You’re Doing It Wrong: Content Marketing With White Papers / Marketing Strategy / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

White papers are enjoying unprecedented marketing popularity right now. Yet, many do not adhere to the 5 golden rules of white papers.

Infographics are out, and white papers are in. 

Only time will tell if white papers become the same kind of ubiquitous fad, but here’s what we know for sure: when done correctly, white papers can build credibility, offer solutions, provide smart analysis, and illustrate product benefits. They also hold the added benefit of appearing objective.

Two years ago, 57 percent of business-to-business marketers considered white papers effective marketing tools.

Today, more than two-thirds of all marketers—68 percent—use white papers as a marketing tactic, making them an essential part of the marketer’s toolkit.

Everyone knows that in the second decade of the 21st Century, ads are largely ignored by consumers—especially Millennials—due to their overly “salesperson-like” qualities. 

Instead, consumers tend to value objective studies replete with facts and figures and devoid of all the blustery sales rhetoric.  White papers fit that bill quite nicely while also positioning companies as thought leaders by educating their prospects.

As white papers have become more sought-after by consumers, long-standing partnerships between corporations and universities have taken on an added dimension. While unbiased research has always helped guide the marketing efforts of certain industries, white papers can now be crafted from these studies and used as a marketing tool—provided the research warrants the effort.

While much of the research being developed by colleges and universities is often dry and esoteric, content marketers can help “dumb down” the scholarly language. By making the core information relatable to the consumer, while still maintaining the independence of the research, businesses can make credible and unbiased points about the value of their products and services.

Related Article: 78% of B2B Marketers Use White Papers -- Here's How You Can Do It Better

Outside of academia, industry associations have cropped up in recent years to do more than just advocate for legislation in the halls of Congress. More than ever, these associations are developing, commissioning and publishing white papers on a range of subjects important to their core constituency. Telecomm, national defense, aerospace—you name it; white papers have taken the global marketplace by storm.

Here are the five golden rules for making your next white paper a potent marketing tool:

Golden Rule #1: Inform, Don’t Sell

Given that we are all inundated with sales pitches from sunup to sundown, from the media to our peers, it’s actually refreshing to be educated about a topic. If you’ve returned to school after years of being in the job sector, you know the feeling of how refreshing it is to be in an environment where learning takes precedence over sales.

Golden Rule #2: Titles Make You Soar or Sink

People have so little time these days to decipher complicated headlines. They’ll just move on to the next paper in the Google list. Your white paper positively must have an attention-grabbing moniker. If you expect someone to spend time reading a 10-page study, you better arrest their attention immediately with a captivating title.

Golden Rule #3: Graphics Matter

The white paper is not only about facts and figures. The white paper should have colorful graphics to make the project pop.  Ideally, you will want to have your designer there with you as a collaborator from the word “go,” so you can bounce great ideas off of each other during and after the production of the piece.

Golden Rule #4: Hire a Writer

While it’s always tempting to save freelancing costs by just having someone in-house do your white paper, an actual skilled writer will be well worth the investment.  Writers are experts at creating, organizing, and presenting information in a visible and even audibly pleasing manner. This is a skill few time-famished company workers can execute.  This isn’t to say your hired gun should avoid interacting with your team; it just means he or she may be better skilled at crystallizing the essence of your team’s insights objectively.

Golden Rule #5: Brand With Subtlety

Put your company information on the white paper but in an understated, professional manner. If every page screams your brand, it will come off as more of a sales document than an informational study. If your well-placed brand placement looks like an afterthought, readers will place greater trust in your message.

BONUS TIP: Where and How to Use Your White Paper

  • Your website
  • Mail It to prospects
  • Hand It out at trade shows and conferences
  • Develop speeches from the white paper for presentation at industry events
  • Use it as an educational resource for your employees
  • Let your sales team use it as informational literature for sales calls
  • Hide the white paper behind a form, and build a search marketing campaign around it using keywords
  • Pitch the white paper to newsletters, trade Journals, and magazines

Related Article: Is Content Marketing the Future of B2B?

While some see white papers, like infographics before them, as a superficial new trend, they will continue to be powerful marketing tools as long as consumers continue to seek facts, objectivity, and well-written business studies.

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