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12 Tips for More Effective White Papers – Part 2

by | Mar 3, 2009 | B2B Copywriting, Direct Marketing, Lead Generation, White Papers | 0 comments

Do you sell products that are cutting-edge, complex or expensive?

Do you want to generate quality leads? Grow your email list? Establish or enhance your company’s reputation as a leading innovator in your market?

Is your sales team asking for stronger “leave behind” materials? Are you looking for content that can go viral and create some grassroots buzz in your industry?

You might want to consider publishing a white paper.

A recent report, What’s Working in Lead Generation, revealed that 74% of professional services companies ranked white papers as an excellent tool for lead generation.

A 2007 survey by Knowledge Storm and Marketing Sherpa reported that white papers are the most consumed form of tech marketing. A higher percentage (71%) of technology buyers said they read white papers than any other form of content. The same study found white papers to be a highly viral marketing tool – with nearly 3 in 5 technology professionals indicating they pass white papers along to colleagues.

Another recent study – this one by Tech Target and the CMO Council – found that white papers are the number one resource for evaluating technology solutions. And that over half of those that download white papers use them to find solutions for solving problems.

But you can’t just throw up any old white paper on your website and expect to get results. So I want to conclude this two-part article on white papers by passing along 7 tips on how to structure your white paper for maximum response.

Effective White Papers Tip #6 – Avoid mentioning product and company until the very end.

One of the biggest mistakes companies make when creating white papers is talking too soon about their product, service, or company.

“This assumes the reader is specifically interested in finding out more details about your solution,” says David Stelzner in his book Writing White Papers. “The fact is that most folks are not even sure what they need when they read white papers. Rather, they read them primarily to learn, not to be sold.”

Mentioning your product or company signals the reader he’s in for a sales pitch. And people don’t like to be sold. So if he’s not ready to buy, he’s likely to put your white paper aside…and never pick it up again. It’s far better to take a top-down, educational approach, as I’ll describe in my remaining tips.

Effective White Papers Tip #7 – Start your white paper by talking about problems or challenges.

Decision makers seek out white papers because they have problems they need to solve. And at that point, as Stelzner notes, they usually don’t know what they want in a solution. And they’re certainly not ready to buy.

So start by doing what any good salesman would do: Discuss the reader’s problems with him.

There are at least three distinct advantages to this approach.

First, you show your prospect he’s come to the right place. He may not yet recognize the solution he wants, but he knows his problem. Touching on his pain points and offering hope of relief will draw your prospect into your white paper.

Second, by reaffirming his concerns and showing you understand his needs you build affinity with the reader. He starts to say, “Hey, these guys really know what I’m going through.” You gain your prospect’s trust – which will lend credibility to your solution.

And finally, you can introduce issues he may not have considered – issues your solution resolves. This not only elevates his concern and keeps him reading. It also helps you orient your reader’s “thought framework” for evaluating possible solutions. In other words, you can put a “slant” on the problem that favors your solution.

Effective White Papers Tip #8 – Introduce your solution in a “generic” way.

Having laid out the problem, it might seem like the perfect time to introduce our product or service. In fact, many successful B2B advertisements take just that approach.

Not so fast! Remember, we’re putting out a white paper here, not an advertisement. We still want to remain “neutral” at this point.

A good way to do that is by introducing our solution in generic terms. Without mentioning our product or company, we describe the high-level “category” of solutions in which our solution resides, and show how it addresses all the problems we brought up earlier.

Defining a generic solution lets you simplify your explanation. You avoid the temptation to drill down into product features. That makes it both easier to understand and less intimidating for your reader. And you eliminate the perception that you’re trying to sell the reader on a specific product or service.

What’s more, you have the opportunity to define a “new class” of solutions – or a “next generation” of an existing class – in a way that favors your product or service. This has a number of advantages.

First, you establish credibility for your company as a “thought leader” by defining a new solution class. Second, you eliminate much of your competition from consideration – simply because they don’t match the key characteristics you’ve defined for the class.

Finally, if you have a ground-breaking product, you have the option to talk about its category as though it already exits. In other words, you get to set the standard terms for your market, but make it sound like they’ve been set by the market itself. This is valuable, because it removes the perception that your product is “new and untested.”

Effective White Papers Tip #9 – Emphasize the benefits.

Having introduced our solution generically, we now need to persuade our reader that it’s the right solution for him. That’s where benefits come in.

Benefits – the advantages your solution offers – are what your reader wants to hear about. They’re all he cares about, really. Because they tell the reader what return he and his company will get if they invest in your solution.

