White Papers: Educational Documents or Advertisement?

A few days ago, I introduced the topic of white papers and how their definition fluctuates. Jim Lodico left an interesting comment on that topic. Here’s an extract:

I think of white papers as highly persuasive documents that persuade by educating. You are showing the reader a proposed solution to a problem. When done well, the paper truly helps the reader. They are persuasive because they allow the reader to visualize a proposed solution and in doing so, usually lead the reader to the company which provides said solution.
Jim brings up an interesting point: Where is the line drawn between educational white papers and advertisement?

White papers are notorious for generating sales leads. For instance, they can propose business solutions, present new ideas and concepts or serve as a condensed sale’s pitch (think Change This’ manifestos). By educating both decision makers and the public, most white papers manage to “soft sale” their pitch. That being said, some documents are clearly more oriented towards a “hard sell”, hence being more akin to traditional advertisement.

According to this article, “prospects today look to white papers for insights and education – not a sales pitch. When companies ignore this expectation, they risk losing credibility and valuable sales opportunities. They’re killing the goose only to find that there are no golden eggs inside.” We have all experienced at some point hard selling from a clothing store or a telemarketing call. Does this sort of marketing work? A lot of experts seem to think otherwise.

We are curious to hear about your experiences with white papers:

  • Do white papers with an educational purpose generate more leads than “hard sell” documents?
  • Is the lead-to-sale ratio better on educational pieces than on advertisement pieces?
  • Do “hard sell” documents presented as white papers end up hurting the white paper industry?

What Is a White Paper?

What exactly are white papers? This is a tricky question that doesn’t seem to create consensus. What form/layout does a white paper have? Does it have a specific structure? Is it written in a specific style and fashion? What about the layout and content?

Mike Stelzner defines white papers as follow:

The term white paper is an offshoot of the term white book, which is an official publication of a national government. A famous white paper example is the Winston Churchill White Paper of 1922, which addressed political conflict in Palestine.

A white paper typically argues a specific position or solution to a problem. Although white papers take their roots in governmental policy, they have become a common tool used to introduce technology innovations and products. A typical search engine query on “white paper” will return millions of results, with many focused on technology-related issues.

White papers are powerful marketing tools used to help key decision-makers and influencers justify implementing solutions.

According to this definition, a document that brings solutions to a specific problem or issue could be deemed a white paper. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?

Well maybe not.

Defining What Is a White Paper

An interesting discussion happened on the WhitePaperSource forums a few years’ back. The discussion generated from this white paper written by Seth Godin. Is this document a white paper, an article or just a self-promotional piece?

Jonathan Kantor assumes that Seth Godin’s document misses the white paper mark. To qualify as a white paper, it would need the following elements:

  1. Summaries – both Executive and Concluding
  2. Introduction – bringing the reader up to speed on high level issues that form a foundation for issue presentation.
  3. Challenge Presentation – addressing specific business problems that the solution is designed to address.
  4. Solution Presentation – the manner in which a solution solves the afore mentioned business challenges.
  5. Case Study (optional) – a ‘real-life’ example of how a business had challenges and addressed them using the prescribed solution.

Bascially, a white paper doesn’t just bring solutions; it also needs to present those within a specific structure.

Another forum member argued that a white paper is “a workhorse, and its primary job is to entrance, inform, challenge, inspire, and capture the reader. If it doesn’t do that, what’s the point of its existence?

We would like to know what your take on this matter is. How would you define white papers? What is and is not a white paper? Do you find this as confusing as we do?

How to pick the right content type to reach your target audience?

Let me highlight the car salesman analogy to drive home the point of why creating and marketing the right content type is crucial. If you were a carsales man would you recommend a soccer mom to test drive a 2 door, fast and flashy convertible? How about showing a 7 seater mini van to a cool and hip bachelor? You wouldn’t, right? You would first take notice of the person(aka target market segment) walking into the car dealership show room and then know what car(aka right content) to show them. Why not apply the same rule when choosing content type to reach your target audience?

There are too many content types in this digital era.
Just look at this list of different content types which are used today.

Brochures
Data Sheets
Videos
Podcasts
Product Sheets
white papers
Newsletters
Websites
Blogs
Case Studies
Design Guides
Webinars
Solution Overviews
ROI Calculators
Tutorials
Demos
Webcasts
Web content
Landing pages
Presentations
Flash
Emails
Direct mail

Doesn’t looking at this list alone make your head spin?

