A white paper is an authoritative report or guide that helps readers understand an issue, solve a problem, or make a decision. This definition from Wikipedia also (surprisingly) states that white papers orginated in 1922 as a government tool, with the issue of The Churchill White Paper.
There are essentially three types of white papers:
• Backgrounder: Describes the technical and/or business benefits of a certain offering from a vendor, either a product, service, or methodology.
• Numbered list: Presents a set of tips, questions, or points about a certain business issue.
• Problem/solution: Recommends a new, improved solution to a nagging business problem.
White papers have evolved from use by the government to use in B2B marketing & now have become a popular marketing & communications tool for use in online lead generation.
Of course, white papers “in the old days” were exactly that – on paper, mailed or handed out in person. Now, they’re downloaded & read electronically or printed out when desired by the reader. No matter, the goals are the same. A white paper is evidence of your expertise & when used correctly, is a vital credibility tool.
Here’s how to get them right (or “write” as it were):
1. Decide which one is best for your use. Clients in the tech industry use backgrounders effectively. This gives them the platform to present their expertise in a broad-brushed way. Often effective is to use a case study within this format to further enhance your credibility. A numbered list is a great way to present “Top 10 Tips to….” Here you can lay out your expertise by showing insider tips or whetting the appetites of potential leads to get them to call you for more information. And, lastly is the Problem/Solution format which is best used for a breakthrough product or service. Here I always advise watching infomercials to see how that kind of presentation is best communicated.
2. How long should it be? I’m asked this frequently by clients. Normally, I advise no more than 10 pages for a small business. Mostly because you don’t want to “drop all your candy in the lobby” or give away your secrets. Also, most people don’t read anything much longer than that.
3. What other pages should I include? All white papers should have a nicely designed cover page. Some use a Table of Contents as well. Another page to keep in mind is a “final” page where you can thank the person for reading it, make an offer, restate your business philosophy, etc. And, feel free to say “keep this for future reference.” In other words, make sure you don’t lose them.
4. Don’t forget the obvious. I’ve downloaded white papers that have no branding on them at all beyond the cover page. This is a missed opportunity. In the footer of each page should be your company name & URL as well as an email or phone # (depending upon how you want to be contacted). And, please number the pages – it’s much more professional.
5. How do I promote it? A white paper should be “sold” on your home page. I think that if you’re giving much-needed advice & leads are going to self-select by signing up, then an email should be required to “register” for it. How else will you/your sales team track/follow up? An hour or so of basic programming is worth the expense. Sometimes white papers are immediately available for download once an email address is entered, other times (my preferred method) an email is sent (to confirm it’s not spam) as a well-written thank you note along with a link to download it themselves. This affords you another opportunity to ensure you’ve received a qualified email address and get in prospect’s email inbox.
6. To track or not to track? If you can afford the additional programming fee, I strongly recommend incorporating the ability to track clicks on the download button. Otherwise, you can manually count how many emails your system sent out with the subject line that pertains to the download. A great subject line that spurs action & decreases the chance of it becoming spam is “Here is the white paper you requested from ABC Company.” An amazing tool I’ve begun to use is bitly to track various online efforts I do to promote my business. In fact, you can get my newest white paper here! http://bit.ly/10White.
7. How else can a white paper be promoted? Social media is an obvious choice. Offer it up on a company page on LinkedIn (& don’t forget if you use twitter, to check the birdie box to get it out on twitter too) or Facebook. Make an offer to your online circle by directing them to your site. Write a Press Release. Announce it in an email newsletter. Put it at the end of your email signature block. Be creative!
8. How much does design count? It should be designed for easy reading, but not so overly done that it looks like advertising, or uses up a zillion color ink cartridges if your prospect decides to print it. Don’t use color bleeds, don’t use too many design elements or many different fonts. Do use charts & tables for emphasis as well as stock photos & sub-headers to help break up heavy copy.
9. Decide follow up before you implement a white paper. Don’t let a warm lead get cold. Follow up by offering a free consult, or a trial period, or lead them to a demo on your site.
10. Measuring effectiveness is key. If you normally close 3 of 10 regular leads, but you find you’re closing substantially more using a white paper, then continue the process by writing new ones every so often on additional topics within your expertise. If the number is lower than normal then ask a trusted client or colleague to read through it with fresh eyes to point out any missed opportunities or room for improvement.
So, now that you know how go ahead and get started with White Papers – write now! Need help? Contact us…writing white papers is part of what we do for our small business clients!
Remember…get started marketing TODAY so that TOMORROW your business will still exist.
Copyright 2014 Affordable Marketing Solutions LLC
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