The benefits you describe must address the needs of your ideal reader (See Tip # 4 in Part 1 of this article). If you are targeting business decision makers, your benefits should be business benefits, expressed in terms of improved operational efficiency, increased revenue, decreased costs, minimized risk and ultimately, greater ROI.

If you’re targeting engineers, on the other hand, you’ll want to emphasize the technical benefits of your solution. But you may also want to touch on business benefits – to help your reader advocate your solution to the decision makers in his organization.

It’s important to note that the benefits you’re describing in your white paper are those of your generic solution. They should be expressed in a product-agnostic manner. Avoid references to product features and proprietary tools or methodology. Again, we want to give our reader the feeling he’s being educated, not sold.

Effective White Papers Tip #10 – Include a “What to Look For” section.

People read white papers so they can make informed decisions. But if your solution is new to them, readers may not yet be able to distinguish between good and bad when seeking an implementation.

That’s why a “What to Look For” section can be the most powerful and persuasive section of your white paper.

By including a list of key considerations for choosing a solution, you are essentially giving your audience a buyer’s guide for YOUR product or service. You have the opportunity to set the standards against which the competition will be judged.

The list may include both product/service features and company considerations. But don’t attempt to make the list all-encompassing. Limit it to the main factors that differentiate your offer from your competitors’ – 10 items at most. Otherwise, the list will become overwhelming and your solution’s advantages obscured.

Effective White Papers Tip #11 – Connect your specific solution to the previous discussions.

Once you’ve thoroughly educated the reader on your solution to his problem – and persuaded and armed him to seek out a specific solution that fits the bill – it’s time to reveal your product or service. At last!

If your writer has done his job properly, your prospect wants to know where he can acquire what he needs to implement your solution. You’d be remiss not to oblige.

So now, you want to show how your specific solution fulfills all the promises and meets all the requirements you laid out previously.

Start by explaining how your offer fits the general solution category you’ve defined. Then mention some of the advantages that separate your product from the competition. Don’t repeat the generic benefits and “key considerations” you listed earlier, but expand upon them in greater depth. Keep this section brief, however. It’s not a product brochure. You just want to persuade your reader to enter your sales cycle.

If you included company considerations in your “what to look for” list, you’ll want to introduce your company and demonstrate that it, too, matches those selection criteria.

One other point. When describing your specific solution, keep your ideal reader in mind. In a business benefits piece you only want tease the reader with enough information to make him or her want to contact your company. With a technical white paper, it is quite appropriate to go into greater detail.

By tying back to those earlier discussions, you establish your product as the benchmark for your solution. Which puts you competition at an extreme disadvantage.

Effective White Papers Tip #12 – Conclude with a strong call to action.

As with any other marketing communication, if you want your prospect to respond, you have to tell him how to respond. You need to end your piece with a clear call to action. Otherwise, you won’t get your prospect into your sales funnel. And the money you spent producing your white paper will have all been wasted.

Figure out the appropriate next step for your reader to take. Then, tell him to do exactly that. And give him a compelling reason to do so:

  • For more information, email us at…
  • To schedule an appointment for a free demonstration, call…
  • If you have questions and would like to talk to one of our specialists…
  • Please visit our website for complete specifications…

You can’t leave your reader wondering what he should do next. He doesn’t have time to think about it. Leave him up in the air, and chances are your white paper will be put aside…and soon find its way into the trash bin.

Take-Away Points

Start your white paper by discussing your reader’s problems – to draw the reader in and build affinity with him. Be sure to frame the problem in a way that favors your solution.

Introduce your solution in a generic fashion to avoid the perception of bias. Resist the temptation to talk about your product and company until the very end of the white paper.

Emphasize the benefits of your generic solution to build your ideal reader’s desire. Tell him how he and his company will profit from adopting your solution. If appropriate, give the reader a “what to look for list” that will guide him to your specific product or service.

Urge your reader to take the next step by concluding with a strong call to action.

A Little Extra Added Value

If you’d like more information on how technology buyers and marketers view technology marketing content, check out the KnowledgeStorm/Marketing Sherpa study I mentioned in my email. You can download it here for free.

A Call to Action

If you think an effective lead-generation white paper may fit your marketing program — and you’d like to find out how you can save time and money developing one – please send an email to to request a phone appointment. Or call me at (+39) 011-569-4951. I’ll be happy to discuss your needs, offer suggestions and provide you with a no-obligation quote on a project.

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