Given the information overloaded world we live in, the key is to choose the right content type and the appropriate marketing vehicle to get your message across to your target audience. If you take effort to offer your prospects and customers appropriate, compelling content you can not only demonstrate expertise but also can build trust and grow your business. How do you get started?

Use the traditional marketing strategy STP to pick the right content type. STP stands for Segmenting – Targeting – Positioning

Segmenting: Identify market segments. Be aggressive about defining your target segment.
Targeting: Target your content/product/service for that target segment. Have laser focus when targeting a particular segment. Don’t think big & broad. Think niche.
Positioning: Position your content/product/service specifically to the target segment.

Questions to ask before choosing the right content type

What is your objective in creating and marketing content? [Think SMART goal. SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound.] What is your target market segment?
What are the characteristics of your target market segment?
What message do you want to convey to your customers and prospects?
What informational needs do your customers and prospects have?
How do you want to position your product or service?

After you answer these questions, choose a content type and the appropriate marketing vehicle to carry your message across to your target audience.

For example, if your goal is to educate and inform your target segment about your new product and your target segment prefers written material that is a “soft-sell” (as compared to a “hard-sell” product brochure), one type of content to pick would be a solution white paper.

Once you have decided that a white paper is the right content type to reach your target segment, ask yourself the following questions:

Is your whitepaper intended towards an audience outside the company or inside?
Are they technical decision markers or business decision makers?
How do you influence your target segment?
What information are they looking for?
What is the call-for-action at the end of your whitepaper?

If the white paper is intended to appeal to a business decision maker, are you presenting information at a high level? You need to give the business benefits in 3-5 bullet points.

On the other hand, if the white paper is for a technical decision maker, you need to share a whole lot of technical deep-dive information and proof points to influence them.

If you are creating an internal whitepaper intended to educate and train your sales force, be sure to include the following – detailed competitive updates, trigger questions to ask prospects, possible objections that prospects might raise and how to counter them.

In today’s environment, as customers are bombarded with constant ads and messages, it is very critical for you to share messages as stories that engage and inspire action. Step away from your traditional content development and content marketing process. Help your customer process information easily. Capture your customer’s imaginations.

Don’t just throw content out and hope it will stick and produce the results you want.
Pick the right content type to reach your target audience.

Over to you…

What are the different types of target audience you deal with?
Does your target audience prefer one type of content over another?
Which marketing vehicles do you use to reach your target audience?

Content Marketing – The Ultimate Cheat Sheet

You and I live in an era when creating and distributing content have become democratized. The axiom “Build it and they will come” has been changed to “Provide compelling content and they will come“. If you are creating or marketing a white paper, Ebook or any other type of content, you probably have already heard all the buzz about Content Marketing and are wondering

  • What is Content Marketing?
  • Why should I care about Content Marketing?
  • Where do I get started?
  • How do I apply “Content Marketing” concepts in creating and marketing White Papers or Ebooks?

What is Content Marketing?

Wikipedia page for Content Marketing says “Marketers may use content marketing as a means of achieving a variety of business goals, such as thought leadership, lead generation, increasing direct sales, improving retention and more.”

Content marketing’s agenda is to educate and inform customers and prospects. Content Marketing’s slogan is – “Don’t pitch. Don’t sell. Don’t interrupt. Educate, inform and provide value to customers and prospects. Your business will grow.

Content marketing must focus on what is valuable to the customer and must solve their informational needs.

Why should you care about content marketing?

Buying decisions for customers in today’s digital era don’t follow the traditional “customer journey purchase funnel”. Your prospects seek information from multiple sources before making a purchase decision. That is why businesses and individuals are increasingly using valuable content as a great marketing tool. Given this paradigm shift, it is in your best interest to selflessly provide customers useful information to influence buying decisions.

Where do you start?

In order to learn what are the ideas behind Content Marketing and how to leverage these ideas for creating and marketing your content, I highly recommend getting started with these following set of blogs written by thought leaders who are championing Content Marketing.

White Paper Blogs

A white paper addresses customer’s problems and how to solve them. White papers may be used to: educate customers and prospects, generate sales leads, establish thought leadership, make a business case and help customers and prospects in making intelligent buying decisions. White paper should always focus on the reader’s needs rather than the product or service. Many research studies have shown that white papers are very powerful marketing tools.

There are three excellent blogs that have great advice and tips on how to write and market white papers which in turn will lead to business growth.

Michael Stelzner’s Writing White Papers

Jonathan Kantor’s White Paper Pundit

Philip Dunn’s Quality Writer

Jim Lodico’s White Paper Solution

CopyWriting Blogs

In today’s Content world, Copywriting skills are essential to help you succeed both as a writer and marketer because you need to convey your ideas clearly in order to influence your readers.

