White papers are one of the strongest marketing tools available for B2B sales.
According to a recent study by Eccolo Media, 84% of businesses find white papers either moderately or extremely influential in their buying decisions.
Not only that, a white paper has the potential to ‘go viral’. 89% of respondents admitted to passing on white papers to their peers, and almost one in three had forwarded a white paper to three or more colleagues and co-workers.
And the social media boom has made sharing these documents easier than it’s ever been. Much of the report sharing that goes on in the tech industry happens via Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Documents are also shared through forums, and via companies’ private intranets.
What does this mean for you? If you produce high quality white papers that provide genuine value to your prospects, you can expect to get the attention you deserve.
What is a White Paper?
In simple terms, a white paper is a document that educates customers about a problem and how to solve it. Michael Stelzner, writer of Writing White Papers: How to Capture Readers and Keep Them Engaged, describes white papers as: “Persuasive documents that usually describe problems and how to solve them… The white paper is a crossbreed of a magazine article and a brochure.”
A typical white paper will demonstrate:
- What the problem is
- Why it matters
- Why XYZ approach is the best solution
To take that a step further, it might look something like this:
- Lead with the problem or challenge faced by your intended customers
- Introduce the solution in a generic (non-branded) way
- List and explain the benefits of this solution, and why they’re relevant to the problem faced by your intended customers
- Detail important considerations
- Introduce the specific product you’re promoting, and gently position it as the ideal solution by tying it into the problem and solution already described.
It’s important to note that there is a clear separation between points 1-4 and point 5. Customers expect a gentle sales pitch at the end of a white paper, but at it’s heart the document must be genuinely designed to educate them in an unbiased way. If you try to jump in with your sales pitch during this educational phase of the white paper, the reader will immediately lose interest.
Who Reads White Papers?
The short answer: Everyone.
In modern business, the ‘buying decision’ power of individuals is reducing. It’s increasingly a requirement for buyers to have to justify their decisions, and in many cases buying committees are setup to make purchasing decisions. This increase in the number of people involved in buying decisions, coupled with the viral nature of white papers, means that these documents can play a huge part in the procurement process.
In fact, since buyers are often not experts in the field they’re researching, they’ll use white papers to help them settle on evaluation criteria and create a short-list of products, services and vendors that appear to fit their needs. I can tell you this for a fact, because I’ve done it myself; In my past life as an IT and Finance Project Manager, I often used quality white papers to help me figure out different ways to solve my employers problems. I even used them to help me write Invitation to Tender (ITT) documents, and I’m certainly not alone in that!
Another reason that so many people are receptive to quality white papers is the rate of change. We’re in what’s often referred to as the ‘Age of Information’, which could be more accurately described as the ‘Age of Information Overload’. Technology is advancing at an unbelievable rate, and your customers are experiencing more and increasingly complex problems every year. Not only is it likely that they don’t understand the full extent of their problems, they may not even know they have a problem at all! This is particularly true if you’re targeting industries that are not inherently high tech, such as the Service or Public Sectors.
Buyers don’t have time to become expert in every field, so they look to educational materials like white papers to help them understand exactly what their problems are, and how they can solve them.
Add all this together and it’s easy to see why the audience for quality white papers includes everyone from management to techies and CEOs to front-line staff. Get it right, and your white papers can steer buyers towards your solutions, and they can do it better than almost any other marketing strategy.
Types of White Paper
There are three main formats for this type of document:
Business White Papers – These follow the format described earlier, and run to around seven or eight pages. These documents are aimed mainly at buyers and non-technical staff, and are used by customers during the research phase of the buying decision.
Technical White Papers – These are very detailed documents, often running to 15 or 20 pages. These are usually targeted at more specialist or technical staff, and are used towards the end of the buying decision process.
Hybrid White Papers – These are a mixture of the previous two document types; They’re used early in the buying decision process, as they’re designed to appeal to both business and technical audiences. Typically there will be separate sections for each audience, and the rationale is that the document should be appealing to the reader regardless of their background. This can be particularly helpful where a white paper has been shared via email or social media, as there’s no way to predict which audience will receive it first.
What You Get
Before I write your white paper, I’ll need to get up to speed on the subject matter.
I interview your subject experts extensively to make sure I don’t miss anything. Interviews are conducted via Skype or phone (your choice), and I find that the best results require interviews with 2-4 key members of staff.
Sometimes it’s more, sometimes it’s less. But rest assured that I’ll make sure I have all the information I need to write your perfect white paper.
Turnaround times will typically be within 2 weeks for the first draft, and are dependent on availability of key staff for interviews. The price we agree upon will include up to 3 revisions, within the period of 30 days from submission of the first draft.
Usually my clients like to have their own designers format the white paper.
Get Started with White Papers Today!
Want to get started? Got questions about how your business could benefit from white papers?
Please complete the form at the bottom of the page, or get in touch. I’d love to hear from you.