One of the most effective types of content marketing, white papers are an essential part of any B2B technology company’s marketing strategy. These well-researched pieces are longer than blog posts or contributed articles, written in a report style from an expert’s point of view. Their length allows them to cover a topic in depth.
As B2B sales are a multi-step process which takes much longer than the typical B2C sale, well written white papers can be used by companies to help generate qualified B2B leads and move them along the sales funnel with high value technical content that educates and helps solve real business or technical challenges.
White papers vary greatly in topic and length but they are always meant to be an authoritative, expert report on a specific topic meant to educate, inform and tilt the reader towards the company’s offerings without being too pushy.
The classic white paper is written in a problem-solution format that addresses a business goal or technical challenge. “Backgrounder” type white papers are also popular. These are less problem focused, instead presenting information in an explanatory style on a product, technology, or industry trend. Finally, as companies have experimented more and more with new types of white papers, other forms have popped up which blur the separation between white papers, blog posts, and contributed articles such as the increasingly popular tip sheets and numbered lists formats.
Whatever style they take, white papers should be focused on education rather than self-promotion, be backed by expert research, and be written in a more formal, business-like tone than other forms of marketing content.
Their length, in-depth research and high value content clearly benefit readers but mean white papers take significant resources to put together. For technology companies what justifies this investment when there’s so many other B2B marketing options?
More than any other form of content, white papers offer an unbeatable way to reach customers on a deeper level, building a relationship by offering something of value to the customer first. At the same time, white papers let companies define the situation customers are facing on their terms.
Whitepapers are a key part of B2B content marketing strategy centered around the idea of inbound marketing. Traditional “outbound” marketing using advertisements, direct mail and cold-calls inundates customers with sales pitches and intrusive ads they’d rather not see. On the web, turning away from a website with intrusive advertising or unsubscribing from an email sales pitch is easy as a mouse click. The modern business has to evolve.
Inbound marketing through white papers changes this dynamic by offering high quality content that attracts potential customers and keeps them reading. Made with the goal of elucidating a technical topic, solving a technical or business challenge, and backed with expertly researched facts, observations and techniques, a single whitepaper can represent hundreds or thousands of dollars of educational value to readers, making them incredibly attractive to engineers and managers in technology companies under constant pressure to stay up to date in their field.
White papers help generate leads in two major ways. First, they’re usually delivered through landing pages which ask customers to submit contact and company information for access to the content. Second, well designed white paper content educates readers not only on the topic at hand, but also builds awareness of your company and its offerings. Readers who may not even have known about you before now have an impression of your company in the context of an issue they care about.
While generating and capturing leads is useful, the greatest strength of white paper marketing may be in moving leads further along the sales funnel.
The B2B sales cycle is a long one. While B2C sales involve one individual making a decision in minutes, hours, or days, B2B sales generally involve much higher dollar amounts, several decision makers, and much more time on the order of weeks or months.
Consider that a B2B purchase of equipment or components has serious implications across the organization. It can affect cash flow, defect rate, profit margin, product quality, and much more. No wonder that these purchases are made carefully and researched thoroughly before a decision is made.
For B2B technology companies selling complex products, converting leads to qualified sales prospects is just as important as gaining emails and phone numbers. With high value educational content, white papers offer B2B brands one of the best ways to do that.
**For customers getting to know and understand a technology, whitepapers build brand awareness and knowledge of company offerings. For those looking for a specific solution to an existing challenge, whitepapers can help build competitive advantage for a company’s products or technology.
White papers go beyond the typical blog post or magazine article in value to the reader and also in the effort to produce them. But just like any other type of content a structured approach will yield high quality white papers that attract readers and provide you with the qualified leads you seek.
While style and structure vary, the essential value proposition of a white paper is a problem solution dynamic. The customer has a problem or challenge, and you are providing them the information to help them address it.
Identifying the challenge starts with identifying the audience. Who is the decision maker you are trying to reach? Understanding your target audience well is a fundamental step in crafting your white paper, so make sure you find this out even if it requires discussions with coworkers or sales staff, interviews, surveys, or outside research. Whitepapers take significant time and effort to create and it would be shame for you to spend weeks creating a 20 page jargon-filled white paper addressing technical challenges and then find out from your sales team that your target leads are executives who prefer 6 page business oriented high-level reports.
Now that you know the audience, what are their pain points - the biggest obstacles in their day to day jobs and the problems they face which cause them the biggest headaches? If you’re able to address these head-on you immediately have a topic guaranteed to grab their attention.
It will be tempting to make your white paper product-oriented and title them accordingly, but this is usually not as effective as addressing the challenges customers face directly. If you have a competitive product, it’s already solving a particular challenge in your field. By understanding which problems your product solves and how those relate to your customer’s pain points, you should be able to come up with an angle that addresses their problem while allowing you to mention your offerings.
While you have lot of flexibility in the content, B2B technology white papers typically follow a few structural conventions. Length will generally be six to twenty pages. Whitepapers targeted towards business side decision makers should be shorter and include an executive summary while white papers for engineers should be longer to include all technical details necessary and have an introduction or abstract. As white papers are longer pieces of content, a table of contents should be included.
The value of a white paper compared to blogs and contributed articles is in their depth which stems from the quality of research backing the content. Make sure to set aside time to perform due diligence to find the supporting facts and details for your report. Quality research demonstrates your expertise, and lets you support the case for your company or product with vendor-neutral facts.
While writing the paper make sure to focus the content around solving the challenge rather than purely touting your wares. Products should be mentioned later in the content if possible. Even if your products are the best in the field, addressing the customer’s challenges first will let them build a much better relationship with your brand and allow them to be receptive to your pitch.
After your whitepaper is written, it has to be published and promoted to be effective. Of course you should publish the whitepapers on your own site and use your company’s existing marketing channels to promote it. A landing page should be created that captures lead contact information.
Besides your own company website, most industry publications also offer white paper services where they will host the white paper on their site with a landing page as well. In addition, the publication will promote your white paper across their website, newsletter, and social media channels, amplifying your white paper’s exposure.
Other effective ways to promote your whitepaper include sending out a press release, and guest blogging. With either method your goal is to provide a snippet or executive summary of the white paper, while attracting readers to click through to the full thing.
With their in depth content addressing specific industry challenges, white papers are one of the most attractive types of content for customers, and one of the most effective marketing tools for B2B companies. Well written white papers provide brands with the ability to generate leads from prospects that may not have even had the company on their radar, as well as capture and nurture leads further along the sales cycle.