There are many marketing methods in Software and IT marketing that can be appropriate in some–but not all situations. I’d put White Papers in that category. The term “white paper” is a broadly used term, and can mean different things to different people. I define a white paper as a document written to provide insight or expertise specific to a market, process or product category.
PRODUCT & MARKET APPLICABILITY
White Papers are used far more often in B2B marketing than in B2C marketing. I have seen them used in a B2C environment, but only infrequently. A White Paper is most often useful when there is complex technology or work processes involved. In a B2C environment, they would usually only be used in an “early adopter” market where a product concept is new and prices and sales cycles are still long.
MARKETING RATIONALE FOR WHITE PAPERS
Why use a White Paper at all? The best reason is to build credibility for your company or product. White papers are most frequently accessed by prospects early in the sales cycle, when a prospect is just beginning the research on a product category. These documents allow company personnel to show off domain or technology expertise, which should reflect well on the product you eventually want to sell the prospect. The white paper positions your company as thought leader in your category. It also allows you to subtly and gently position your company and product in the prospect’s mind, very early in the sales process. It is often helpful to designate one (or a few) people in the company as the author of the white paper and as an expert in the field.
THE “RIGHT WAY” TO DO WHITE PAPERS
So what are the key factors to creating a successful white paper? Here’s a few:
- Written by a domain or technical expert
- Succinct-no fluff or overt marketing–to the point
- Aimed directly at your target prospects
- Provides valuable information to your target
- Mostly solution-agnostic, any product or company promotion must be subtle
WHAT NOT TO DO IN A WHITE PAPER
And what are the things to avoid a wasted effort? Keep these points in mind:
- Can’t be a product brochure -no relentless promotion
- Don’t make it the length of a book
- Never stretch the truth
- If it’s too general, so that no one will invest time to read it
BEST USES FOR WHITE PAPER
What can you do with your white paper once you’ve put in the time, money and effort to create one? There are many good uses–here’s a few to consider:
- It will contribute positively to Search Engine Optimization on your website
- An excellent item to use as a PPC campaign offer
- A great email marketing campaign offer
- Very useful to build credibility in social media postings
- An important intermediate step in the marketing/sales funnel process–often useful just after a website visit, but prior to a webinar or product trial
- Versatile “lead bait”–regardless of the medium or campaign, you should require contact info from the prospect prior to a white paper download
- Assists in moving a prospect along without “high touch” interactions–helping automate the marketing/sales process and shorten the sales cycle
In summary, white papers can be very valuable tools in a variety of market segments. These documents should be used to differentiate your company as a progressive thought-leader in your market category. The optimal goal for a successful white paper is to position your company as a preferred vendor or serious alternative for prospects in your market segment. This is accomplished by demonstrating expertise and providing credible, valuable and unbiased information which is valued by the target prospect. Your goal is NOT accomplished by “tooting your own horn”, playing fast and loose with facts or duplicating your company brochure. If you want to be a successful white paper marketer, it’s important to restrain yourself from tactics in these latter categories. That’s what I think about using white papers as an important part of your marketing mix. Please post a comment and add your experience and thoughts on this topic.