Content marketing is all about attracting the right audience by creating content that is relevant to them. The next step is to ensure that content reaches the audience – perhaps as part of an email marketing campaign, or on social media networks, for example.
Content comes in lots of shapes and sizes
In order to effectively engage your prospects, you need to provide them with content in a variety of formats. As digital technology has evolved, so too has content. The days when publishing a blog post once in a while was sufficient have long gone. People want to see video, infographics and interactive content that speaks directly to them. Content serves many purposes:
- Demonstrate thought leadership
- Stimulate interest in your products and services
- Educate and inform
- Offer benefits to prospects by solving problems
But what if the point we are making represents a significant change in thinking or we want to demonstrate that we are ahead of the curve in our industry?
That’s where white papers come in handy. Rather than just glossing over a subject or quickly linking some ideas together with one or two references and some images, a white paper goes to the very heart of the matter in great detail.
A white paper will explore and examine ideas, present evidence and findings, and guide the reader through reason and argument in order to present a conclusion. The thinking should be thorough. Any quoted evidence must be transparent and compelling. The reasoning should be sound.
A well-put-together white paper achieves the following objectives:
- Provides a quality asset that your prospects will value
- Demonstrates thought leadership and expertise
- Helps to change the thinking of your prospects
A white paper is not a sales pitch, although it may impress and entice readers towards your products and services. While it needs to be substantial and detailed, it cannot be boring or it won’t get read. That means using intelligent headings and subheadings, graphs, illustrations, infographics and tables throughout.
White paper drawbacks
While white papers are extremely powerful content marketing tools, there are some drawbacks:
They take time to create
It takes time to put together an effective white paper. It’s not “throwaway” content, as it were. Whatever points you are going to make need to be evidence-based. That means strong research. The structure, reasoning and presentation has to be just right. And it takes time to create the right infographics for the data presented, and of course for any other images you want to use.
A white paper will not be produced from scratch. The first document that is created is usually some kind of executive summary, which shows how the ideas are going to be presented and where. This is like a skeleton version that shows the structure, the ideas and the evidence – but still needs to be fleshed out.
They take time to read
When you offer a white paper to your audience, you are asking a lot of them. Of course, you ARE offering them a lot in return, but it takes time to read through a long white paper, even if it’s dynamite. If the document is too long, the people you are targeting with it may not be able to find the time to read it when you want them to, or in one sitting.
It may be time-sensitive
What if the subject matter or main thrust of your white paper goes out-of-date very quickly? You have to choose the subject matter very carefully and be sure about the long-term future and relevance of the document before starting.
Will it be wasted on parts of your target audience?
The more evidence you present, the more chance there is that people who otherwise understand and appreciate the general thrust of your argument will get lost or switch off. It’s just one of the risks you take with a white paper.
What will be the pay-off?
Is the subject matter too narrow? Is the subject matter too broad? Is the point being made compelling enough that it wins you significant interest, kudos or credibility? If you are going to invest the time and resources into creating a white paper, you will need to know in advance what the stakes are. You will need to know exactly who is going to want to read this, and why it is important to get your point(s) across.
These are just a few of the considerations that need to be at the forefront of the marketer’s mind before planning a white paper – though there is another question that is equally important.
Does it have to be a white paper?
Let’s clarify this. Let us imagine that we have already decided that the subject matter is much too important to skim over with a blog or an infographic. We want to produce something of business-critical importance that delivers impact. Maybe we need to be thinking about delivering an executive brief – i.e. a summary of the white paper that can be quickly and easily consumed.
Before a white paper can be created, an executive summary has to be produced. It includes all the main points and evidence that will be included in the white paper. It presents the argument in a simple and easy-to-follow way. It highlights the structure before the ideas are fully fleshed out.
With just a small amount of work, the executive summary can be amended into a finished, highly-condensed version of the white paper. By sticking to around 3 – 6 pages, the document will be much more compact, hard-hitting and easy to digest.
Admittedly, much of the hard work that goes into creating a white paper – planning the idea, carrying out or sourcing the research, producing infographics and establishing a structure – will still be necessary. However, you will still save time compared to creating a white paper.
The format of an executive brief will something like:
- Project Summary (subject matter, ideas to be considered, outline of conclusions reached)
- Background (what prompted the brief?)
- Process (study that was carried out or the argument being made in more detail)
- Findings and conclusions
- Recommendations for action
The summary has a little more power than the introduction in a white paper. It is almost like a mini-version of the whole document. That’s brilliant, because if the recipient is not grabbed by what they are reading at that stage, they can put it down. If they are, they may well jump straight to the recommendations section and your work is done.
For those who want to see the evidence, they can read the rest of the document. The executive brief is more geared towards taking action than the white paper.
Turbocharge your white paper
To summarize, using white papers appropriately can yield great marketing benefits. That said, it takes time and energy, planning, and strategic thinking. There are some excellent reasons why producing more of an executive brief may be more effective:
- Takes less time
- Easier to digest
- Accessibility – it is a simpler version
- Has more punch – it’s more compact
- Instant impact – the reader sees the point in the initial summary
- Already part of the process of producing a white paper
Remember, if you are producing a white paper, you will have to produce some kind of executive summary as part of that process anyway. If your audience wants more later on, you can always expand on it. What really counts is that the content is useful, accurate and well-aimed at your audience.
What do you think about the idea of skipping the white paper and just going straight for the executive brief instead? Let us hear your thoughts in the comments below.