(Ping! Zine Web Hosting Magazine) – White papers – what are they and how can they help your business generate leads. Over the years I have written dozens of white papers for leading hosting, software, and technology companies. White papers are one of the most valuable marketing resources your company can use to generate qualified leads that are ready to purchase your products and services.
But what exactly is a white paper? Many clients ask that question so I set out to write this article to define a white paper, the purposes white papers serve, the people who read white papers, where to publish white papers, the cost of developing white papers, and taking the next step.
Defining a white paper
A white paper is a document, typically 10-15 pages, that educates prospective customers on how to resolve a particular problem or issue by using possible solutions available in the marketplace. But the primary objective of a white paper is to show how your solution is the ultimate solution to resolving a particular problem or issue compared to “other” available solutions.
White papers use a variety of promotional writing and marketing techniques to engage readers using proven, statistical data to backup claims and statements, charts and graphics, proper flow of content, and other elements necessary to educate prospective customers.
Well-written white papers start by introducing the problem or issue by including points that can seem painful to any business owner or business executive. The idea – make the reader understand that if they do not read this white paper, it could hurt business in terms of attracting new customers and increasing revenue. White papers do in fact, generate leads.
A white paper can serve multiple purposes
You want to generate leads for your business, right? Every company does. Doing so increases revenue. There are many ways to generate leads. Some are better than others. White papers are at the top. Below is a partial list of things a white paper can do for your business.
- Educates customers
- Resolves an issue
- Answers a complex question
- Provides multiple solutions
- Utilizes statistical data
- Generates leads
- Builds brand awareness
- Enhances company image
- Increases professionalism
Those sound great, right? I think so. Here’s why. I see multi-million dollar companies utilize white papers everyday successfully to do all of the above. They hire a professional writer to develop a white paper that grabs prospective customers’ attention, keeps the reader engaged, educates the reader, and demonstrates why the company’s solution is the ideal solution for the prospective customer’s needs. But not just any white paper will do. They must be written well. They must have the basic elements that make up a white paper effective enough to generate leads. And most importantly, they must be written by a professional writer – a good professional writer.
Who reads white papers?
Simply put – key decision makers. Even if they are not the CEO, decision makers come in all flavors from IT Director to CFO to Account Manager to Project Manager and so on. You get the idea. Decision makers have influence on purchasing new products and solutions that will help their organization overcome the problems or issues you describe in your white paper. And people who read white papers are intelligent decision makers. They want to know available solutions and what makes one solution better (or worse) than other solutions. That said, the most effective way to educate those decision makers is give them a detailed white paper.
Decision makers want lots of information so your white papers must provide enough details and the content must be well written and well defined with plenty of examples. Otherwise your white paper is useless. So in order to get those important details and examples in your white paper, the length must be at least 10 – 15 pages, not the one or two page technical paper people often call white papers.
Debunking the white paper myth
Many people think a white paper is a one or two page technical paper describing, well, something technical. That’s not even close and should never be considered a white paper. If you only write one or two pages describing something technical, you are missing the most important pieces that make up the heart and soul of a white paper.
However, I do encourage those of you writing technical papers to keep doing so. Publish them on your website, in your knowledgebase or resource center, maybe even a blog post or two. Just make sure you call it a technical paper, not a white paper. Of course, over time, you can develop your technical paper into a lead-generating white paper, even if you have already published it on your website.
White paper layout
Layout is extremely important when writing a white paper. The layout determines how your prospective customers will learn and understand the problem or issue. Layouts also provide substantial evidence to help your readers understand why other solutions may not work to resolve the problem or issue. And layouts help the reader understand why your company’s solution will help resolve the problem or issue.
Few professional writers truly understand what an effective layout should look like when writing a white paper. When I say layout, I am specifically referring to the order of information presented. Below is an example of a layout I use when writing white papers.
- Introduction (complex question, problem, or issue is introduced)
- Question/Problem/Issue (problem is described in detail)
- Possible Solutions (available solutions that resolve an issue)
- White Paper Sponsor (introduce the company sponsoring the white paper)
- Sponsor Solutions (state why the sponsoring company’s solutions are the right choice)
- Conclusion (include call-to-action elements)
Layout in terms of design includes formatting, colors, branding, and other elements that keep the reader engaged from beginning to end.
White paper design
Design is also crucial to the success of your white papers. White paper designs always utilize the sponsoring company’s logo and colors. White papers do not have to look like the rest of your marketing materials as long as your logo is displayed. The reason – a white paper is about content, not your company’s branding. Remember, decision makers want well-written, proven examples and solutions.
Formatting plays a vital role in the success of your white paper. Sections of content should be clearly marked and identified by headings and sub headings that use different fonts. White paper formatting should make it easy to read so your prospective customers (decision makers) can get to the information they need quickly.
Publishing white papers
There are many places to publish your white papers – some free, some paid. The first place to publish your white papers is on your website. Some companies will require prospective customers to fill out a form before they receive a copy of the white paper. By doing so, the sponsoring company can collect data from the prospective customers and either follow-up by phone or email.
I will save going into detail about double opt-in for another article, but to give you a quick summary, a double opt-in confirms the email address your reader used when filling out your form is legit and not someone else’s email address.
You can also take it a step further by having a field option on your form asking the reader if you can follow-up by phone, email, newsletter, or not at all. It is okay to collect data and it’s completely up to you on whether or not you want to require your readers to fill out a form before they have access to your white papers.
Aside from publishing white papers on your website, there are dozens (maybe even hundreds) of websites where you can publish your white papers. I will not provide examples here because the best place to publish your white papers really depends on the topic. Some topics are better suited for specific websites.
Cost of developing a white paper
A well written white paper takes time to research, develop, and design. The average turnaround time depends on how much research has been done or needs to be done. Some companies have already done a lot of research (for marketing, sales, competitive analysis, and other reasons), which reduces the cost of developing a white paper. You get far more return on investment (ROI) with a well-written white paper, especially when you take the next step and hire a professional writer.
Taking the next step
Some clients have a list of topics they want to write about. Others need help determining the best topics. Either way, a professional writer can help shape your topics or help you generate topic ideas that will generate leads. Even if your team has attempted to write or start writing a white paper, but unable to take it to the next level, send what you have to a qualified professional writer to get the job done. When everything comes together and your white paper is completed and published, your company can start generating qualified leads.
About Dave Young
Dave Young is a professional writer, technical writer, website auditor, marketing consultant, SEO guru, and founder of Young Copy, a leading promotional and technical writing services firm. Visit www.youngcopy.com to learn how you can boost your company’s revenues.