Are White Papers Dead?
White papers have been an important part of B2B communication for longer than the Internet. Before going viral was even a thing, white papers — originally short government briefs — were mailed to recipients. On paper!
That doesn’t mean white papers have lost their usefulness as a marketing tool. Today, white papers fill an important role in marketing and still carry that air of authority.
Since white papers thoroughly detail a solution to a problem, think of them as another way to educate prospects. In fact, if white papers are considered dated, and your competitors are not using them, this could be exactly the reason to consider using them.
Timing Is Everything
White papers can be used at various stages of the sales funnel. A high-level paper can be used to introduce a topic (problem) and help visualize a desired outcome (solution).
At a more advanced stage of the Buyers Journey, white papers provide further understanding in greater detail. They compare and put research into context. They include graphs and charts and in addition to helping readers solve a problem, they help readers make a decision.
Not a Sales Pitch
By their very nature, white papers are dense with facts, observations, methodology and actionable advice. They should include:
- A cover page
- A Table of Contents
- An About section
- A list of sources
Because white papers help prospects answer problems they want to solve or decisions they are trying to make, at 2,500 to 5,000 words, a white paper is not a sales pitch. It reflects deep research backing up assertions with statistics, facts and quotes from respected sources.
Ask the Expert
According to Gordon Graham, That White Paper Guy, www.ThatWhitePaperGuy.com, a white paper is:
- A document containing narrative text
- At least 5-6 pages long, in portrait format
- Educational, practical and useful, NOT a sales pitch
- Used BEFORE a sale, not AFTER a sale
- Provides facts, NOT just opinion
- Includes an introduction or executive summary
As marketers, it’s important to speak the language of your audience. If you feel the term white paper is outdated for your readers, Graham suggests calling it a Research Guide, a Technical Report, a Backgrounder or an Executive Briefing.
White papers present you as a thought leader with thorough knowledge of your industry. They can help people think about old concepts, or problems, in a new way while reflecting your company’s fresh thinking. While it’s OK to discuss the before and after situation, the best do not include testimonials or case studies.
White papers are common in IT and other technical professions. They are more likely to be found in a business-to-business environment, however, they can be effective in B2C sales, too.
While no longer sent out by a government entity, white papers are more commonly found as .pdf files. Today, white papers require attention to design for viewing online and offline.
Design your white paper with mobile viewers in mind. This is becoming more challenging since the best white papers include sidebars, call-outs, headers, graphics, bullets, boxes, etc. – which are not easily displayed on mobile screens. Hire a professional designer if you cannot accomplish this on your own.
A fully developed white paper will provide you with plenty of content for blogs, press releases, tweets, social media and presentations. Develop your white paper first. It’s far more effective to promote a white paper with social media than it is to create a white paper from social media posts. Used correctly, formatted properly and presented at the right time, a white paper can be a true competitive advantage for your company.
White papers are valuable because they are different, detailed and persuasive. They reinforce your position as a Subject Matter Expert. They are important and relevant as a marketing tool as long as they teach and don’t sell.
If you are offering something that’s technical, complex, or costs a lot of money, consider the use of white papers. According to Graham, that white paper guy:
“good ones get passed up and down the chain of command.”
In the hands of the right person, your white paper will support the decision to buy from you.
Are you using white papers as part of your marketing? Let us know how in the Comments section below. A real person reads and responds to all comments.
Want help figuring out where white papers fit into your marketing plan? Contact Crest for a free 30-minute, no obligation, risk-free consultation today.
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At Crest, we help companies:
- Create content that separates them from their competition
- Become subject matter experts in their field
- Measure the effectiveness of their marketing $$
- Generate a consistent pipeline of high-quality leads for less
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