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Patricia O'Loughlin
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Word concubine since 1989.
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Should You Incorporate White Papers in Your Marketing Mix?

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White papers can be a highly prolific marketing tool, yet one that is often cast aside in favour of snazzier tactics. Though this marketing workhorse has been around for practically eons, it looks a little different these days thanks to our inclinations towards a plugged-in, multi-channel world. At the crux of white papers is the idea to provide well-researched, fluff-free material that resonates with prospects rather than pushes a sale. By producing content that provides real value to your reader, you position your business as a prominent thought leader with serious industry knowledge and a thirst for staying on top of trends.

Sounds pretty simple, right?

Well, in order to really understand the art of white papers and the kinds of business goals they can kick, it’s important to wrap your ahead around those FAQs that commonly crop up.

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First things first: what exactly are white papers?

While the general idea of white papers is to deliver rich, substantive content that educates and informs the reader, there is no cookie cutter approach to this content marketing tool. White papers can come in a variety of forms; however, the most common examples include:

  • Presenting a problem related to your industry, dissecting its nuances and offering a solution;
  • Discussing fresh new concepts that trigger innovative thinking;
  • Offering a clear-cut point of view on an issue that is trending in your industry;
  • Providing a collection of thoroughly-researched findings and statistically-sound data.

Your white paper might be refined to one of these categories, or it might integrate a few at once. Regardless, these materials are considered the ‘academic papers of content marketing’, functioning as an in-depth document with a whole smorgasbord of business benefits.

What kinds of businesses are they suited for?

White papers aren’t going to be the most profitable content marketing avenue for all businesses. Yes, they have the power to make solid ground with potential prospects, but this highly depends on the industry you’re involved in.

First and foremost, these marketing materials are great for B2B businesses. Recent stats show that white papers are a B2B buyer’s favourite type of content to a) share with colleagues; and b) make purchasing decisions.

In this regard, white papers can be a marketing goldmine for certain sectors. Industries that specialise in medical, scientific and technical services are likely to reap the rewards from pumping out white papers, with these kinds of prospects tending to engage in heavy research before making a purchasing decision.

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On the other hand, this marketing tool is a poor fit for businesses that sell B2C products that are relatively familiar, simple to understand or inexpensive. Herein, consumers are hardly going to pore over a 10-page paper to decide where to invest their money; a colourful, short-and-snappy marketing strategy is much more advised (hello, EDMs).

Who embodies a typical white paper audience?

If you’re still unsure whether your company is suited to white papers, take a moment to consider the kinds of audiences who typically engage with these pieces of content:

  • Executives on the hunt for bottom-line benefits such as higher products, lower costs and better customer service;
  • Managers interested in ways to save on labour and streamline workflows;
  • IT people seeking the most up-to-date information and trends in a rapidly evolving industry; and
  • User reps involved in selection committees who want to learn about training and support option.

What do white papers look like?

There aren’t exactly any industry standards to define white papers. A white paper could be anything from an annual report to a 100-page academic document, a detailed manual or a glossy brochure. They vary greatly according to each industry, but at the end of the day, a successful white paper should smoothly convey intricate information. In this regard, there are some blanket conventions that can be applied:

  • At least five to six pages long;
  • Blocks of text, numbered lists and/or diagrams;
  • Introduction and/or executive summary;
  • In-depth focus on one topic;
  • Oriented in portrait format;
  • Used before a sale rather than after;
  • Grounded in facts over opinion;
  • Formal language and serious tone.

In terms of distribution, white papers generally come in the form of downloadable PDFs that can be emailed to prospects or featured on a company’s website (usually on the home page).

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And what should they steer clear of?

Given the academic nature of white papers, it’s important to jettison the fluff. Where content marketing tools such as blogs offer the leeway to get creative, white papers are anchored in hard facts. As such, be sure to avoid rehashing promotional materials and offering scattershot ideas. Be thorough, concise, non-biased and accurate – failing to pay attention to these details will have your white paper that you’ve slogged so hard over evaporating into irrelevancy.

What kinds of objectives do they achieve?

When done right, white papers can provide a serious boon to your business. Though their objectives will vary according to your industry and the type of white paper you’re producing, this marketing tool has the potential to achieve a whole bunch of juicy goals:

  • Generate sales leads;
  • Nurture prospects;
  • Build brand image and spread expertise;
  • Influence a selection committee;
  • Educate the media;
  • Reshape a market niche;
  • Dominate competitors.

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So, to summarise…

White papers shouldn’t be created just for the sake of producing content; they should deliver a real, tangible purpose that provides quality value to your audience. White papers are a tool for paving the way, thereby requiring your writer to master a topic, hone a point of view and connect with an audience.

Producing a white paper can be a tedious and time-consuming process. Collaboration is key here, with professional insights, third-party data and hard statistics becoming paramount to shaping the final product. At the end of the day, you want to present your business as a voice of reason that has the credibility and capacity to expand on industry themes, uncover precious research nuggets, and drive an important conversation. By ticking these boxes, you can roadmap your way to business success.

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By Patricia O'Loughlin


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