The mission of this article is to help you craft a better white paper. Its recommendations encapsulate nearly twenty years of experience creating well over one hundred successful white papers for dozens of companies, large and small.
Have you ever read a white paper that was so good, you had to share it with your friends and colleagues? Maybe it gave a fresh perspective on an old issue, or brought clarity to a complex topic, or made just the right argument to support your point of view. You probably still have that paper in your files; it was good enough that you knew you'd refer to it time and time again.
A topical and well-written white paper is an invaluable marketing tool. When it provides a real service to its readers, a paper is read, kept as a reference, and shared with others. A successful white paper can:
Ironically, the proliferation of online content has made relevant, trustworthy, and insightful information increasingly hard to find. Who wouldn't prefer to read a single document, rather than wade through a sea of search results, trying to discern which bits are truly important? A great white paper wields considerable power: it serves as a trusted source of knowledge, shapes our opinions, and helps guide our decisions.
NOTE: This article is a short synopsis of a detailed 15 page white paper. The full white paper expands on the points below, providing actionable "how to" steps, tables to guide selection decisions and a case study to show the steps in action. Click here to request a free copy of this paper.
To achieve greatness, a white paper must appeal to a diverse group of stakeholders. Fortuitously they fall into two distinct categories – producers and readers. The roles of the individuals within each category may vary; but, at a high level, they share common objectives:
A great white paper finds a way to combine these sometimes overlapping, sometimes diverging interests in a coherent and compelling document.
Any company can create a great white paper by faithfully following the six steps summarized below. Using these steps, you can be assured of assembling the right team, defining the proper objectives, and crafting effective paper content and design. The process is straightforward, and the results will be determined by the quality of execution. Unfortunately, most people cut corners, skip steps, or make decisions that otherwise compromise greatness. Their loss can be your company's opportunity to stand out.
Whether formal or informal, every company has a process for producing marketing materials. Reviewing your company's process before embarking on a white paper will save much time and frustration over the life of the project. Start by identifying the organizations and people who need to be involved. Knowing their roles, interest levels, availability, and workloads is essential for developing an achievable schedule and lining up the resources and sign-offs you will need to be successful. Critical process areas to consider in any white paper effort include: approval and funding, project management, sources of input, production, reviewers, and sign-off.
What goals does the paper need to accomplish? How will you make the best use of it? When do you need it? The answers to these and other questions will lay the foundation for the success or failure of your paper. The paper's objectives drive all subsequent decisions, determining everything from the proper content and creation method to the paper's design and distribution strategy. Defining your objectives first may seem obvious; but, amazingly, most projects skip or shortchange this step – and, as a result, produce a less than great paper.
The most critical resource in producing a white paper is the writer. A great writer can make a dull topic fascinating, while a poor writer can have the opposite effect. Different types of writers bring different skills to the table, and you have many options to meet your needs. At one end of the spectrum are internal experts, such as your top product consultant or your Chief Technical Officer (CTO); at the other end are professional writers. Aside from writing skills, each option differs in terms of familiarity with the topic and audience, name recognition/perceived credibility, marketing expertise, impact on internal operations, and cost. For example, your CTO has market credibility and knows the topic and audience better than anyone else; but your CTO is also in high demand, works 15 hour days, and probably won't be able to devote the time required to write a white paper.
Request a copy of the full white paper to receive guidance on selecting the right writer by highlighting the differences between types of writers using seven key attributes.
Content is king! Developing great content is the most important investment you can make in the success of your paper. Unique, thought-provoking content differentiates your paper from the rest of the marketplace. It motivates your audience to download, read, save, and share your white paper. If your paper's content isn't compelling, nothing else matters; it won't entice readers.
It's tempting to pick the paper's topic first, but great content begins with the objectives outlined in Step 1. These objectives drive the messages that your paper needs to communicate. Choose the paper's topic according to your target audience, how it fits with your messages, and your ability to support it with high-value information.
Great content requires the right format and design to bring it to life. The "look and feel" of your white paper will influence everything from its ease of distribution, to the perceived credibility of its content. Elevating a white paper from good to great requires a design that matches "look and feel" with the paper's business objectives and target audience. Will the document be distributed physically or electronically? Does the content include many charts and graphs? Are readers likely to download and print copies? These questions are a few examples of the many factors to consider when making decisions regarding the paper's format and design.
The final step in producing a great white paper is getting it in the hands of its target audience. Even the best paper is worthless unless it's being read! Finding the right promotional approach depends on your objectives, the characteristics of your target audience, and your budget. A paper that is intended to build a market needs wide distribution to be effective, while one designed to accelerate a product purchase may only need distribution among current product evaluators.
Promotional methods discussed in the full white paper include: ad campaigns, email campaigns, search engine promotion, corporate web sites, sales organizations, conferences, seminars, trade events, bloggers/industry influencers, paid white paper portals, reprints, and paid magazine inserts.
Truly great white papers are rare and memorable. They deliver value to their readers and producers for years. A high quality white paper is one of the best tools available for supporting your company's sales and marketing efforts. We hope you seize this opportunity, and invest the attention and resources necessary to create a paper that stands out. With greatness within your grasp, why settle for anything less?
NOTE: Clarity Consulting offers a full range of services to help companies research, write and promote great white papers and associated marketing materials. Click here to explore our White Paper Services. Full information on the company is available from our home page.
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