Thanks for text messaging and Social Media, most business executives no longer have time to read a white paper that is over 10 pages long. But at the other end of the scale, is there a mandatory minimum for a white paper?
The answer is yes!
I often hear from clients, “Well, we’re just looking for a four page white paper to tell our customers about our strategy and product offering“. While this may be a good way to save money in a tight economy, such an approach creates a flawed white paper marketing strategy two primary reasons:
1. Incomplete Story Telling – A good white paper is more than just a dissertation about your vision or solution. Before you can get to that point, you need to educate your reader about industry statistics and bring them up to speed on all aspects related to your thought leadership or solution topic.
Imagine if a tire company came out with a radical approach to tire design and functionality, and from the first page, jumped right into the benefits associated with the new tire? Wouldn’t you want to know what was wrong with conventional tires? If all the reader could see were the benefits of the new tire technology, how would you know how to compare a purchase decision with what you have now and make a valid decision?
Before you can tell a solution benefit story, you have to include background information, including the problem with existing approaches. This requires devoting an additional number of pages, which grows the size of the white paper. Look at it as an essential necessity rather than a limitation.
2. Overselling – One of the biggest complaints that business executives have with most white papers is that there is too much product selling and not enough educating. A white paper that only tells a benefit or solution attribute story increases the likelihood that the white paper project will be perceived as “marketing fluff”. When this happens, most executives get turned off, making the time, work, and money that went into producing the white paper a lost return on investment.
As a general rule, a white paper should be a minimum of six and a maximum of ten pages, with eight being a comfortable standard for today’s business reader. Here is an outline for how today’s six to eight page white paper format breaks down on a page-by-page level:
* Executive Summary (Optional) – One Page
* Introduction – One Page
* Business Challenges – Two Pages
* History Discussion – (Optional) – One Page
* Solution Presentation – Two to Three Pages
* Concluding Summary – One Page
As you can see, you can get to the six to eight page length in your white paper project very easily. The effort and expense that you put into adding a few additional pages up front to accurately tell your complete solution story will result in a more informed reader. In turn, this increases your chances of generating warm leads from your white paper, one of the reasons why most B2B marketers choose white papers for lead generation in the first place.
In my opinion, it’s better to err on the side of incurring an additional (and nominal) cost of adding a few additional pages in your white paper to meet reader expectations and generate more qualified leads, than to cut costs and result in a shorter white paper that turns off more readers by being perceived as a sales brochure.
When the subject of white papers comes up, readers automatically think business. Business to business (B2B) whitepapers have become an accepted practice with most online marketers, especially within industries ther rely on the medium such as technology, finance, healthcare, and manufacturing.
Why are business white papers so effective?
Business decisions makers are accustomed to a formal “sales-orientation process”. In other words, the ultimate decision to purchase a solution is a function of being exposed to a variety of educational materials that illustrated the viability of that solution. To date, tools that fit under this category have included: presentations, videos, articles, spec sheets, brochures, and now include Social Media sites such as Facebook, online webinars, and of course, white papers.
As a result, a business executive that is seriously considering making a purchase expects to dedicate a certain amount of their time (albeit growing shorter each generation) to read or watch one or more of these deliverables in order to make the best possible decision for their organization. As it turns out when they have a choice among several media types, whitepapers often rise to the top of their list.
This sales-education process frequently takes the executive, who many not originally know anything about that solution, through a step-by-step awareness building campaign, culminating in a call to action such as contacting a sales or customer service agent. This process takes time. For some business executives it can be within a matter of minutes, for others it may take days, weeks, or months.
So if B2B white papers are effective with a business audience, one has to wonder if this medium can also work for consumers? After all, if one can effectively convince a business reader to the viability of a sophisticated solution such as supply chain management within 10 pages, why can’t a consumer reader also be convinced of the advantage of an infrared outdoor grill in the same fashion?
Unfortunately, the answer is that it can’t.
Have you seen a lot of consumer white papers from companies such as Proctor & Gamble, SC Johnson, or ConAgra Foods lately? Neither have I.
Why won’t a consumer white paper perform as well as a business whitepaper? The reason is because consumers don’t have a similar information assimilation process as business executives.
