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How to Get an Executive to Read Your Executive White Paper

by | Oct 13, 2021 | Lead Generation, White Papers, Technology Marketing, Content Marketing | 0 comments

Getting executives to read an executive white paper

White papers…

They’re not just for engineers anymore.

In fact, for many years now, even in technology marketing, engineers are neither the most important nor the most receptive audience for white papers.

In a 2009 survey, Eccolo Media segmented their technology buying respondents into two groups: purchasing decision-makers (mainly C-levels, VPs and directors) and purchasing influencers (mostly engineers, engineering managers and technicians). Analyzing their responses, Eccolo found that decision-makers read white papers just as often as influencers, and share them almost as frequently.

But what really surprised Eccolo was that decision-makers find white papers influence their purchasing decisions more than influencers do.

Over half (51%) of the decision-makers Eccolo surveyed rated white papers very to extremely influential in their purchasing decisions. By contrast, only 29% of influencers rated white papers so highly, with the majority (53%) calling them only moderately influential.1

And by the way, Eccolo’s respondents—both decision-makers and influencers—ranked white papers the most influential of all collateral types nearly every year they conducted their surveys (2008 to 2015).

In other words, it pays to target executives with white papers.

The Difference Between Engineers and Executives

But an executive white paper is different from one aimed at engineers. Obviously. The two audiences have different concerns.

Engineers are primarily concerned with (1) solving existing problems and (2) keeping up with technology trends that may provide them with better ways to solve those problems.

Executives, on the other hand, are concerned primarily with staying ahead of or catching up with their competition. Compared to engineers, they’re more concerned about the future. They want to stay on top of trends and changes that will affect their marketplace. They also want to avoid risk (which is one thing they have in common with engineers).

This difference in perspective affects the way each group views your product or service. The engineer sees it as a solution. The executive sees it not only as a possible solution but also as a potential problem.

For an executive, your solution represents an investment, and thus an expense. As an expense, it represents a risk. That executive needs to know that the rewards your solution might provide outweigh that risk, or better yet, that the risk associated with doing nothing—the status quo—is far greater than the risk associated with purchasing your product.

How to Make Business Decision Makers Keep Reading

In an executive white paper—often called a “business benefits” white paper—it’s best to deal with those risks at the outset. A great way to do that is with a “market drivers” section.

The market drivers section is where you highlight one or more emerging trends that are impacting your prospect’s business and creating an urgent need for your product or service. This section should come right after your opening introduction or executive summary, and before you begin discussing the problem that your product or service solves.

In the market drivers section, you’re setting the stage for your executive readers by providing proof that their marketplace is changing. You’re establishing the context for your problem/solution argument by highlighting the implications of an emerging trend and the associated dangers of the status quo. And you’re providing hard evidence to support your claims.

This section is an opportunity to convince executive readers early in your white paper that their company is behind the times, that they need to take action, and that they need to read further to help themselves decide what action to take.

Components of a Market Drivers Section

As just mentioned, the market drivers section provides evidence that the reader’s marketplace is changing. That evidence comes primarily in two forms: third-party evidence and logical arguments.

Of the two, third-party evidence is the most powerful. Third-party evidence consists of statistics, expert analysis and opinion, and documented facts that originate outside of your own company. Sources may include newspapers, business news magazines, trade journals, independent research reports, third-party blog posts, and other Internet sources… even your competitors’ press releases.

Ideally, you’ll use as much third-party evidence as you can. It builds credibility and makes the rest of your executive white paper seem more trustworthy.

Unfortunately, it often isn’t possible to build a complete market drivers section solely on third-party evidence. If the topic of your white paper is new and narrow, for example, you may not find much third-party evidence to work with.

That’s where logical arguments come in.

Logical arguments are claims based on commonly understood information. They generally aren’t challenged by readers, because the information on which they’re based is well understood. Examples of logical arguments include:

  • Aircraft usually remain in service for thirty years or more.
  • PC bus technologies typically last less than ten years before being phased out.
  • High reliability is often a major concern in safety-critical applications.
  • Eco-friendliness is increasingly important as safety and environmental regulations tighten.

Logical arguments build affinity with readers by referencing beliefs they already hold. They get readers nodding their heads in agreement, which supplements the power of your third-party evidence.

When employing logical arguments it’s best to avoid absolutes, as they tend to put readers off. Preface your claims with qualifiers like, “generally,” “likely,” “typically,” “usually,” “most” and “often.”

Market Drivers Best Practices

When writing your market drivers section, remember that these are market drivers about your industry, not your company. Sales statistics on your product are inappropriate here.

Write objectively. At this early stage, it is extremely important that your white paper appears to speak from an unbiased point of view. Avoid hyperbole and exaggeration.

If you make a statement that involves numbers, be sure to back it up with a third-party quote or reference. Presenting statistics without mentioning their source gives a flimsy appearance that erodes credibility.

Finally, quote only reputable, external sources. Never quote company personnel and avoid customer references in this section. Ideally, you’d like to quote a recognized name. At the very least, you want sources whose credentials lend credibility to their words. If you’re stuck and can’t find a suitable published quote, pick up the phone and call a recognized authority. Ask some questions that will get you the quote you need.

Conclusion

In white papers that target executives, it’s often unwise to jump directly into a discussion of the problem your product or service solves. Your executive reader needs proof there’s an urgent business reason for solving the problem. A market drivers section at the beginning of your white paper can provide that proof, and make your prospect keep reading.

Take-Away Points

1) Engineers are no longer the most important audience for tech industry white papers. Executives are.

2) For executives, the cost of your solution represents a risk. In an executive white paper, you need to show them that the status quo – doing nothing – presents a greater risk.

3) A great way to highlight the risks of a changing marketplace is with a “market drivers” section at the beginning of your white paper.

4) A market drivers section generally consists of two types of information:

a) Third-party evidence

b) Logical arguments

5) Best practices for market drivers sections include:

a) Avoiding references to your company and customers

b) Writing objectively

c) Backing up numbers with third-party references

d) Quoting reputable, external sources

Next Steps

Crafting an effective, lead-generating business benefits white paper – and the market drivers section, in particular – and be tricky. If you need help, drop CopyEngineer an email at info@copyengineer.com.

References

1 Eccolo Media 2009 B2B Technology Collateral Survey Report, www.eccolomedia.com.

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