless you’re able to put it in the hands or on the screens of the people who need to read it. Whether your target audience is prospective customers, employees, policymakers, or another group of stakeholders, you have to get their attention before you can get their business. The good news is there are many easy ways to share your white paper with white paper readers who will find it interesting and meaningful, and then more willing to listen to your sales pitch.
On your website
The most natural use of white papers is posting them on your company’s own website. Why? Visitors to your site aren’t just browsing randomly. They’re seeking more information about your company and its products and services. You can include an image of your white paper format on your home page. Visitors click on that image to download the paper directly or reach a request form that lets you capture names, email addresses, and other key information (what’s known as “gating” your white paper).
Want to track and compare the success of your marketing channels? Think about creating one or more landing pages for your white paper. For example, if you’re promoting your business writing through your trade advertising, email newsletter, a direct mail piece to trade show attendees, and LinkedIn, you would create a separate landing page for each. The pages could be identical, except for their URLs. By tracking the number of unique visitors to each, you can compare how well each channel worked. Then you’ll know where to concentrate your budget.
Websites that provide news and information to the industries you serve may be willing to post a link to your white paper, even if for only a short time. Companies who frequently work as partners with your business might promote your organization by posting your white paper if it benefits them or if you reciprocate with their content.
Emails provide several highly targeted ways to let white paper readers know your “industry journal” is available.If you send email newsletters or other promotional emails, include an announcement about your white paper, along with a link to a special landing page where the visitor can download it. Spotlighting an intriguing statement or statistic will pique the reader’s curiosity and encourage them to download your white paper examples.
Encourage employees to add a promotional link to their email signatures. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Something like this is perfect:
Download our new white paper, “Cross-cutting and spiral-coring: an engineering comparison”
Many industry websites and trade publications send regular email newsletters and provide the ability to buy promotional messages in those newsletters for a comparatively low cost. You can create an ad spotlighting your white paper and link it to a landing page.
White papers and blogs are a marriage made in heaven, and blogging presents several ways to increase awareness of your white paper. A well-organized white paper can become the source of several posts for your company’s blog, each of which can mention the white paper and include a link for downloading it. For example, one blog post can summarize what technical features your good white paper addresses. Another might sum up the research findings. A third could detail your original research.
You can even “tease” topics from the white paper to create interest. The blog post can take the reader through the decision process, but leave out the resolution. To learn how the story ended, the reader has to download your white paper.
Conferences and trade shows
An informative white paper can form the basis for a presentation at an industry conference. The people who run conferences are in a constant search for timely topics that will be of interest to their attendees. When you contact the organizer, you can send a copy of the white paper along as both a summary of your topic and evidence of your credibility as a presenter.
While your presentation will be based on your white paper, don’t share all of the information it contains. Mention you’ve developed a white paper than explores the topic in greater depth and post a link to a landing page. Interested attendees can download a copy and you have the opportunity to capture their email addresses for future marketing. (Including that link in your presentation slides also reaches people who may not have attended your session but looked up your slides on the conference site.)
If you belong to a local industry association or the local chapter of a national group, there may be opportunities to present at a monthly meeting. You can discuss key issues related to your white paper and offer a free download to attendees who would like to know more.
Finally, if your company exhibits at trade shows or industry conferences, you can distribute printed copies of your white paper from your booth. Another option is to encourage attendees to sign up (or swipe their badges) for a free copy in return for an opportunity to win a gift card or some other prize. You can email the white paper and a sales message to them after the show.
Using white papers and videos in conjunction can build website traffic. Your readers may want additional information or greater depth of knowledge in specific areas. You can develop videos that provide that additional information and include the link in your white paper.
For example, if your white paper explains why the cross-cutting technology your veeblefetzers use is better than the industry-standard spiral cutting method, you can create a brief video that shows both methods operating side-by-side. Then, when you discuss cutting methods in the body of your white paper, you can include a line like; To see a quick video of how each method works in actual operation, visit <website link>. Not only will that induce readers to visit your site, but once they do, they may linger and visit other pages.
Video content is particularly powerful on social media, so consider posting the videos you develop to support your white paper on LinkedIn, Twitter, and the other social media sites your organization uses. You can include a link for downloading your white paper.