For the most part, consumers act on their own self-interests or of those close to them, such as a husband, wife, or child. In comparison, business executive act for the needs of an indirect entity such as their company. This change of focus dictates the amount of time that a reader will willingly dedicate to the sales-orientation process, including a text-heavy white paper.
For consumers, unless the information rises to a higher purpose, such as conducting research for a personal health-related need, most consumers will quickly grow tired of reading complex, solution-rich text content after a few pages.
Conversely, one of the tasks of the business reader is to be informed, elevating it’s priority and the amount of time that reader will devote to the educational/sales-orientation process.
While this may be a “broad-brush” statement, in general, this holds true for most consumers. For example, would the idea of a consumer white paper on Plasma vs. LED display technology generate the interest of thousands of prospective consumers of flat panel TV’s each year? It seems like a good topic for a white paper given the fact that over 100 million flat panel TV sets are sold each year.
But my guess is that this type of consumer white paper would only generate a few hundred downloads, not tens of thousands given the millions of sets sold each year.
Now if an business executive needed to purchase a few hundred flat panel TV sets to equip a series of conference rooms across the country, then I think that executive would do an extensive amount of research including reading any available whitepapers to determine the best technology, longevity, and price.
So don’t hold your breath for a consumer-oriented white paper. Another great idea without a home.
Today, B2B marketers have many choices among different types of business deliverables to use for a lead generation campaign. Among those choices, white papers rank one of the most effective investments a B2B marketer can make to influence a target business audience.
According to market researcher, Eccolo Media, white papers ranked first among 10 different types of marketing media when IT executives were asked which information sources or types they used in the past six months to evaluate a technology purchase.
In the September 2011 study, 65 percent of respondents rated white papers as “very” to “extremely influential” in 2011, as compared to 41 percent of respondents in 2010, representing a 36 percent increase in just one year!
So why do white papers generate stronger, more effective business leads? Here are the reasons:
Educational Content that builds Credibility
White papers that contain convincing, verifiable educational content build a strong link between reader and marketer. Put another way, when white paper content makes a strong connection with the reader, it makes that reader feel like the marketer better understands their specific problems and challenges. This opens the door for the reader to be open-minded about an advocated solution message that occurs later on in the white paper.
The Potential for an Integrated Case Study
Unlike other deliverables such as brochures, data sheets, SEO ads and email campaigns, white papers don’t attempt to “sell the reader” something, but instead build a case for the solution, using case studies. While case studies can be treated as a stand-alone document, integrating a case study into a white paper provides a “proof of concept” from the theoretical solution presented in the white paper. Since brochures don’t typically focus on a similar approach, case studies simply wouldn’t fit within them.
Detailed but Concise Size
Size is another factor that differentiates the lead generation effectiveness with white papers as opposed to shorter business deliverables. Since the acceptable size for most white papers is between 6 and 8 pages, there is plenty of room for the marketer to present their business case both in text and with visual aids. An equivalent size and format is not available in email campaigns, brochures, or product/spec sheets.
A Concluding Action Plan
The structured format of a white paper enables a B2B marketer to consolidate key solution messages from the core content into a concise final summary page. This enables the marketer to tie the consolidated message to a recommended action plan for further contact, turning that reader into a potential lead. While other deliverables can do this, white papers do it one step better, resulting in a more qualified lead.
So when your firm is deciding on which business deliverable will generate the greatest number of qualified business leads, choose white papers. You won’t be disappointed in the results.
If you’d like to learn how to create more lucrative white paper lead generation campaigns, I invite you to consider my 3-part on demand course, “Crafting White Papers that Generate Quality Business Leads“. Only $69.95 for three one-hour sessions that you can watch at your leisure. To find out more, click here.
Design has always been a key differentiator for businesses that are in a highly competitive marketplace. Whether it is a website, Facebook page, brochure, or white paper, design is an excellent way to gain customer attention and more easily facilitate the delivery of critical business solution advantage message.
Think about receiving an annual report in the mail after the purchase of a publicly traded stock. How would you react if that report was a plain text document, with a title on the front cover, and several pages made up of nothing but paragraphs of text and a few tables of numbers? Would you have confidence in that company or would you feel that you just purchased the shares of some ‘fly-by-night’ startup?
