Keeping white papers engaging can be a challenge. These examples command attention while educating.
The term ‘white paper’ originally came from British politics, denoting a document explaining and supporting a political solution. Soon the business world, as the business world does, took the word and bandied it about. It began to serve a variety of uses, some more product-oriented than others.
For us, a white paper is a persuasive, in-depth report that provides a solution to a problem. Content marketers use white papers to educate their audiences about an issue and influence decision-making processes of current and potential customers. Readers expect an advanced problem-solving guide packed with expertise.
The level of detail might be why white papers have a bit of a reputation as a snoozefest. If not crafted well they can easily become dry.
But done well they’re worthwhile – decision makers show a strong preference for white papers when considering buying. In fact, 76% of buyers are willing to register and share information about themselves in exchange for white papers. The format is a good way to move prospects further down the sales funnel while building credibility with readers. It should have your audience nodding in agreement as they read and walking away better informed.
After all, if you are asking for a person’s time and, often, data in exchange for access to a white paper, you’d best give them something of real value. So focus on what’s useful to the audience, beef up the information with primary research, keep it interesting and make sure it can be repurposed.
Here are some white papers that do just that.
Companies should understand what problems customers and prospects have and use white papers to deep-dive into information that addresses those concerns.
Cisco isn’t afraid to get technical with its white papers. The company provides networking hardware, data security services, telecommunications equipment and more – it operates in an area that can be complex, so its white papers need to be accessible.
Networking and your competitive edge deals with network security for a broad market of decision makers. It explains the idea of the ‘network edge’ (and why it needs to be secured with Cisco products) in simply and all jargon is quickly explained.
The paper avoids becoming overly dense by balancing text with graphics. Any text-heavy page is compensated with an infographic with key information on the next page.
If you can help someone understand a complex topic they need to get their head around, you can build trust and credibility. Taking complex subjects and making them understandable for decision makers, even those outside of IT departments, is a real achievement. And decision makers will view Cisco positively because of it.
Salmat, a marketing services organisation, created this white paper to inform decision makers tasked with customer experience. Why you Need an Omnichannel Strategy: Creating a Seamless Customer Experience explains that every channel needs to provide the customer with a consistent interaction with their brand.
The white paper checks all the boxes: plain English to ensure that the audience gains something after reading it. Pull out quotes to allow skim readers to come back to key insights later. Design elements and graphics to clearly communicate heavy concepts. For example, a visual representation of defining omnichannel follows the written explanation. A section on ‘why customer experience is key to your success’ is an infographic. No tiny text in sight.
However a few features stand out:
- Case studies from companies that do omnichannel well, which aren’t an instance of Salmat tooting its own horn but an honest look at what customers can learn from the best in class.
- A Q&A section addressing common questions in a simple, accessible format.
Overall, Salmat prioritises providing value to its audience instead of taking the route of the hard sell.
SnapApp, an interactive content marketing platform, dedicates a lot of its marketing efforts to selling the benefits of interactive content. And what better way than to walk the walk.
An Introduction to Interactive Content lists the benefits of different forms of interactive content – from quizzes to calculators, interactive videos and infographics – using moving elements, simple animations and pop-up questions.
Interactive white papers can be costly but allow you to gain more information from your audiences. So, in exchange for educating your audience, you gain insights that can fuel your personalisation, help you lead score, identify a persona, qualify a prospect and guide your audience down a specific path in the buyer’s journey.
SnapApp’s white paper shows how a little purposeful experimentation with the white paper format can pay off through a product that makes audiences willingly stay engaged.
LinkedIn’s content marketing focuses on owning conversations through white papers, including the sophisticated marketer’s guide series.
Creating serial content is a great way to keep an audience and deepen its relationship with your brand. After one positive experience with the series, audiences will be more likely to keep an eye out for other publications in the series.
The Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to Content Marketing is one piece in a wider series. It also banks on owning a conversation with thought leadership, providing statistics and research as well as opinion from leaders in content marketing.
“Don’t think of it as an instruction manual – think of it as strategic guide with lots of input from top thought leaders and LinkedIn marketing experts,” the introduction reads. This is the paper’s strength. The likes of Joe Pulizzi, the founder of the content marketing institute, and Rand Fishkin, co-founder of marketing analytics software Moz, contributed to this particular guide.
A white paper is a big investment of an audience’s time. If you are asking for an audiences’ contact details in exchange for a download, make sure you supply them with something of real value – like genuine thought leadership.
White papers are useful tools for engaging decision makers who are already considering purchasing. But when you are a decision maker in a small business it may be hard to find the time to examine pages of information.
Google Cloud Security and Compliance Whitepaper: How Google Protects your Data is 27 pages explaining how Google Apps For Work keep data safe. It covers Google’s design philosophy, security features, data storage, certificates, compliance features and the tools an administrator has to customise a company’s work environment. All essential information, especially for CIOs or other industry professionals.
The real strength of Google’s white paper though is that it was broken down into so many different content types for different audience segments and platforms. If you are investing your time and resources into an in-depth white paper, make sure you have simultaneously considered how you will repurpose it to create a variety of content assets for different channels so that you maximise your investment in creating it. That way you can reach different audiences and make sure you get your money’s worth.
Google targeted time-poor small business owners with a brochure that summarised aspects of the white paper. Using text as well as infographics, it took the information to a new audience and drove them back to the full white paper.
The white paper is only part of the puzzle. Repurposing content and a good amplification strategy also play important roles. Take a leaf out of Google’s book and realise that a white paper is only the beginning.
Hannah Dixon contributed to the writing of this piece.