White papers are the stalwart of content marketing. Longer and more in-depth than a blog post and often more technical than an eBook, a white paper is often the perfect mid-funnel content for a marketing program. But they also have the reputation of being long, boring and all-too-often overly self-serving for the companies that write them.
The goal of white papers is to teach people about your brand and its market differentiators. They’re also designed to convince audiences that you are an expert on the topic. The last thing you want is to invest in content that they’ll find repetitive and yawn-inducing. Luckily, white papers have been around long enough so that there are tried-and-true ways to structure content for maximum appeal.
That means the writing will likely go smoothly, but before pen actually gets put to paper, the strategy behind the white paper needs some updating and TLC. Here are three tips to help reinvent your white paper strategy:
Pick a topic that’s different from what’s already in the market. Sounds logical, right? It’s easy to take stock of what your competitors have in their marketing arsenals and say “hey, we need that too!” It’s much more difficult to come up with unique topics that will not only strike a chord with potential buyers but create some industry buzz as well. One way to get started: ask sales to get involved in the topic brainstorming. They hear all the stories from potential customers, and those stories are all slightly different with some common themes. What ideas do you have about your industry that haven’t been covered before? How can you capitalize on that? Start writing all these ideas down until something clicks with the team.
Gather meaningful data that provides value to your audience. What data is missing from your industry that could shed light on certain trends? Why would your customers find it valuable? There’s a lot of benefit in conducting original research, but the problem in doing so is generating the questions that are going to provide meaningful—and new!—data to your customers and the industry as a whole. Investing in original research is a commitment, but if you put in the time and effort to craft your questions, you might find some surprises that no one has reported before. You can use this data not only in white papers, but also in blogs, infographics, press releases and other content.
Make the content relevant to your customers. White papers are, of course, a sales tool. Their success is measured by numbers: how many downloads, how many conversions, etc. To get those numbers, you need the unique content as noted above, but also relevant content. Think about what keeps your customers up at night. What immediate and long-term problems do they face, and how does your company address those problems? What unique perspective can you offer them? By keeping the customer as the center of your white paper, they’ll be more likely to take action.
Bonus tip: Hone your marketing plan for the white paper early in the process. How will you create buzz that leads to downloads? What are the channels that you will use and what content are you willing to share outside of the registration “paywall?” How will you keep the white paper in front of potential customers over time? How will social be used to help you achieve your goals? By mapping these out as the white paper is being written, you’ll easily be able to spot holes—and potential new opportunities—that will shape the success of your valuable asset.
The goal of any content piece is to bring customers closer to your company and help push them through the marketing funnel to a signed contract. By bringing new life to your white paper strategy, you’ll see renewed interest from customers and the industry as well, helping you achieve strong return on investment.
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