White papers have been around for quite a while, but I’ve noticed that many businesses misuse the idea and get disappointing results.
I think the reason is that many people don’t understand the distinction between marketing literature and a true white paper.
Marketing literature, such as a brochure, is just what it sounds like. It’s literature intended to sell you something. It may be informative and interesting, but the purpose is clear. It works best when the person requesting the literature is curious about a specific product.
A properly-written white paper, however, is not simply sales literature in disguise. It is intended to be an authoritative report or a guide focused on an important, relevant issue. It seeks to educate readers and help them solve a problem or make a decision.
When you fail to make this distinction, you often end up with nothing but a wordy advertisement. There’s nothing wrong with long, editorial-style ads, but these are not white papers.
As an example, I offer a white paper called Getting Response in a Down Economy. I wrote this paper to counter the growing panic in the business community about falling sales. I present an argument that while the economic pain is real, the impending doom many feel is not. And I further provide many pages of tips and tactics for making sales in today’s environment.
Do I have an ulterior motive in offering this white paper? Of course. But it’s not a direct sales pitch for using my consulting or copywriting services. The information is timely and valuable whether you choose to call me or not.
And that’s where the white paper gets its power. By providing valuable information with no direct sales pitch, it helps to establish the source as an authority. For those who find the information helpful and want to overcome a particular problem, they will be predisposed to consider calling the author of the paper.
Writing good white papers is something of an art because you have to balance the sales motives of a business with the expectations and psychology of the reader and potential customer or client.
I don’t have room here to provide an extensive treatise on the subject. However, here are a few basic pointers. To write a successful white paper, I suggest that you …
- Make it 5 or more pages.
- Focus on a single, timely topic.
- Include exclusive information.
- Provide immediately useful tips.
- Avoid any direct advertising.
Naturally, you will also include contact information from the author or sponsoring business, which may include a soft call-to-action for more information.
White papers give you a powerful tactic for getting noticed and establishing yourself or your business as an authority in a given field. But they work only if you understand the multi-step nature of lead generation and avoid direct product pitches.