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The Power Of White Papers

The Power Of White Papers

If blog posts, social media posts and infographics are the appetizers of content marketing, consider white papers to be the main course. White papers are often far more attractively produced than they used to be, but their information-packed purpose remains the same. This was the resource that

If blog posts, social media posts and infographics are the appetizers of content marketing, consider white papers to be the main course.

White papers are often far more attractively produced than they used to be, but their information-packed purpose remains the same. This was the resource that helped break down complex concepts long before the term “explainers” existed, and in a sense they remain the unsung heroes of B2B marketing.

Until recently, the audience for white papers might have been limited to those in highly technical roles. Even if they were purportedly aimed at chief information officers (CIOs), for example, they were more likely to be read by IT managers, developers or other tech department staff who needed to assess whether a particular solution met their needs.

White papers would often walk their readers through the kinds of details that made little sense to those without a background in computer science, but that’s changed. Today, the term describes a broader category of content marketing assets that help drive decision-making within companies — namely, purchases.

Compared with other kinds of assets, including case studies, white papers might not be produced as often. They also might be tied more directly to major milestones in a company, like the launch of new products or services.

In some cases, though, white papers zoom in on changes within a particular role or industry, helping illustrate the foundations of a strategy companies should adopt to be successful.

Perhaps because of their name, white papers can also have a bad rap. There’s an assumption they will be dense, boring and less likely to drive engagement in an age where shorter content is favoured.

Before you jump the gun and avoid investing in them, however, it’s worth taking the time to learn more about what makes white papers an important asset, and how to turn them into a competitive advantage:

What makes a white paper

Blog posts are great, but in some cases their life span can be surprisingly short.

That’s because one of the benefits of blogging is immediacy — you can capitalize on recent news, talk about the latest industry trends or talk directly about announcements involving your company and its ecosystem.

White papers have a longer shelf life. They tend to be anchored around topics that require not only an audience’s attention, but a commitment of time. They break down subjects that become difficult to grasp, or which represent opportunities or threats that a company needs to consider and act upon.

Many years ago, for instance, there were many white papers about the rise of e-commerce, with guidance on how firms across industries could (or should) adopt it in order to remain competitive.

More recently, you’ll likely have seen white papers helping provide a 101 on the various flavours of cloud computing, the promise of business-oriented mobile apps or what artificial intelligence means for the way people work in many kinds of jobs.

Today, there could be just as many white papers delving into the way technology contributes to the process of selling, providing customer service or even (you guessed it) marketing through digital channels.

The ‘why’ of white papers

A blog post might drive traffic. A social post could garner “likes” and shares. A good white paper, on the other hand, can become a lead generation machine.

Due to the level of research involved and the value they provide, many organizations put white papers behind on online gate or form and require some kind of information — name, job title and organization are the most common — in order to download them for free.

If you need to get a better handle on particular issues facing your firm or sector, you’ll gladly provide this, because by downloading the white paper you’re signalling you may be in the market for a product that solves a problem it addresses.

These can be the best kinds of leads for sales reps, because downloading a white paper can be a good signal of purchase intent, or at least research. Calling or emailing someone who downloaded such this resource isn’t seen as intrusive so much as natural.

How the best white papers read

Since this is a blog post and not a white paper, we’ll keep it succinct: a white paper should be authoritative, accessible and actionable.

No one will download a white paper from an organization that doesn’t have an obvious connection to the topic it talks about. A white paper should reflect your firm’s subject matter expertise and its track record in leading an industry through similar opportunities or challenges.

As we mentioned earlier, though, the audience for white papers is no longer limited to IT professionals. They need to be written with the thought that they might be shared and discussed by cross-functional members of a buying team, or even passed on to the CEO of a small or medium-sized business.

White papers aren’t just theoretical, either. They should outline a plan of attack that an audience can apply, even if it’s just the starting point for a broader discussion within their company.

This doesn’t mean white papers should always advocate investing in a product or service. The takeaways could be more about new ways of thinking, making sense of survey data or suggesting metrics to benchmark a firm against its peer group.

While they might take more time and effort up front, white papers can also be broken up into pieces and repurposed. A standalone chapter might become a blog post, for example, or fashion the data into an infographic, turned into a video or even a sales deck.

One good way to approach white papers is to think of them as the most “citable” content you create. In other words, when those at the far reaches of your community look for effective reference materials, your white papers should be at the top of their list. And if you can do that, you’ll be at the top of their list of potential vendors, too.

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