And by “black hole”, I mean the Recycle Bin.
Here’s the problem with a lot of white papers: companies forget that the white paper must have value to the audience.
Yes, the audience is potential clients, and yes, the white paper’s main purpose is to establish credibility/authority. However, to generate leads, the white paper must offer value, walking the fine line between 25-page sales brochure and educational document. The white paper works best when it gives something of real value to prospects, something they need to know, or can use right now.
Your audience doesn’t care if your purpose is lead generation. Consumers and B2B prospects are smart enough to know how the sales process works. When the sales process is a multi-stage endeavor, the white paper is often the first step in building rapport, interest, and good will between your company and the prospect.
How to Make a White Paper Valuable
The most effective white papers provide something to the reader immediately. White papers solve an immediate problem—their problem, not yours—and make readers’ lives easier. Give them the benefits up front, and show them how their problems can be solved. Better still, offer a vision of how their lives will be easier after their problems are solved.
Besides looking for substantive information, people value their time, so make the white paper easy to skim.
- Write a killer executive summary. Imagine that this is the only part of the document that the most important people will read. (It may well be.)
- Know what the concerns the reader most. Why should the prospect bother reading your paper? Give them the information they want most, and make it easy to find.
- If the white paper is primarily electronic, make it easy to navigate, with a linked table of contents.
- Use good design practices:
- Descriptive, provocative headers and titles that incorporate keywords
- Easy-to-read font, preferably a serif font
- Abundant white space, with line spacing that allows the reader to breathe, and clear breaks between sections
- Bulleted lists
- Highlighted key points
- Easy-to-understand infographics
- Professional photos that help tell the story
- A striking cover
How to Make a White Paper Engaging
First of all, a white paper needs an interesting hook that draws in the reader. Start by discussing problems that the reader faces. Let them know that you understand where they are coming from. The reader will start nodding in agreement and keep going. They will see that this is not just a pitch piece, that they’ll receive a payoff for investing their time.
Rather than promote your products or service, talk generally about your industry. Don’t talk about how My Kerfloomistat Will Save the World; talk about the kerfloomistat industry and how to solve its problems. Educate; don’t sell. Save the sales pitch for a paragraph or two at the very end.
The more powerful the paper’s information and insight, the more likely the reader will become a new customer. Yes, some people will steal it or do it themselves. But many won’t, and those readers will believe that you are, in fact, the experts.
In the end, the key is to make a white paper relevant to the reader’s immediate problems. Make the document more about making your audience’s lives better, and the white paper will, in turn, make your life better.
What are your experiences as a reader of white papers? If you produce them, are there any tips you’d add to what we’ve discussed? Please leave a comment.