Why isn’t the same standard held up for a thought leadership B2B white paper? I have seen some of the largest Fortune organizations, post boring all-text white papers on their website when these same companies spend thousands of dollars developing the most graphically visual annual reports. For some strange reason, the same rules that apply to impressing a public shareholder seem to go the window for a B2B marketing (and equally impressionable) white paper for a prospective business customer.
With the advent and popularity of Social Media, the reader is changing, and as any good Webmaster will tell you, marketers have only a few seconds to impress a viewer in order to connect them with the content. Whether you may like it or not, eventually every business marketer will have to be dragged, screaming and kicking into the new realm of applying professional graphic design to the area of white paper marketing.As business marketers, we like the idea of the “single point of contact”. Dealing with only one person rather than running around coordinating multiple resources is a lot easier and more cost effective in order to bring a white paper project to market.
Therefore, it is imperative that your white paper developer/writer also have graphic design as part of the services they provide to your organization. If required, they should able to mimic your existing corporate design standards and craft a white paper so it looks like it came from your own internal design staff.
This will free up your internal creative design organization to work on more important projects, such as getting the annual report out the door to all the stockholders eager to read how their investment in your firm has increased over the past year.
If you’d like to learn more about how design can impact the lead generation performance of white paper, simply download this free white paper, “Ensuring that Your White Papers Appeal to Busy Executive Readers”.
Once you come to appreciate the effectiveness of white papers to generate leads, you’re ready to benefit from a structured approach to developing your company’s white paper library. An annual white paper plan enables your firm to more effectively respond to changing market conditions, customer requirements, and competitive situations.
First, it’s important to understand that there are different types of white papers, with varying levels of detail, depending on the intended audience(s) within your target market(s). I like to break white papers into three groups:
1. High-Level, Strategic Vision White Papers provide a broad overview of strategic business initiatives, can support a larger corporate vision, reinforce a market leadership position, or announce a new marketing campaign.
An example of a strategic white paper could be a piece on the iPhone 4G personal assistant app Siri, discussing Apple’s strategy for voice interaction with mobile content, and how that technology will shape future products, vertical markets, and market leadership.
2. Mid-Level, Solution-Oriented White Papers provide specific, solution-focused information on how the strategic vision supports a particular vertical market need.
An SAP white paper on enterprise applications for the healthcare industry, showing how the company’s strategic vision benefits enterprise productivity within that market, would be an example of a solution-oriented white paper.
3. Base-Level, Tactical White Papers provide granular details or a comparative analysis of how specific solutions tactically or technically support specific customer needs.
A white paper on Adobe Flash that shows application developers how to leverage their video compression technology to improve the quality of video content on smart-phone platforms would fit into this category.
Once you have determined how many white papers you need to develop within each of these three categories, the next step is to develop a rollout plan as part of your annual marketing calendar.
First, understand the relationship between content ‘elevation’ and frequency: The lower the elevation (base level, tactical content), the more frequently you’ll need to publish white papers to support the number of targeted vertical markets. The higher the elevation (high level, strategic content) the lower the frequency, since you can only have one strategy.
My recommended strategy for your annual white paper calendar might look something like this:
High-Level, Strategic White Papers – Annual Frequency
The best time to release a strategic white paper is at the beginning of the year, or when your company is about to announce its vision or strategy. Reinforce that strategic message via other deliverables over the remainder of the year — publishing more than one strategic white paper tends to confuse your target audience, diluting the impact of a single strategic message.
Mid-Level, Solution Oriented White Papers – Quarterly Frequency
Once a strategic white paper has been released, your next task is to educate your targeted vertical markets about how that strategic vision can support their specific needs. I recommend releasing at least one mid-level, solution-oriented white paper per quarter. If your company serves multiple targeted vertical markets, (such as healthcare, insurance, and legal) a good strategy would be to release one white paper for each targeted vertical per quarter.
Depending on your organizational structure, your ability to release of more than one vertical market white paper per quarter depends on the resources within your sales and/or marketing organization to support multiple vertical market initiatives, and their capacity to deliver multiple solution messages simultaneously.
