The white stuff: Turning a white paper into a salesperson

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Companies spend truckloads of cash every year on marketing initiatives for which they don’t even know how to calculate their return on investment.

Print and digital advertisements and social media campaigns are key components in an effective marketing strategy, but there is much more out there that compliment them.

A white paper can be an effective marketing tool in the aftermarket because it can be tailor-made to promote a specific area of focus in your business. They can be time consuming but also can be well worth the effort.

First off, a white paper is defined as “… (an) authoritative report giving information or proposals on an issue.” Nowhere in there does it say “sales tool.”

Like a how-to series, white papers educate without selling. But crafted around your product or current campaign, they can be your most effective salesman.

White papers may not be sexy like a flashy video, but – if well-written – they are packed full of relevant information and marketing goodness for your business.

White papers consistently rank as the most frequently consumed content type among buyers, which makes them among the most influential when making buying decisions.

According to EccoloMedia’s 2014 B2B Technology Content Survey Report, 49 percent of all respondents say they read white papers. In fact, white papers and product brochures are among the most read content types for the past three years.

However, according to the report, white papers are only useful if they’re not beating the reader over the head with how your product is awesome. They should be full of useful information, not “rah-rah” for your company. Remember the definition of a white paper?

According to IDG Enterprise, respondents to their survey are most disappointed by excessive focus on vendor or product information.

“Technology buyers rate ‘too much marketing hype,’ ‘lack of truly independent, unbiased information,’ and ‘information is too general’ as their top three content problems,” IDG Enterprise says.

Here are a few quick tips on publishing an effective white paper:

Have a splashy headline. A white paper is no different than a newspaper in its quest to service readers. If your headline doesn’t pop, you lost the reader before you ever got started.

Open with a story or industry challenge that relates to your audience. You have, at best, three paragraphs to prove to the reader that it’s worth their time to keep reading. Come out swinging with, “I know you’re facing this challenge and this white paper will help you address it.”

Use subheads liberally. In even the most detailed and well-written white paper, people are going to skim. Help guide them to the pieces they need to read the most with bold type that screams “READ THIS.”

It’s not about you. Your white paper should help the reader solve a problem, not tell them how your product solves it. If it’s well written, the reader will draw that conclusion naturally, which will translate into customers. But if you spin it with “you’re only here because you’re using an inferior product,” your white paper is toast.

Include some graphics. People skim, but they stop at art. Think about the last time you picked up a newspaper. The headline got your attention, you probably read until the copy got close to the picture and the picture told you the rest of the story. The same applies here.

In a world of .gif animation, Dreamweaver and digital artistry, white papers can feel archaic, but they’ve hung around because they work.

No one knows your business better than you, so tell that story – and flex your aftermarket knowledge muscles – to your potential customers.

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