How many white papers for digital marketing have you seen this month?
How many did you actually read?
One? Two? Zero?
Thanks to the overwhelming amount of content now available on the internet, people no longer have the time to consume everything online.
To capture the attention of readers, forward-thinking marketers create a wide range of shining, shimmering content such as videos, infographics, case studies, and more.
One format that remains controversial is white paper for digital marketing. Yep, your good ol’ 8-½ x 11.
According to Forbes.com, “A white paper is an in-depth report that focuses on a specific problem and the solution to that problem. It helps you earn trust and build credibility with your target market.” Mario Medina
It is somewhere between a corporate brochure and a magazine piece. It is typically longer than an article but shorter than an e-book.
Traditional white papers ruled online marketing in the 1990’s. They could:
- Highlight credibility and build up industry expertise
- Contribute to building a brand, and
- Add new leads to the sales funnel
Sounds like a solution to all your marketing needs, yes?
But times are changing . . . or so it seems.
There are marketers who question the effectiveness of white papers in this day and age. Some of them even go as far saying that white papers are dead.
“The era of the lead-gated PDF as a driver of scale leads is coming to an end… an increasing number of marketers are turning to interactive content to create more dynamic experiences with buyers,” wrote Aaron Dun on CMSWire.
Okay, let’s be honest here . . . reading a white paper doesn’t exactly sound like fun. Why would your potential buyer waste time reading word after word after word when there’s a faster and more convenient way to get information like a video or infographics?
In this article, we’ll take a look at the current thoughts and trends about white paper for digital marketing. Here are some questions you can expect us to answer: Why are white papers considered less effective now? What can you do to make your white papers more interesting and engaging? Is it worth the effort?
Sit back, relax and let’s start with an important question.
Are white papers dead? Or dying?
The “death” of white papers may have been exaggerated.
There are still people who make them. There are still people who read them.
However, the future does not look so bright according to a study by SiriusDecisions, which states that the effectiveness of white paper campaigns has decreased 5% each year for the past six years.
What went wrong? How did the problem start? It’s hard to pinpoint an exact beginning. There are a lot of factors that contributed to the problem.
Let’s take a look at some:
First, as mentioned earlier, there is simply too much content on the web. The content supply exceeds the demand.
According to a recent study, buyers get 32% more content from solution providers than they did two years ago. Content fatigue among readers is totally understandable.
The challenge is to make YOUR white paper stand out. You need to get your work noticed in a sea of look-alike documents.
And how can you do that exactly? Make your white papers awesome.
Nobody said that white papers need to be boring. You can use an interesting and engaging voice. You can add photos. There are many ways to make your content interesting and relevant.
Remember, if what you’re writing is useful for readers, they will download your content even if it’s not in a bright and shiny package. They will be perfectly fine with reading your PDF.
Second, readers no longer believe everything they see on the internet.
It’s 2017! In this day and age, most readers are skeptical about any kind of commitment. They feel more empowered to ask and to choose. They are more selective about what to read and what to believe.
This means that it is harder to influence your audience based on your content alone.
You can no longer use your white papers to sell and expect readers to actually buy.
“I think anything that’s poorly done is going to fatigue people and I would say the majority of white papers out there are not very effective. They make the same mistake over and over – too much selling. A white paper’s not supposed to be a sales document. It’s supposed to help people understand some kind of issue or solve a problem or make a decision,” said Gordon Graham, author of White Papers for Dummies in an interview on HuffPost.
Make your white paper for digital marketing what it’s really supposed to be: a document to inform, engage and convince readers.
Instead of trying to disguise your sales talk, write something that readers would want to read.
Try to remove all the “we” and “our” in your white papers and replace it with “you” and “your.”
You have to give your readers something useful and relevant instead of trying to make everything about you and your company.
Lastly, some white papers are simply not written well.
Not anyone in your company can write a white paper. It’s good to get a writer to write.
An engineer or a product manager can provide guidance or notes, but you need a writer to help attract, engage and persuade your audience. Technical professionals have a more technical approach to products and services, so a regular reader might have difficulties comprehending their industry jargon.
Choose an experienced writer who has some knowledge in your field of specialization. This is especially important If your company is creating a white paper for the very first time. You need to invest in the right people to get it right!
It’s good to hire a writer because you need someone who can attract and engage your audience with the right words.
The downside? If you are going for a seasoned writer who can get things right, you might need to pay a bit more. But hey, this investment could give you profits more in the long run. You just have to make sure that you find a writer who’s worth every penny you are shelling out.
Ditch white papers? Or continue using them?
It depends. If you think you can write informative, engaging, and convincing content, then go ahead and continue using them!
A PDF document is more flexible and dynamic than people think.
You can play around to make your white paper for digital marketing more attractive for your audience.
There are “tried-and-tested techniques” that worked for years, but if you think that you can offer a unique perspective or a more reader-friendly approach, then go ahead and see if it will work.
An effective white paper can take a lot of time to write, but the results you will get can have a significant impact on your company.
Attract more readers with better white papers
Not all white papers are created equal.
With a well-written white paper, you can share technical information or generate the right kind of buzz from potential readers.
