If you work in marketing (or even if you don’t!) you will almost certainly have heard of white papers. In fact, so prevalent have white papers become in the world of business that you would be hard pushed to find a serious business that doesn’t invest some of their annual marketing budget into producing them.
A white paper is a lengthy, thorough and authoritative report that aims to investigate a specific complex business issue. They are produced by businesses who want to help their customers, clients and any other interested parties better understand their products or services and, since the 1990s, white papers have become an integral component of thought leadership content marketing.
White papers provide heavy duty content that is well researched and focussed and they are incredibly effective at establishing brand authority. The aim of the paper is to promote a product, a service or a viewpoint but unlike brochures, white papers do not deliver a sales pitch. Instead they provide research into topics that are relevant to their sponsor with the result that the sponsor is viewed by potential clients and customers as an expert within their field.
White papers are designed to be used as a pre-sales marketing tool and their purpose is to generate leads, make a strong business case and establish the authority and expertise of the company sponsoring the paper.
Typically, white papers are used for B2B (business to business) marketing purposes but can also be used to great effect within B2C (business to consumer) marketing. They are most effective at communicating specific details about an offering and they are incredibly useful references for anyone who wants to know more about your sector or understand specifics about a particular type of product. If you produce consistently helpful, authoritative and accurate content in the form of white papers then the readers of your papers will come to view you as a trusted adviser and will be inclined to purchase goods and services from you rather than from your competitors because they judge you to be a credible source.
A high quality, well researched and professionally executed white paper can provide many, and sometimes all, of the following benefits to your business.
A white paper is absolutely the best way to generate leads because white papers are generally aimed at prospects who are at the start of the buying process. A white paper is not a sales pitch but it does use soft sales techniques to inform, persuade and advise its readers about an issue or a problem and will position you as a trusted advisor. When prospects are in a position to invest then they will be more likely to want to do business with you because they have an awareness of your brand and you have established yourself as an authority on that particular product. When it comes to making a purchase your prospects feel so positive about your company that they’re naturally inclined to do business with you.
It may be that your business is about to launch a new product or service and you want to provide analysts, journalists and marketeers with information about the product prior to its launch. Publishing a white paper will allow you to shed light on what’s new, explain its benefits and highlight any improvements that have been made to the product.
If your prospects have short listed you as a possible vendor and are weighing up the pros and cons of various products then a white paper can be a powerful resource to swing the decision in your favour. Your offering will very often be evaluated against your competitors’ offerings and a white paper which is packed full of technical details and which highlights the business benefits of your product will give your prospects the information that they need at the time that they need it.
You can imagine how much a vendor who explains their offering benefits over someone who doesn’t and indeed, a vendor who does not explain their product and give a technical evaluation may well be removed from the short list of possible suppliers all together. In these circumstances it can pay huge dividends to publish a white paper.
If your business is an undisputed leader in your field or if your brand is already well known to your future prospects then it makes sense for you to publish a white paper because your knowledge, experience and expertise holds a lot of sway within B2B and B2C marketing. If your white paper sets out a powerful case for adopting a particular approach then it is likely to generate a lot of leads for your business from clients who recognise you as an established authority within your field.
White papers aren’t limited to singing the praises of your own business, brand or offering- they can also be used to undermine your competition. Writing a white paper which damages your competitors whilst simultaneously highlighting how much better your product is, can be an incredibly effective way of marketing. This approach is known as FUD- casting Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt on your competitors, and is a classic marketing technique.
Every big corporation resorts to FUD at some point and it’s a useful tactic if you and a competitor are fighting over market share and you find yourself repeatedly on the same short list of B2B vendors. A white paper published at the right time could help you to close the deal.
If you want to maximise your sales you need to ensure that your offerings are understood by the people selling your product. A white paper will inform your salespeople about the problems that your offering is designed to solve and give information about its purpose, it’s potential and how it should be used. An effective white paper will give your sales team all the background information that they need in order to discuss the product with your potential clients in an informed and authoritative way.
A white paper also provides your salespeople with a credible and powerful document that they can use to close the deal or open the pitch. Your white paper should also reduce any concerns that your prospects may have about your offering.
Another use for your white paper is to feed the media, influencers and opinion leaders high quality content that is helpful and well informed. By regularly publishing white papers you are providing yourself with the means to influence the influencers and if this results in editorial coverage within sector specific publications or other high profile publications then you will see your sales increase and the visibility of your brand grow.
An exceptional white paper can enable you to redefine or enlarge your market space and skew things in your favour. It may be the case that your market space or your type of business is perceived in a particular way which could be limiting. If you can show your prospects a new way of thinking, or put forward a new solution to an old problem, then you will be seen as innovative, original and exciting. A white paper might be just the thing to redefine your market space permanently and to position you firmly at the centre of the new space.
Websites that appear higher up in the results of search engines like Google will receive more traffic to their pages and therefore more business. According to the University Marketing and Communications department (UMC) at Michigan Technological University, the best ways to increase your website’s SEO is to publish high quality content that is regularly refreshed.
Publishing white papers on your website will provide you with high quality content that can be repurposed into blog posts, articles and video, meaning that you are not only able to publish great content but can also keep your website content fresh by republishing your white paper research in different formats and for different audiences.
White papers are excellent tools for capturing data as you can easily make them ‘gated’ and in fact the majority of white papers are gated. By offering a free white paper to your audience in return for their personal information you incentivise your audience to provide their details.
Nowadays people expect to receive something of worth in return for their contact details and a white paper certainly provides value. When making your paper gated you should ensure that it is as easy as possible for your visitors to provide their information and your data capture form should be simple and easy to navigate on the page. A data capture process that is broken up into small steps and which is easy to navigate on the page is going to maximise the chances of your visitors providing you with the information that you need.
Successful businesses know that one of the most effective ways to establish brand integrity is to publish well crafted, professionally executed and extensively researched white papers. Not only will a good white paper generate leads and increase your website SEO, if it’s done properly a white paper can also provide the content for blog posts, articles and other forms of content marketing and so you get a lot of bang for your buck!
With all these proven benefits- can you afford not to invest in a white paper for your business?
The information above was taken from my white paper ‘The White Stuff: Why White Papers are Good for Business’ which can be downloaded here for free.