Seven requirements of a higher-performing white paper


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Ten years ago, white papers were a minimum of ten pages, heavily footnoted, and quite formal documents. Today, they need not be so formal to be effective. You’ll find white papers in a variety of formats, lengths and styles. But most of them are intended to educate, nurture prospects, segment buyer from browsers, and drive a qualifying next step from those that are most interested in learning more.

No matter how you approach, write and format your white paper, here are seven proven requirements that consistently drive greater performance measured by views, downloads, registrations and conversions.

1. Cover page
It may be superficial, and not tied to the quality of the inside content, but it’s extremely important. Your prospects will absolutely judge your book by its cover. When that white paper is promoted on sites like SlideShare, for example, browsers will choose their views & downloads based on what best appeals to them on the cover. Don’t let the cover be an afterthought. Get your creative team working on it well in advance of your expected publication date, and make it shine.

2. Topic and title
I’m going to assume you’ve already chosen a topic that focuses less on your product, and more on the problems your customers face on a regular basis. White papers need to be educational to be effective. but a great topic with a boring title may still fall flat. Combine a compelling title with great cover art and you’re on your way to success. What makes for a good title? Numbers, for one. Titles that start with “Five tips to…” always perform better than “Best practices to…”. If you’re specific, the prospect or reader will assume you know what you’re talking about. Imply expertise, exclusivity, comprehensiveness, unique insight.

3. Readability/scanability
When’s the last time you sat down and read an entire white paper front to back? Exactly. Your readers are scanners too. They are going to read your white paper the same way they read most newsletters and blog posts. They’ll scan, look for subheadlines and bullet lists, trying to get the gist of the piece without having to read every word. Make sure you write and format your white paper with this in mind.

4. Light (if any) product integration

This is not a brochure, and today’s white paper readers get skiddish at the slightest scent of product promotion. Put a boilerplate and call to action at the end, in a shaded box so it’s clearly separate from the core content. Your readers will expect it, and will be more likely to appreciate and read it if you’ve delivered independent value through the rest of the paper. Ignoring your product message in the meat of the paper will often drive more readership of your product message and summary at the end.

5. Call to action or next steps
Never let a marketing and education tool like a white paper appear as a dead end. Always offer something else – the next white paper, a subscription to get alerts when new papers are published, a personalized assessment of the reader’s ability to achieve the benefits described in the paper, etc. If your paper is educational in nature, don’t go right for the close (and oftentimes that includes a demo offer, which may be reaching too far, too fast). But think carefully about what the reader may want or need next, and be explicit about that offer (and don’t forget to track it).

6. White space
This relates closely to readability, but is more about design than it is written format. Make sure your designers don’t try to cram as many words as possible into fewer pages. Space things out, liberally use images and visuals, use call-out quotes and statistics to call particular attention to your most important points. Separate a tightly-written executive summary up front, and consider some “brainstorming” questions at the end to get the prospect thinking about how the paper might particularly apply to their business. Liberal use of space in the design of white papers will increase its penetration and impact.

7. Repurposability
Is your white paper the beginning and the end? Could the topic easily and quickly be turned into a Webinar? Or short series of blogs? Or white paper “sequel” with proof of concept case studies? If you start to think about the white paper not as an isolated event but the start of a series of events anchored in the same content, you’ll exponentially increase the value of your idea with minimal incremental cost.

What’s missing from this list? What elements of an effective white paper are requirements for your organization?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Matt Heinz
Prolific author and nationally recognized, award-winning blogger, Matt Heinz is President and Founder of Heinz Marketing with 20 years of marketing, business development and sales experience from a variety of organizations and industries. He is a dynamic speaker, memorable not only for his keen insight and humor, but his actionable and motivating takeaways.Matt’s career focuses on consistently delivering measurable results with greater sales, revenue growth, product success and customer loyalty.


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