If you do it right, here are some of the things you can achieve:
- Connect to the reader
Give your audience something they can identify with by using things that are familiar to them. Make them feel something. Make them want to take action. If you present raw information in industry jargon, your work will mean nothing to many of your readers.
When you connect with your readers, you are more likely to elicit a response.
What can be useful to your readers? What do they want? Want do they fear? How can you help?
You can only create a connection by addressing needs and desires. Write something that will trigger a thought or an emotion.
2. Communicate your message well
Be sure that you know what you are trying to say, and say it clearly.
Gordon Graham said (in this pdf infographic) that there are three main ways to write white papers to keep information organized. You need to choose the format that will best suit your purpose:
- Backgrounder – For an in-depth look of products and benefits.
- Numbered list – For tips, points, steps.
- Product/solution – For an improved solution
You can also use a combination of these formats to make your message clearer.
Another tip, don’t put everything about your company in your white paper. Don’t give your readers information overload. Pick the things that matter most and focus on those.
Think about format and styling too.
Correct use and placement of visuals, headings, bullet points and subheadings can make a dramatic difference. Of course, you should use a powerful headline as well.
Use videos to increase downloads, for example. Videos are popular because they are easy on the eyes. You can use video in many ways to enhance the marketing use of your white papers. Video content makes white papers more interactive and increases the likelihood of your visitors reading them. A good video will draw the viewer into the more detailed white papers. They can also be used to help your readers grasp concepts a lot faster. Or as a follow up tool in your email marketing to summarize or enhance concepts presented in your white papers.
- Highlight your company’s values (without being too obvious)
Your white paper should not sell.
In fact, it would be more effective if you minimize talking about your company. Don’t give your white paper a promotional tone.
Clearly, it’s not a sales pitch.
Think about this as an opportunity to educate your readers. After reading your white paper, they should feel informed and empowered. If you help your readers learn, you will put your company in a good light.
- Get the reader to understand the benefits of getting your product or service
What are you offering? What makes it special? What problem are you trying to solve? What need are you trying to satisfy? If you can make your clients see this, then you are on the right track.
Always present your solution, product or service in a way that makes it beneficial for your readers.
If you’re writing a white paper about car services, maybe you’d want to write about your city and famous tourist spots around the area. Maybe you’d want to include the difficulties of commuting and how driving around can be a thousand times safer and more convenient.
If you’re writing about an organic food market, you can discuss the dangers of processed food and GMO. You can also touch on the benefits of eating healthy.
Improve your white papers with these four tricks
You might be amazed and what an effective white paper for digital marketing can do.
If you want to use white papers as your key marketing strategy, here are some tips for writing white papers that people want to read.
- Be unconventional
If it’s been said before, don’t say it again.
If it’s been done before, don’t do it again.
Writing a white paper takes more time than a typical blog or online article because the writer needs to be thorough about the details and at the same time find a unique and interesting angle. Sometimes, it is essential to get the point of view of experts to add something fresh.
Don’t be afraid to experiment. Perhaps you can add a bit of human touch. Perhaps you can share new research.
Traditional white papers are no longer as effective as they used to be for a reason. Readers want something fresh and new. It doesn’t always have to be shocking information. Sometimes, one story can spell a huge, huge difference.
- Make your material more friendly and approachable.
It might be inevitable for you to get technical in certain subjects. However, you should still find ways to make to make your topics easy to understand ad fun to read about.
Write with your audience in mind.
If you know that only experts will be reading your work, then it is fine to use industry jargon. However, if you are targeting a general audience, this is not a good idea. It is better to stick to simple terms that will make them feel comfortable.
When people don’t understand what they are reading, they will likely walk away. Make sure that the language that you use for your white paper is appropriate and enjoyable.
- Be honest
Now more than ever, consumers appreciate honesty and credibility.
Empowered readers and consumers won’t take just accept anything you say. They know that there are so much fake information and so many unreliable companies on the internet.
It is important to establish yourself as an honest and credible company.
Use statistics to support your claims. Use real stories.
Give your readers the real situation. You can even talk about your competitors and the other alternatives that the consumers might consider.
Show the big picture instead of focusing on a single problem just to make a sale.
Show your clients that you really want what is best for them, and they might show the value of connecting with your company.
- Be consistent and organized
It’s good to think of the future. If you want to write a series of white papers, you need to plan how to give your work a consistent look and a consistent feel. This will help build up your brand and eventually gain followers that you can convert.
You can invest in a photographer or an artist who can make visual content look more professional. You might also want to invest in a software that will help create your charts and make graphs more appealing.
If you are publishing several white papers, you might also want to think about how you will make it easier for your audience to access your work – perhaps in a gallery or content library on your website.
Don’t just give a list of your white papers in alphabetical order. Make your work searchable by topic or keywords.
Being consistent may seem like a very simple thing, but it can be very valuable in the long run. You need to see the big picture. White papers are just one element that can help you build your brand so consistency is key here as well.
Getting ready to write your white paper?
We are no longer in the nineties but it does not mean the white papers for digital marketing are no longer effective.
Readers and the internet are simply not what they used to be. As a digital marketer, your responsibility is to adapt to all the changes. You need to find what will make readers happy.
How else do you think can we improve white papers nowadays? What are your ideas?
If you still need help growing your business or increasing brand awareness using white papers and need guidance on where to begin, contact me.