There are two great blogs that speak about all things related to copywriting including blogs, landing pages, ebooks, emails etc. There are many valuable lessons from both these blogs about persuasive writing.

Brian Clark’s Copyblogger offers tips on how to write content for marketing success.

Robert Bly’s CopyWriting has advise on copywriting and direct marketing.

Content Marketing Blogs

I have collected a list of content marketing blogs below. Each of these blogs teaches you how to create compelling content of different flavors(B2B marketing, viral marketing, community building, social media) to drive business growth.

Joe Pulizzi’s Junta42 is a go to place for all things related to content marketing.

Newt Barrett’s ContentMarketingToday share ideas on how to connect with your customers.

David Meerman Scott’s WebinkNow discusses viral marketing strategies using blogs & ebooks.

Ardath Albee’s MarketingInteractions gives advice on customer-focused eMarketing Strategies for B2Bs.

Patsi Krakoff’s WritingontheWeb offers ideas on how to write content on your business blogs that not only provides great information but also builds relationships, and converts readers to clients.

Mark Nagurski’s ReallyPractial focuses on marketing ideas that lead directly to increased sales by bringing together sound marketing practice, business development strategies and sales techniques.

Chris Brogans’ Blog shares ideas on leveraging social media and building community.

Bob Gilbreath talks about how to add value to customers at MarketingwithMeaning.

You can stay tuned about content marketing news at Alltop’s Content Marketing portal and at Junta42’s Top 42 Content Marketing blogs.

Great Blogs Posts on Content Marketing

I have also collected a great list of blog posts that are experts’ insights into Content Marketing.

Internet has democratized publishing like never before. Joe Pulizzi talks about this and how content is more valued now than ever before in his blog post Everyone is a Publisher…and Why this Really Matters .

What do the three little pigs have to do with Content marketing? Mark Nagurski uses this great analogy to show how marketing a business through traditional marketing methods isn’t going to work any more in his post on What the Three Little Pigs Can Teach You About Content Marketing.

Sonia Simone’s blog post on The Matrix Guide to Content Marketing is not just applicable to bloggers. You can use her advise even if you are writing a white paper or ebook.

  1. Tell stories that show how you’ve helped your readers with what matters most to them.
  2. Deep dives to explore benefits that are especially relevant to your content community.
  3. Create case studies for each type of customer you serve, and show specifically how your product or service benefits those customers.

Understanding the new breed of buyers and using an effective content marketing strategy is key in this new content era. Read Newt Barrett’s post on The Secret to Online Marketing in the 21st Century : It’s the Content, Stupid!

Chris Brogan points out why it is important to embrace content marketing and lays out the steps in his post How Content Marketing Will Shake the Tree.

Joe Pulizzi shares 10 key points on the changing face of marketing in his post Seth Godin: “Content Marketing is the Only Marketing Left” and 10 New Marketing Lessons.

How do you get started on content marketing? Tips for Getting Your Content Marketing Initiative Started post has great advice on setting up content marketing initiative right from establishing a budget to planning ahead for ongoing content development.

Joe Pulizzi gathers Content Marketing thoughts from Newt Barrett, Chris Brogan and Paul Gillin in his post Striking Content Marketing Gold – Direct from the Content Experts

How do you apply “Content Marketing” concepts?

10 Key Content Marketing lessons to apply to creating and marketing white paper and Ebooks.

  1. Plan in advance so your white paper or Ebook fits well into your intergrated content marketing strategy.
  2. Find 3 strategic goals you want to meet with your white paper or Ebook.
  3. Find out who is your target audience before you start.
  4. Think about how you can influence your readers. e.g., case studies, ROI calculations, research, surveys.
  5. Understand the informational needs of your prospects and customers and create what matters most to them.
  6. Connect with you prospects and customers. Listen. Hold two-way conversations.
  7. Use social media to leverage for your investment in producing white papers or Ebooks.
  8. Have an ongoing update plan for your white paper or Ebook. Delivering consistently is important to building a relationship with your customer.
  9. Use analytics to evaluate how readers engage with your white paper or Ebook.
  10. Use metrics to measure what is the ROI(Return on Investment) for your white paper or Ebook. Use these metrics to fine-tune your content strategy.

Over to you…

No list is by any means exhaustive. Feel free to add to the lists above.

What are your favorite content marketing blogs and blog posts?

What content marketing concepts are you using in your business?