Writing effective white papers isn’t about what you want to say, it’s all about what your white paper readers need to know. You’ve got to reach those readers where they’re most comfortable. Instead of spouting all the reasons your veeblefetzer is better, maybe your white paper describes your customer’s problem with productivity ceilings. Your white paper tells how Perky Produce improved throughput by 24 percent when they switched to veeblefetzers with cross-cutting technology.
When your white paper connects with a reader, you actually connect with several — especially if your product or service that has a high value or will significantly impact your prospect’s organization. You see, your primary contact probably won’t have the authority to make the purchase decision on their own. At most companies, several individuals or even departments are involved in making major decisions. Your reader thinks your veeblefetzer is worth a closer look, so they share your white paper with the rest of the team. When everyone nervously agrees to take the recommendation to the CEO, your white paper is attached.
Suppose your company sells an expensive piece of equipment that makes users far more productive and efficient. Most buyers see a complete return on their investment within the first year.
The equipment represents a significant capital expense, and the sales cycle is always long and complicated. Your primary contact is one of the production engineers, and they’re convinced your company has the right solution. Unfortunately, they’re not the primary decision-maker. They have to convince the operations manager and the plant manager that your solution has merit. And because of the investment required, the CFO and the CEO will also have to say yes.
What makes the sale even tougher is that your equipment is built around an innovative approach that’s drastically different from what your competitors have sold for decades. So all the decision-makers not only have to be sold on your company’s equipment, but also willing to take a gamble (as they see it) on something brand-new to them.
Your white paper compares the traditional approach to your innovative solution. You include a detailed description of the processes involved to help people like the engineer and the plant manager. You also include a simple diagram to help non-technical decision-makers like the CFO and CEO see the advantages. Instead of sales messages, you share facts and details.
Now the production engineer can use your white paper to help make the case, attaching it to the recommendation to the decision-makers. They can also give copies of the white paper to the operations team so they can see the advantages and add their support. Using a white paper made it easier for you to give the right information to the right people, helping them reach the purchase decision far more quickly.
Who should your white paper writer be?
Anyone can claim to be a white paper guy, but not everyone who claims to know how to develop a good white paper actually has extensive experience with this type of writing. Keep in mind that the typical white paper is a unique type of document that calls for a different mindset from ordinary business writing and promotional materials such as web copy and or a blog post.
Professional white paper writers understand the most effective structure and approach for white papers. After all, white papers are not like brochures, instruction manuals, or other types of business writing documents. And while sales and marketing teams have plenty of knowledge about the products or services you wish to promote, they probably lack the specific skills needed to write a white paper. The same applies to people who have significant amounts of technical knowledge — such as engineers, attorneys, and scientists. They often find it difficult to escape the specialized jargon of their professions and write in ways people outside their professions or industry opinion makers can understand.
Consider opportunity cost
Plus, your team members are already busy, with many responsibilities to tackle in an average week. If you also expect them to write a white paper, what happens to those other tasks? In most cases, the time they would invest in developing a white paper would probably be better spent handling their primary job functions.
It’s a great illustration of the economic concept known as opportunity cost, which describes what you give up when you make a choice. In a typical job, people spend 40 to 50 hours of each week working and most of us pack a long list of tasks into that time. Your team uses that time most efficiently when doing what they’re best at. Specialization tends to increase efficiency, and that’s especially true when it comes to writing white papers.
Professionals are productive
People who write white papers for a living tend to be faster and more productive than non-professionals. Plus, they don’t have other tasks and responsibilities competing for their attention. Another key advantage that helps them write a good white paper is that they bring more objectivity to the process of developing your white paper. They don’t share the internal assumptions or preconceived notions your team is likely to hold about your product or service, so they’re able to challenge the biases and opinions common among marketing teams.
White paper writers need to learn, and that’s good
A professional white paper writer’s lack of knowledge about your company surprisingly may be a significant advantage in developing white papers. Because the white paper writer has to develop a thorough understanding before presenting your message to the outside world, they’ll have to ask a lot of questions. Some are likely to be questions you and your team may not have considered, and may be the same questions your target audience might ask. That allows the writer to address those issues in the white paper.
An outsider is also more likely to view your white paper and the messages it contains from your target audience’s point of view, rather than your team’s. The writer will consider what’s important to the audience and what they need to know, so your ideas and arguments will become more compelling and meaningful to the people you need to reach, leading to more leads and more sales.