Numerous research studies have shown time and again that white papers are very powerful marketing tools to show thought leadership and generate leads while also providing critical information to both technical and business decision makers. White papers are meant as a “soft sell”. They typically discuss solutions for the problems facing a customer rather than just doing a “hard sell” for a product or service. White papers also offer insight and serves as how-to guides for a particular target audience.
Common white paper types include solution overviews, technology briefings, buyer’s guides, planning and implementation guides, application guides, ROI guides, case studies, business implication discussions, strategy discussions, industry trend overviews, issues analyses etc
- How do you get started on writing and marketing a white paper?
- What are the various components of a white paper?
- How do you ensure the white papers land in the hand of the right decision makers?
There are two great books that deal exclusively about white papers and provide answers to these questions:
“Writing White Papers: How to Capture Readers and Keep Them Engaged” by white paper guru Michael Stelzner, editor of the WhitePaperSource newsletter, a publication dedicated to helping writers and marketing professionals master the art of white papers.
Michael Stelzner & Robert Bly have both written numerous white papers for many of the world’s most recognized companies. They have been in the trenches and every chapter in both the book is filled with practical tips based on their own experiences writing white papers and marketing them.
“There are really only two ways to write white papers: (1) by focusing on your self-interests or (2) by concentrating on the interests of your readers. The self-interest or “chest-beating” approach focuses exclusively on a product, service or solution by expounding on its benefits, features and implications. While effective in some circumstances, this approach is best left for something other than a white paper, such as a data sheet or product brief.”
– Michael Stelzner
In “Writing White Papers: How to Capture Readers and Keep Them Engaged”, Michael Stelzner reveals his insights and tips about creating compelling whitepapers.Michael Stelzner highlights that whitepapers are used for three main reasons: to show thought leadership, for lead generation and to close sales. He has terrific advice on every step to writing a white paper – from start to finish; picking the right topic, identifying readers, deciding on clear objectives, developing an outline, doing research, writing and marketing a white paper. He also shares valuable and practical tips on getting started with the first page, choosing a compelling title, writing the core, formatting the whitepaper and marketing the white paper to get it in the hands of the right decision maker.
Take a look at the book excerpt and its table of contents here.
“The best white papers have two things. The first is that they are conversational, natural language-driven. It’s really two people talking to each other in an informal tone. The second is to not focus on why your readers should use a certain product, but how it can benefit them. I like to give tips that the readers can use even if they don’t use my product. The main thing is they should be able to get value out of reading your white paper even if they don’t ultimately buy your product. Too often, people think writing white papers means ‘sell this product’.”
– Robert Bly
In “The White Paper Marketing Handbook”, Robert Bly, discusses about how to create effective white papers and to build successful marketing campaigns to create interest, generate leads, build relationships, and ultimately drive sales. He shares a ten-step process of creating and increasing demand with effective use of white papers. The case studies in his book bring to light many practical applications of white papers in real-world situations.
5 key take aways from Michael Stelzner’s book
- Give value to your reader: The whitepaper’s underlying strength rests on this premise: If you give readers something of value, they will give you their loyalty, and ultimately their business.
- Identify your reader: Asking many questions to clearly define the ideal reader will not only help you bring clarity to your white paper project, it will also enhance your credibility.
- Adopt problem-solution approach: By leading with some challenges faced by your readers and suggesting how to solve their problems, you can develop a compelling white paper that engages readers.
- Include a “call to action”: Provide an actionable step that guides readers once they reach the end of your whitepaper. This will help keep prospects engaged with your solution.
- Interview experts: To obtain “content-rich” whitepapers interview experts to speed up the research process and get access to information that you will never find on your own.
5 key take aways from Robert Bly’s book
- Focus on reader: White paper should focus on the reader’s issue or problem and offer information that will lead him or her towards a solution. A white paper should not be a sales brochure or company data sheet.
- 3 U’s formula: “3 U’s” formula for crafting titles is also applicable for creating for a white paper as well. Be ultra-specific, unique and useful to your ideal readers.
- Integrated Marketing: A white paper should effectively fit into successful Integrated Marketing Communications efforts. It should have consistency with the messaging in other marketing collaterals.
- Edu-marketing strategy: Educate and inform potential customers. This will in turn lead to business success.
- Don’t sell: White paper should be a “soft sell” and is intended to make a favorable impression with the reader about the product or service.
Given all the buzz about content marketing, I highly recommend reading “Writing White Papers: How to Capture Readers and Keep Them Engaged” & “The White Paper Marketing Handbook“. These books are not just for whitepaper writers and marketers. The lessons learnt from both these books can be applied to writing and marketing any other form of content as well.
Buy both the books, read them and keep them handy for reference.