Base-Level, Tactical White Papers – As Needed
Tactical white papers can be released as frequently as necessary to answer customer/prospect business needs, clarify corporate positions, or address a competitive threat. The number of tactical white papers that could be released over the course of a calendar year depends on the availability of your internal or external resources to develop the content.
Finally, as the year comes to a close, it’s time to think about the coming year and begin planning for the next white paper calendar.
By applying a structured white paper plan to your corporate marketing campaigns, you will grow more connected readers and stronger content affinity, which results in warmer business leads.
You can learn more about white paper planning in my online class, “Crafting a B2B White Paper Strategy”, part of my 3-part course White Paper 201: Crafting White Papers that Build Quality Business Leads”, only $69.95. Learn more about it here.
Last week, I discussed some of the finer points in a new collateral report, “Eccolo Media 2011 B2B Technology Collateral Survey“. If your organization is invested in white paper marketing, and you missed this survey, it is something that should be part of your marketing quiver each year. You can download your copy via this link.
The content within the report also includes two short videos, which provide white paper marketers with a bold and fresh idea of how to make your boring text content appeal to an increasing Social Media aware reader.
A section of the report on the past page called, “Rethink White Papers” says it best:
Even as technology purchasers continue to regard white papers as the most influential type of collateral, consider shaking things up with a radical approach to the presentation of thought-leadership content. Why not produce a video white paper? Or follow the lead of some novelists by composing a white paper entirely on Twitter? The technology industry takes notice of innovation — so innovate.
The well-respected Internet marketing analyst, Eccolo Media has just released their latest annual survey of IT professionals and their perspective on the effectiveness of various forms of online collateral. The report called the “Eccolo Media 2011 B2B Technology Collateral Survey Report”, and for the fourth year in a row, shows that white papers continue to be perceived as one of the most influential forms of B2B marketing collateral with IT business professionals.
I look forward to the release of these annual surveys each fall. Eccolo Media always does an outstanding job presenting their research in a way that makes their findings easy to understand so the reader can quickly ascertain the most effective use of white papers (and other collateral) to influence the IT professional audience. If white papers are important to your business, these surveys should be a regular part of your annual marketing content and budget development strategy.
For the demographic background of the research participants, over 500 IT purchase decision makers (“influencers”) participated in this year’s survey. Over 47 percent were under the age of 40, with 26 percent of those having in excess of 15 years of experience in the technology sector. Twenty-five percent came from enterprise organizations (1000+ employees), 43 percent from SMBs (101-999 employees), and 32 percent worked for small businesses (< 100 employees).
In summary, here are the key findings contained in this year’s survey which pertained to white papers, along with my comments:
– While white paper consumption has dropped from 2010 to 2011, their influence as increased over the same period. The decrease can be explained by the number of alternative choices available today, and their investment in them (such as Social Media). The increase in influence is due to the preferred choice of white papers among the remaining portion of respondents that did not those alternatives.
- More than 77% of respondents felt that adding a Social Media “like” button to collateral made it “somewhat more influential” than those that did not include one. Adding a Facebook “like” button to PDF white papers should now be considered a standard part of the contact information that marketers should include along with the traditional hyperlinks such as website URL, email address, phone, etc.
- 28 percent of participants began consulting white papers for the first time in the last six months. Although the IT white paper market is more than 20 years old, white papers are “new” sources of information to ‘up and coming’ business decision makers. As younger IT managers move into decision making roles, this statistic demonstrates the continued respect that white papers hold with this audience to influence their strategic decision making.
- 65 percent of respondents rated white papers as “very” to “extremely influential” as compared to 41 percent in 2010.While many pundits tout the decline of traditional document-oriented information, this statistic shows that white papers run counter to this thinking. For companies that are seeking ways to maximize their marketing dollar investment and generate the highest ROI, white papers continue to be one of the best places to invest those funds.
- Respondents still regard white papers as superior to other forms of collateral. Excluding Social Media, white papers are considered to be the second highest source of valued information BEFORE other, more traditional forms of marketing collateral such as case studies, podcasts, videos, and brochures. This should give pause for marketers who have bought into the thinking that websites such as YouTube are a good alternative to a well researched, written and designed white paper.
