White papers (or special reports, or even ebooks, if you prefer to call them that) have a significant influence on the people who buy technology for companies, according to the 2017 Content Preferences Survey Report. Seventy-seven percent of respondents in that report said they used white papers to research B2B purchasing decisions. (Second only to case studies.)
Clearly, if you’re selling a technology service or solution, you need to bulk up your marketing efforts with white papers (or special report, if you prefer).
A white paper addresses one of your prospects’ common problems, positions your service/solution/product as the answer to that problem, and establishes you as a thought leader—all without the resistance-inducing sales pitch.
Are white papers a good idea for your company?
If you’re in any of the following categories, white papers can really help generate leads and move prospects down the sales funnel:
- Your product/solution/product involves a new technology, innovation, or better way to do something
- You produce an unfamiliar product or service
- Your company needs to be seen as experts, thought leaders, or the best at what it does
- Your product/service/solution is a “big-ticket” purchase
- You need to sell the idea of your product
- You need to differentiate your product from its competition
What makes an effective white paper?
All effective white papers have a few things in common:
- Rich, substantive content that educates, not sells
- New ideas that prompt and provoke innovative thinking
- A clearly communicated point of view on issues that are highly relevant and timely in the industry
- Statistically sound data and well-researched findings
An effective white paper is narrowly focused on a single topic and is of interest to your target audience. How do you make it of interest to them? Tell them how to solve a problem. Everybody wants to solve problems. If you offer insight on how to do that, they’ll at least check out what you have to say.
And, of course, the paper has to position you as the go-to company for the solution. Put those elements together, and your white paper will excel.
How do you find the best topic for your white paper?
Finding that narrow topic revolves around considering the thing (product/solution/service) you’re trying to promote, the greatest benefit it provides, and how that solves a real-world business pain point your audience is likely struggling with.
The clearest way to explain it is through an example:
Let’s say you make an HR benefits solution that automates most of the annual enrollment steps. But that’s not the topic of your white paper. It’s not simply about automating the process. Go deeper. What is one great benefit from your enterprise solution?
I worked in HR for a large employer before, and I know how hectic open enrollment can be, and the expense associated with paying data entry people overtime to meet deadlines. So, the obvious benefit is how this automation saves a lot of time for HR reps. Good. But that’s still not quite your topic. (It’s not: “How your HR reps can save time during open enrollment.”) That topic really isn’t broad enough to support a white paper. That’s more of a landing page, or a short ad that focuses on your product/solution/service.
For your white paper, go deeper. Remember to build your topic off of the pain points experienced by your audience. Start there, and based on those pain points, what insight can you share with others about how to solve them?
Maybe your topic can be: “How companies are slicing hours off the annual enrollment process (without cutting customer service corners).” Or maybe: “Computers are cutting benefits enrollment time by 58% (and freeing HR reps to deal with the human side of human resources).”
The key to great white paper topics is simple and complex
Those are just two examples. But what they have in common is that they talk about the HR industry (by talking about dealing with open enrollment) and problems common to HR members of your audience. Such a paper would naturally start by talking about the pain points in the industry associated with inefficiencies, lack of technology, or some other shortcoming. Then it would move on to discuss (ineffective) solutions that have been tried before. Finally, it would present your innovative way of solving the problem. All supported with research and data.
The trick is that the white paper is about a bigger, but simultaneously narrower topic. Bigger, in that it addresses a common problem the target audience is dealing with and talks about the industry rather than your company, or even their company specifically. It takes a broader look at the issue. Narrower, because it’s a single topic that is intensely researched.
It’s not about how your product is the answer. It’s about how your prospects can solve their problem. And, oh yeah, you happen to provide that service/solution.
Note, though, that a good white paper will take 40 hours or more to complete. That’s valuable time away from your other goals. Fortunately, I know a pretty good writer who can conceive, research, and write your white paper. If you think a white paper could help your marketing and lead-generation efforts, let’s talk.
(A version of this blog post appeared on the GlobalWrites website in 2015.)