Several months ago, a widely debated blog post was published that touted the death of the white paper in B2B marketing (I’ve provided a link to the posts and a related Focus expert Q&A.) As a writer, the thought of the white paper going away wasn’t exactly heartbreaking because authoring one can be a long, arduous affair. But, is this idea really accurate? Has the white paper outlived its usefulness in today’s sales and marketing landscape?
As a marketing automation provider, we continue to receive a steady stream of requests from partners, customers and prospects for white papers and best practices. Our white papers are popular downloads – and many of those website visitors return to the site numerous times. So my answer is, “No. No way. Not by a long shot.” I do think, however, the era of the sales pitch, listen-to-how-great-we-are paper ended a long time ago.
Educational content, an interesting and empirical point of view and actionable information contribute to papers that are so much more compelling than reading endless prose that is nothing more than an over-stuffed meatball sandwich (though I do love a good meatball sub – Dedham House of Pizza rules).
Back to the subject at hand of white papers. In order to ensure you’re spending time writing papers that are valuable and have the potential to develop a loyal readership, we’ve put together a list of our favorite white paper tips:
1. Snap out of Clichés. Your product isn’t the same as everyone else’s so don’t fall into the B2B “parrot” syndrome. Words and phrases such as: innovative, market leader, scalable and cutting edge almost always make the list of Most Overused. We’re not saying you have to abandon these words altogether – but use them sparingly and in a meaningful context.
2. Prove Your Point. Where possible, include reliably sourced metrics. Data points and sources can really give your paper and ideas credibility, plus graphs and charts can break up the copy. Speaking of which…
3. Avoid the Ambien Express. Have you ever downloaded a white paper that would perform double-duty as a powerful sedative? Keeping technical B2B topics interesting, while retaining the crux of the message can be difficult, but it’s worth the time and energy. Great papers are read, circulated and saved as resources.
4. Break It Up. Having an abstract or introduction at the beginning helps set the tone and expectations for the paper. Additionally, descriptive headings can help keep the copy more digestible, and if the viewer is so inclined, skim-able.
5. Substance Trumps Length. Ever been tasked with writing a 1500-word paper, only to find you’ve covered the salient points in 1200? Making a compelling case is more important than authoring your corporate equivalent of War and Peace.
6. Listen to Feedback. While you might think your paper has split the atom, it may not be resonating with viewers. Provide readers with a way to contact you or your company with questions, comments, etc. You may also want to turn to your social media network for suggestions about future topics. Utilize Twitter, LinkedIn or your blog as ways to solicit feedback about current papers and get ideas for future ones.
7. Set Your Content Free? The traditional white paper model required someone to complete a form to gain access to white papers. These days, many websites are making their content available without requiring registration. It’s easy to argue both sides of the coin – building an opt-in database is important but not discouraging viewers with forms is also critical. Consider straddling the fence by making introductory level content all-access and more specific, proprietary information registration required.
We hope these tips give you actionable ways to think about your white papers so you don’t need to bury them before their time. Think the white paper is yesterday’s news? Please drop us a line or tweet.