- 77 percent of participants indicated that visuals were extremely to moderately important to include in white papers. This is one of the most important points in the survey, and one that validates something that I have been saying for past several years in this blog and in my book, “Crafting White Paper 2.0″. Let’s face facts: if given a choice between just text or text and graphic elements, readers will choose the text/graphic combination. To quickly engage today’s ‘short-attention’ reader to your bottom line solution message, adding a business or concept graphic will achieve that goal far more effectively than only using text to deliver that message.
- 56 percent of respondents prefer to read white papers at the desktop instead of on mobile devices. Smart phones may be great for text and email messages, but they are lousy when it comes to readings lengthy, content-rich documents such as white papers. This statistic from the survey indicates that you shouldn’t invest your hard earned time and money re-formatting your white paper for viewing on mobile devices. Stick to desktop formats (read 8.5″ x 11″ portrait or landscape PDFs) as the standard format for your white papers.
- 64 percent of respondents considered receiving a white paper from a personal contact to be influential. This should force many marketers to rethink the “distance” factor with regard to their business relationships. For those that believe merely posting a white paper to a website is a valid approach for a white paper lead generation campaign, this statistic indicates that providing white papers to a sales force as a “leave behind”document after a sales call will contribute more to moving that business relationship forward than the more passive approach.
- 43 percent of white papers were read in the pre-sales phase as compared to 53 percent a year ago. The fact that is statistic has gone down as compared to the previous year shows that white papers are becoming more mature, and are being more widely accepted in other areas of the business relationship cycle such as post sale education and competitive analysis. Such “post sale” white papers can be used to strengthen those relationships (such as a customer considering moving to a competitor) rather than make first impressions as with lead generation campaigns.
The best paragraph from the report is called, “The Wonderful White Paper”, on page 7, which reads as follows:
“Though overall consumption of white papers decreased in this year’s survey, they continue to be the “must-have” asset in the technology marketer’s toolkit. This year’s respondents still consider white papers to be the most influential technology collateral type, historically they are the most frequently shared type of content, and they can be easily leveraged to create other, smaller collateral pieces, such as trends guides or blog posts.”
I will be writing about several of these points in the survey over the next several months, but the bottom line is this: White papers continue to have great staying power and remain one of the best investments a business can make to generate leads, establish market leadership, and build stronger business relationships. At a time when businesses are squeezing the maximum return on investment from every marketing dollar, white papers remain a “must have” tool as part of today’s online marketing toolbox.
Make sure you download this valuable report for future reference and add Eccolo Media to your preferred bookmark list.
About the Author: Jonathan Kantor is a 15-year white paper marketing veteran. He’s the author of the widely acclaimed book, Crafting White Paper 2.0, and the founder of The White Paper Company and the White Paper Pundit blog.
What does it take to achieve success writing white papers? Many marketing writers believe that having great writing skills is sufficient. They would be partially wrong. Sure writing skills is an important component, but great writing alone is not good enough.
A good analogy is the person that likes to cook and thinks they can run a successful restaurant. Being a great chef capable of producing tasty meals is what gets customers in the door. But if the wait staff is slow, the restaurant is dirty, the seats are uncomfortable, and the expenses exceed the revenue, the best food in the world won’t sustain the restaurant for very long. Continued »
Question: How many cooks does it take to spoil the broth?
Answer: No one knows. They haven’t finished reviewing the white paper on the subject yet.
When it comes to gathering content for a white paper, there’s nothing better than a phone-based interview with internal Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) that are well versed on the topic.
White paper SMEs can come from a variety of areas within a business organization. For example a SME could be a developer or other technical expert with an in-depth knowledge of the featured software application, a support person that has spent a significant amount of time talking with customers, or an engineer with an extensive background and expertise.
SMEs can also come from the ‘other side’ of the business house, specifically a salesperson with first-hand experience of the customer experience, or a customer-service representative that understands the challenges associated with implementing an enterprise solution. Such SMEs also have an in-depth knowledge of competitive offerings since they must answer questions from customers on how their own solution provides advantages or overcomes shortcomings.
