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Over 70% of White Papers Lack This Essential Marketing Tool

by | Feb 4, 2019 | Lead Generation, White Papers, Offers, Call to Action, Content Marketing | 0 comments

Let’s say you’re putting together a white paper to generate leads for your latest offering. You’ve laid out the nagging problem your target market. You’ve pointed out the drawbacks of the well-known solutions. You’ve introduced your new solution and shown how it overcomes those drawbacks and really solves your prospect’s problem.

Now what? How do you wrap up your white paper?

Tell them their next step

Once you’ve concluded your arguments and successfully made your case for your solution, there are still two things you need to do in your white paper:

  • Tell the reader who you are.
  • Tell your prospects what they should do next.

Few marketers forget to tell readers about their company at this point. (They are far more likely to have already said too much.) You’ll almost always find an “About Us” blurb at the end of any white paper.

Many, however, fail to tell their prospects what their next step should be.

They fail to provide a clear call to action.

Once you’ve convinced your prospects of the validity and superiority of your solution, you need to suggest to them the next logical step they should take to capitalize on the knowledge they’ve gained.

Remember, your prospects are very busy. They’re distracted. They don’t have time to think about what to do next about your solution. They simply won’t figure it out for themselves. 

It may seem silly, but direct mail testing has shown that giving clear instructions improves response. If you don’t tell your readers what to do, they won’t act. They’ll just go away… and forget about you.

The most frequent white paper mistake

This was the most frequent mistake I found in a survey I conducted of 518 tech companies offering white papers on their websites.

Of the white papers I reviewed, more than two-thirds (71.9%) had no call to action whatsoever.  Another 5.9% had a very weak call to action – usually inviting readers to visit the same website from which they had just downloaded the white paper – not a logical step forward. In total, less than a quarter (22.2%) of the white papers I reviewed had what I would call a good call to action (Figure 1). [i]

What makes for a good call to action?

In general, a good call to action:

  • Suggests a very specific next step your prospect should take
  • Follows logically from your white paper    
  • Is appropriate for where the prospect is in the buying process.               

And while that may sound a bit complicated, it’s really quite easy to accomplish.

To make sure your call to action is appropriate to where your prospect is in the buying process, all you need to do is divide your prospects into two groups and devise a separate call to action for each. The two groups are:

  1. Those who don’t have an immediate need for your offering, but may in the future
  2. Those who do have an immediate need and are looking to purchase soon

The “soft” offer

The first group – the majority of your readers – is simply gathering information. They’re not ready to talk about a specific solution. So, they don’t want to waste time on the phone with a salesperson.

For them, the logical next step is always to “find out more”—to get more in-depth information on the solution just described in your white paper—in a way that doesn’t involve any human contact. And since this group represents the majority, you’ll address them first.

Over 70% of white papers surveyed contained no call to action.

The call to action for this “information gathering” group usually takes the following form:

To find out more about [name of company]’s solutions for [problem addressed by white paper] and how you can [gain key benefits described in white paper], [do this].

The “do this” part is the next step you want your prospect to take. And it should be very specific.

Don’t just invite readers to visit your website. Invite them to visit a specific page related to your solution. Don’t just direct them to your “resources” page. Send them to a landing page for a specific case study or a related white paper.

Again, you need to remember that white paper readers are busy. They don’t want to spend a lot of time seeking information. They want to find it right away. The easier you can make that for them, the more likely they are to accept your message and favor your company and solution.

The “hard” offer

Next, after you’ve addressed the bulk of your audience, it’s time to add a second call to action – one that addresses that small sliver of readers who need your solution now.

The step you want these “sales ready” prospects to take, of course, is to get in touch with your sales team. And to make that step flow logically from your white paper, all you have to do is tie it to the solution that your white paper recommends. That can be done with a sentence like this:

If you would like to discuss how our [white paper problem] solutions can be best applied to your situation, call [sales dept. telephone number] to talk with one of our engineers, or email us at [sales inquiry email address].

If you want the best possible response to your white paper campaign, don’t leave your prospects wondering what they should do next when they’ve finished reading. Give them their next logical step with a strong call to action.

Take-Away Points

  1. If you want a white paper to generate results, you need to tell prospects what step to take next.
  2. Over 70% of tech white papers surveyed failed to provide a clear call to action.
  3. To make sure your call to action is appropriate for where your prospects are in their buying process, divide your target market into two groups:
    • Prospects without an immediate need (but who might need your solution in the future)
    • Prospects with an immediate need for your solution (and are ready to buy)
  4. For prospects without an immediate need for your solution, your call to action should be a soft offer (requiring no human contact) of more information about your solution.
  5. For prospects who are ready to buy a solution like yours, your call to action should encourage them, in some way, to get in touch with your sales team.

Next Steps

This month’s article is the sixth of a series of excerpt from CopyEngineer’s newly updated special report, 10 Common Mistakes that Kill White Paper ROI: How to Avoid Them and Generate More Leads. To get your free copy of the report, click here.

Need expert help with planning and developing a new white paper for your company? Call CopyEngineer at (+39) 011 569 4951. Or drop me an email at I’ll be happy to schedule a call and discuss your project with you.


[i]   Cole, John, 10 Mistakes that Kill White Paper ROI: How to Avoid Them and Generate More Leads (Revised Edition), CopyEngineer, September 2018.

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