Your Prospects Love White Papers: Are you giving them what they want?

By Michael Stelzner November 06, 2007

Ultra-short attention spans make it exceptionally difficult for businesses and marketing professionals to gain mind share.

So what can you do to reach out to people in a positive way?

The answer rests on this premise: If you provide something of value to prospects, they will give you their respect, time, loyalty, and ultimately their business.

People are hungry to learn, and they find great value in educational content. Perhaps nothing is more valuable to your prospective customers than white papers.

A white what?

The best way to describe white papers is first to talk about how they are used: White papers help people make decisions. Typically, people read white papers because they are trying to solve a particular problem. Those problems could include anything from low employee performance to network latency. The possibilities are endless.

So what is a white paper? A white paper is a cross between an article and a brochure. The effective white paper weaves together the informative material found in an article with the persuasive messages typically found in brochures.Thus, the white paper is designed to inform and persuade.

White papers are very popular in the technology industry.They’re also equally effective in nearly any other business-to-business market.They can also be used in business-to-consumer applications under the guise of free reports or guides.

White papers are excellent lead-generation tools. There are many types of white papers, such as technical and government white papers.However, the white paper designed to generate a lead is unique.

In Confessions of an Advertising Man, marketing guru David Ogilvy said, “The more informative your advertising, the more persuasive it will be.” Even though a white paper is not an ad, there are some great insights to be gained from Ogilvy’s words.Information is ultimately the key to effective white papers. White paper information must be perceived as valuable and highly relevant to readers who matter. Ultimately, this means educational content.

What makes white papers so attractive?

Are you wondering whether a white paper is the right marketing tool for your business? Based on recent studies, here are six reasons why you should seriously consider adding white papers to your mix of marketing tools:

  1. Top source for lead generation. 74%of professional services companies ranked white papers as an excellent source of lead generation.
  2. Most-consumed form of marketing. White papers are read more often than case studies, product literature, articles from industry journalists, analyst reports, company websites, webcasts, blogs, online videos, or podcasts.
  3. Highly viral marketing tool. Nearly three in five technology professionals (57%) pass white papers along to colleagues and co-workers.
  4. Most people are willing to register for a white paper. Almost 80% of readers are willing to complete a registration form to gain access to a whitepaper, validating a white paper’s ability to generate leads.
  5. Number-one way businesses evaluate solutions. For evaluating technology, white papers are used more than email newsletters, product literature, articles, software downloads, webcasts, or case studies.5
  6. Popular for people looking to solve problems. The majority of people use white papers to find solutions to their problems.

Are white papers a part of your marketing mix?

Because white papers are pulled into a prospect’s company, white papers have the ability to linger and travel around the business, persuading along the way. It’s not uncommon for a well-written white paper to travel across the desks of dozens of people in a single company.

Using white papers for lead generation

To generate leads with white papers, content must avoid a hard sell. This means avoiding the mention of your company or product in the beginning of the white paper. When prospects begin to sense a sales pitch, the white paper shifts from a valuable resource to just another marketing message.

“Successful white paper marketing hinges almost exclusively on the quality of the white paper itself. Still, many vendors expect great things from their white paper marketing efforts but give very little thought to the actual development and creation of the white papers used for these efforts,” explained Peter Spande, director, TechRepublic.com and ITPapers.com.

Chances are, your company has knowledge that people would find valuable. If you give away some of that proprietary, hard-earned insight in the form of a white paper, you can actually propel your company to a position of thought leadership and attract opportunity.

Here are the core character traits of effective educational white papers. Great white papers:

  • Downplay the mention of the product or company
  • Focus on problems or needs faced by readers
  • Examine trends and look at history

A great white paper starts with problems or needs faced by the reader—rather than with the product or service offered by the company. This helps build affinity and trust. It also draws the reader into the white paper by discussing issues to which the reader can relate.

Another important tip is to take an educational approach toy our specific solution. For example, discussing how overnight air transit from China can speed business transactions is much better than talking about the benefits of FedEx next-day services. By introducing the solution “generically, ”the paper is perceived to be more educational. The details of your solution can be revealed later in the paper.

Other educational content could include key trends, how an industry has evolved over the last few years, and what to look for in an ideal solution. By guiding prospects with a well-crafted white paper, you can gain the attention of readers. The result is often a qualified lead.

While white papers are very popular right now, most fail to bring opportunity.

Leveraging white papers to grow your business

Once you have written your masterpiece, it’s time to put the document to work for you.

If your goal is to capture a lead, you should place the whitepaper behind a registration form on your website.

There is a right way and a wrong way to do this:

Mistake#1. How many times have you seen a single sentence or paragraph summary of a white paper and then along registration form? Unfortunately, many white paper introductions fail to provide enough content to engage readers. Or, the registration form scares people away with 20 questions, such as “What is your budget?”

Mistake #2. On the flip side, how often do you see a white paper that is instantly displayed with the click of a link? While this provides immediate access for the reader, it fails to capture any lead information.

The ideal registration page contains substantial sample content before asking readers to trade their contact information for access. This strategy appeals equally to readers and businesses.Revisit the earlier premise: When you provide value, you gain respect.

This idea flows from the video game market. Remember playing  demos that provided access to the first few levels? By first providing a good taste of the product, the hope is that people will want to buy the full game. The same strategy can be applied to white papers.