While SMEs are great sources of information, as with many aspects of life, there can be too much of a good thing. Just as the old adage goes, “too many cooks spoil the broth”, having too many SMEs that contribute their opinion and information to a white paper can be equally detrimental to a white paper project.
The greater the number of SMEs, the more people that must review subsequent white paper drafts. The diverse number of opinions and the resulting number of edits can result in the white paper going in a hundred different directions, and it also extends the amount of time necessary to compile all the SME opinions, and send the reviewed draft back to the writer for final completion.
I have seen white paper projects take as much as six months to a year because of an excessive number of SMEs. (And don’t forget, depending on the size of the company and importance of the topic, a V.P. or C-Level executive could insert themselves into the review process, further extending the completion timeline.
Having lots of SMEs can also be a good thing. It’s great to collect lots of input from SMEs when you are gathering background information and solution-oriented perspectives. I have seen situations where as many as eight SMEs are contributing information on a conference call. The back-and-forth process of sharing opinions and challenging other SME responses during such a call can redirect the scope of the project and improve the quality of the white paper.
The issue that gets white paper writers into trouble isn’t in the content gathering phase, but in the draft review phase of the project. Trouble begins when more than three SMEs are involved in reviewing the white paper drafts.
When this occurs, an external freelance writer can easily find themselves playing negotiator, bargaining and pleading with the SMEs on what should be the official corporate position in an effort to clarify conflicting opinions in the draft edits. This is an unfortunate position for any writer to find themselves in, and is beyond their role as the writer.
So, if as a freelance writer, you find yourself in a situation where your client wants to invite multiple SMEs to attend a content conference call, welcome it. But also insist that only one designated project manager that should be tasked with collecting and consolidating input and providing feedback to you. That will put the onus on that point person, not only giving you a central point of contact, but also making your life a heck of a lot simpler and easier.
Just like a well-thought out broth recipe, the completed white paper will be equally as tasty!
A frequently asked question from many first-time white paper marketers, is “How many pages should I have in my white paper?”
The answer to this question depends on what you are trying to achieve. For example, is your primary message at a macro level, such as establishing thought leadership within your industry?
Maybe you have a more micro level topic such as educating your audience to a new product, campaign, strategy, or tactical approach?
Is your audience throughly educated on the topic or are they unfamiliar with the primary issue featured in the white paper?
Does your audience consist of technical professionals that seek detailed information or are they more business oriented that want bottom-line facts?
All of these issues have a bearing on the number of pages you will need to deliver the main point in your B2B-focused white paper. Here are some guidelines you can use to understand the relationship between white paper size and audience effectiveness:
1. The White Paper “Bear Minimum”: 4 to 5 pages which should contain:
The Situation: One Page – (An Introdution that educates the reader on key background issues pertaining to the topic).
The Challenge: One Page – (No more than three key business issues that are related to the problem).
The Solution/Result: One to Two Pages – (How to resolve the challenge by the application of a subscribed solution and the benefits that are gained as a result).
The Conclusion: One Page – (A brief summary of the main points in the white paper and bottom line benefits achieved).
Only one graphic image such as a chart or graphic should be used in the “bear minimum” white paper.
2. The White Paper “Gold Standard”: 6 to 8 Pages which contains the “Bear Minimum” plus:
An Executive Summary: One Page – A synopsis of the entire white paper.
A Case Study: One or Two Pages – An example of a customer’s experience before and after the solution.
Either one or two graphic images such as charts or graphs should be used in the “gold standard” white paper.
3. The “Full Sized” White Paper: 9 to 12 Pages which contains the “Gold Standard” plus:
An additional page to accommodate a greater number of business challenges.
An additional page in the solution area to solve the business challenges.
You should not have a white paper that has more than 12 pages. Your ‘time and attention challenged’ business reader cannot assimilate that much information. If you have that much and more, you should break up your white paper into two white papers that have a smaller size.
A maximum of three images such as charts or graphs should be used in the “full sized” white paper.
Finally, shorter doesn’t automatically mean better. The way that text-based information is formatted, and the use of visual aids such as graphic elements plays a significant role in how the white paper enables the reader to grasp key elements in your white paper.