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Why do you need to reconsider White Papers?

I thought it would be worth looking at the increasingly important piece of marketing collateral known as the ‘White Paper’, and what it should contain. Before that, however, it’s worth discussing what White Papers are, and why you should get some produced.

Back in the 90s, White Papers were all the rage amongst tech companies, but I doubt that many got read, mainly because it was so hard to distribute them to the right prospects. In addition, the type of company which embraced them also happened to be the type which delighted in using corporate technobabble, and many potential readers ran a mile on just hearing the term.

That’s changed. Many technical professionals will have had positive experiences reading good White Papers over the years, and will be willing to give them a chance. More importantly, they make fantastic website content, both for attracting the search engines and for collecting name-and-contact details from prospects.

Generally speaking, a White Paper talks about problems and general solutions, rather than product features and benefits. It will, of course, always lead on to specific solutions. By ‘problem’ (a word I detest in marketing), I mean any ‘how to’ statement, including those things which needn’t necessarily be considered a problem by the prospect – just something they’d like to know how to do, or how to do better.

Once you’ve got a White Paper written (and we’ll talk about the contents tomorrow), then you can use it as a brilliant way to attract visitors to your website and collect details from visitors who might otherwise remain anonymous. There’s a balance to be struck here, as freely publishing the content (to maximise search engine traffic) means you don’t have a product which you can exchange for name-and-contact details. I suggest the best way is to produce a nice PDF version, with illustrative material and perhaps an offer, which is only available in exchange for the reader’s details. Then publish a slightly truncated, text-only version, perhaps split into multiple pages, on the website. I’ve seen a lot of success with this approach.

In terms of writing it, you may have the time and inclination to do this yourself. However, getting an independent technical writer in normally represents a good return on investment. All you have to do is to list the ‘problems’ which your prospects have, and put the writer together with an appropriate company expert, to thrash out a White Paper based on describing the situation where your company’s products are – presumably – so effective. For a few hundred pounds you can get yourself an excellent piece of marketing collateral which will work on your website for years, and which your sales team will just love to have in their armoury.

Tomorrow: what should a White Paper look like?

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