White papers are a powerful marketing tool predominately used by B2B companies in order to generate leads or position themselves as a thought leader in their industry.
They have to be valuable and to the point, offer a new way of looking at old problems, or tackle new problems that are just emerging in your line of business.
Best white papers offer valuable and actionable insights that people appreciate.
Your goal should be to always offer quality material that will answer any and all questions your potential buyers might have.
In order to create such papers, you need to be intimately familiar with your industry and your audience.
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1. Get to Know Your Audience
In order to answer people’s questions, you have to know them and you have to know who your ideal customers are.
If you are using vague title-based descriptions of your potential customers, senior manager in a pharmaceutical company, for example, it is time to up the game.
That is not a buyer persona and it tells you nothing on how to best approach that person.
Get to know your audience by:
- Interviewing your employees, especially front-end employees that deal with customers on a regular basis.
- Use Google Insights to get valuable info about your industry, trending keywords and current topics.
- Hire a marketing expert that specializes in creating buyer personas.
2. Do Your Research
Go completely research berserk and collect as much information as you can about the current events in your industry.
Hit the Internet, interview your colleagues, your boss, your subordinates; talk to everyone you can in order to gather as much relevant information as you possibly can and then analyze that information.
If you find a user question that gets asked frequently, but the answers are vague or unsatisfactory, you’ve hit the mother lode.
This is the holy grail of research papers, and if you can provide an answer, you’re all set. Sometimes this doesn’t happen. Frankly, oftentimes it doesn’t happen, and that’s OK, too.
You have an opportunity to answer more common questions but offer a unique perspective and whole new take on the entire thing. That’s pretty awesome too.
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3. Interview Industry Experts
You just might be one of those experts, but that doesn’t mean you know all the answers. Talk to your colleagues and get their perspective on the issues, they might have some insights you’ve missed.
Another good idea is to reach out to influencers in your industry. Their thoughts might prove invaluable, and this gives you an opportunity to include them in the promotion part of the process (a bit more on that further down the road).
4. Writing Your Content
Aim for eight to 10 pages of content. This will give you enough space to cover the topics in detail while staying condensed enough so people can read it in half an hour.
Writing a 20-page long white paper is a bad idea; people rarely have the time to read through all of that and your efforts would be pointless.
- Do your best to make the paper visually appealing. Add a short infographic to help clarify the information. Illustrate your points and use call out boxes to draw attention to the really important stuff.
- Make the paper scannable. Use bullet points and lists wherever possible so readers can know where they are at a glance. Also, pay attention to headings and sub-headings. They should be clear and concise.
- For fact and information-rich papers use graphs and table. It is easier to glean information from them as opposed to finding it in a block of text.
- Write an executive summary, highlighting the main points of your text. Take your time when writing the summary, it is going to be the first thing that the readers read and it should convey key elements and benefits of the text.
- Write the title and the conclusion last. For the former, focus on what is the gist of your paper and try to include a keyword or two that is most likely to come up when your readers research about that topic (if you’ve done your own research, your buyer personas should give you an answer on what those keywords will be).
Make sure that your conclusion offers one key takeaway from the paper and include a call-to-action in it.
Offer something else to your reader, a webinar or a case study if they are that not far down the funnel or your services if you believe that they are ready to buy.
Be upfront and sincere about the benefits they will get and don’t over-sell it.
5. Publishing and Promotion
This is the most important step in the process. You want to get your paper out there ensure that it is visible to the right crowd.
- Start by creating a custom landing page from which people can download it.
- Schedule a few guest posting gigs on relevant industry blogs to get the word out.
- Contact influencers and send them a copy. If your content is good, they will likely reference or even promote it. If you managed to interview an influencer during your research phase, now is the time to let them know that the paper is out and that something they said is featured in it. If you’re lucky they will share it with their mailing list, multiplying your promotion efforts x times.
- Send it out to your own mailing list. Most sharing is done by email, so it’s not wise to neglect it.
- Contribute to your industry forums. Share your content with members and ask them to circulate it around. Your colleagues will share it if the find it valuable, and it should be.
- Post, tweet, and pin your content as much as you can. Devise a healthy content marketing plan and utilize the power of social media.
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White papers have to answer user’s questions. They are not product pamphlets or brochures and writing them as one is an excellent way to ensure no one reads them.
Know your customers, know their pains and problems, and offer a solution.