Marketing With White Papers:
Basics for Success

Kathy Burnham Senior Vice President and leader of the
PSB Manufacturing practice

You have a technologically advanced solution, so how do you market it? Consider a white paper. White papers offer unique value to potential customers by providing just answers, backed with research that justifies the solution. In short, white papers explain how you can make your customers’ lives easier.

White papers may not be the most compelling type of marketing collateral, but they offer a benefit that more glamorous advertising and marketing materials can’t. Because of the wealth of information they contain, they prove that there’s “steak” behind the marketing “sizzle.” Rather than simply giving a few enticing morsels, as a brochure would do, a white paper can establish your company’s authority on a topic and provide information to support your audience’s buying decisions.

To use white papers as a key marketing tool, follow these useful tips:

Form a bond. At the heart of any white paper effort is your audience. What do they need? What business problem or issue is causing them pain? Address their needs immediately, and you’ll have them hooked. Once you’ve defined the issue that resonates with your target audience, show them your path to a solution. The steps on that path — i.e. how your company can solve their problem —will be your paper’s key messages.

Lead with the pain. Start with the problem or issue that is causing your audience pain, and your key messages, as the solutions, will naturally follow. As in most marketing copy, the most effective white papers follow a customer-focused approach that concentrates on the customer’s needs, not the products or services you want to sell. By focusing on the pain points experienced by the reader and talking about the problems caused by those pains, you are establishing credibility with the reader and simultaneously filtering out unqualified customers.

Strike a balance. How much your audience knows about your solution will determine what kind of background information you need to provide. One of the biggest mistakes is to assume the audience knows a lot more about the topic than they actually do. Conversely, you also don’t want to assume the reader knows nothing and wind up with patronizing copy. Make sure you strike a balance that fits your audience.

Get technical. White papers are one of few written communication tools where technical content is expected. Use the expertise of your engineers and product managers to include content that speaks to an engineering or technical audience. Then use your skills as a marketing communicator to soften the tone and make the copy interesting. Be carefule, though, that content isn’t to technical, which will loose your audience, as noted previously.

Defining the Content

Be careful to distinguish the difference between what your readers are interested in and what you think they should be interested in. The goal is to provide content of sufficient value to cause the reader to retain the paper for future use, so the paper’s relevance must be immediately clear to your audience.

Once you define your topic, a few tips for planning , structure and content will lead you to an effective finished product.

• The headline. Write a headline that incorporates both your reader’s problem and your solution. Your headline must create instant interest and motivate your audience to read more.

• Identify main objectives. Once you identify your three to five main objectives, you can start providing details to the basic white paper outline: background on the problem at hand, introduction of your solution, arguments for and against, and a conclusion.

• Adopt a conversational tone. Use terms that your readers can picture. Unless your audience will respond best to the technical or scientific approach, avoid third person. That is, avoid using words like “you” and “yours” in white papers.

• Capture their attention. Use a personal tone, anecdotes, eyewitness accounts and other interesting metaphors or examples to capture and keep the reader’s attention.

• Maintain objectivity. It’s important to address all sides of the argument clearly and avoid bias. If you are making claims that are clearly out in left field, your readers will question your validity. Quotations from reputable third-party sources should always support claims that involve numbers of any kind.

• Avoid dramatic claims. Try to avoid using words such as “revolutionary” or “next-generation.” If your product really is any of these things, let the facts make the case, and knowledgeable readers will quickly recognize it. And, while you don’t want to build a case for your competitors’ approaches, acknowledging some of the strengths of competing approaches will make the benefits you claim for your approach that much more credible.

Bringing It All Together

An invaluable marketing piece, a topical and well-written white paper can provide value to its readers and give credibility to a company, its products and/or services. If you do it well, your white paper will be read, shared with others and kept. And by focusing on the needs of your audience, then carefully crafting a paper that addresses those needs, you can write a white paper that makes an impression and creates business.

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