By providing a sufficient sample of the white paper, you:

  • Increase the likelihood that people will complete the registration form
  • Improve lead quality—if people don’t find the opening words relevant, they will never scroll down the page and see that there is a registration form at the bottom
  • Create a content-rich page for search engines.

When the registration form finally appears, this is the prime opportunity to ask readers if they want to opt into your email list in addition to receiving the white paper.

Thus, providing a compelling sample of the white paper improves the likelihood that people registering are truly interested and gives an opportunity for opt-in lists to grow.

Delivering the white paper

Today’s “I want it now” culture dictates that you make people happy by providing what they want, when they want it. Need information? Google it.

Is it really wise, however, for marketing folks to satisfy people’s desire for instant access?

M. Scott Peck, M.D. in The Road Less Traveled, describes delayed gratification as a sacrifice of present comforts for future gain. By not just giving people what they want, when they want it, you can actually improve your image, enhance your branding, and increase your sales.

Why?

Unlike at any other point in history, we can immediately access information. With this great accessibility comes information overload. With information overload comes poor retention. With poor retention comes weak branding results. And if no one remembers your brand, business stagnates.

As marketing guru John Reese explains, “People are becoming bored, numb and almost trance-like when it comes to navigating the vast amount of information that is freely available in today’s networked society. But when there is the opportunity to look forward to something, it breaks the cycle. Anticipation has been a marketing weapon for years. The bottom line, ‘anticipation’ does one thing and does one thing well...IT INCREASES RESPONSE.”

The common delivery mistake

Let’s say you have some great information and have formatted it into a white paper. You are presumably presenting a sample of the content, as discussed earlier, and then asking people to do something to gain access to the rest.

Now here’s the big mistake many marketers make: They simply send the requested information immediately after the form has been completed.

The logic goes like this: “I have captured my lead, and that’s all I care about.” There is, however, a much bigger marketing opportunity you may be overlooking. With immediate access after registration, you end up simply making a very quick impression on readers that is easily forgotten. Because the only post-registration touch point is the document itself, you are banking fully on the strength of your paper to do all of your selling.

If you could, wouldn’t you rather have four or five touch points?

Delayed-response marketing

There are acceptable ways to get a few marketing messages delivered and improve your image—while maintaining your reader’s interest. By slightly delaying the delivery of the white paper, you leverage the power of anticipation.

Here is the delayed-response marketing principle applied:

Touch point 1: the “thank you” page. After you receive the registration form, send the reader to a “thank you for registering” page. This is where you make your first pitch for some of your value-added services. You should also include the email address from which your document will be sent, so recipients can add it to their “white lists” (increasing delivery rates). 

Touch point 2: the “registration confirmation” email. Set up an autoresponder that immediately sends a “thank you” message to new registrants.This is where you can confirm receipt of the request and remind them that, “While you are waiting for our paper, you might be interested in this other information.” You can link to some of your services, your blog, or other information.

Touch point 3: Send the content one hour later. Set up a delayed message that sends the requested document (or a link to a page that contains it) after an hour has passed. Be sure to again mention some of the other services you offer.

Touch point 4: the actual document. The white paper is the final touch point. By this time, the reader has been expecting your content and should be familiar with your company and brand.

Optional touch point: your newsletter. If you have a newsletter, it would be wise to add the option to subscribe to it on your registration form. Set up a three-day delay and send a special, prefabricated edition of your newsletter. This provides another opportunity to get your name in front of prospects and also provides valuable content to readers.

The benefits of delay

By not sending what readers want right away, you can:

  • Increase your name recognition. Every time prospects read something from you, your name becomes etched in their brains.More touch points mean more chances to gain their business.
  • Establish a relationship. By sending well-crafted messages, you begin the process of establishing trust with your prospect. These relationship-forming steps help transform you from an information dispenser to an advocate.
  • Increase your open rates. Because readers are expecting an email from you, your “thank you” message and follow-up message will have very high open rates. This is the prime time to mention related products and services.
  • Improve the desire to read the document. When the final document arrives, the reader will have been prepared for this great piece. The delayed gratification concept kicks in, and the reader will likely treat your work as special, devoting time to your useful resource.

This article exposes a few proven marketing strategies that revolve around white papers. If your business sells complex or costly products, white papers should be at the top of your list of marketing tools.

To learn more about marketing white papers, a great free resource can be found at www.whitepapersource.com/marketing

  1. www.writingwhitepapers.com/blog/2007/03/06/raintoday-study
  2. www.writingwhitepapers.com/blog/2007/03/27/major-white-paper-study
  3. Ibid.
  4. www.writingwhitepapers.com/blog/2007/05/10/white-paper-registration
  5. www.writingwhitepapers.com/blog/2007/04/11/white-paper-revelations-should-surprise-marketers

Categories: Go-to-Market
Michael Stelzner

Michael Stelzner

Michael Stelzner is the author of the bestselling book Writing White Papers: How to Capture Readers and Keep Them Engaged. Michael has written whitepapers for many of the nation’s largest businesses, including Microsoft, FedEx,HP, Motorola, SAP, and Monster. Subscribe to his 20,000-reader newsletter at www.writingwhitepapers.com/blog

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