“Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated”, wrote Mark Twain in one of his most quoted quips. The wit and wisdom of this great American writer would have made him the consummate public relations pro. How appropriate it is, then, that Twain’s comment from 1897 remains spot on the money for describing a cherished workhorse, the white paper.
Reports of the white paper’s death have been greatly exaggerated: as a content marketing tool it quaffs from the font of eternal life. It is essential for decision-making, thought leadership, generating leads, seeding other content – and, ultimately, closing sales.
Twain would recognise immediately that what the white paper has is an image problem. Busy PR pros submerged in a wired world have permitted an irritating upstart narrative to take root. This states that stressed executives don’t read anything longer than… well, this blog post. Their brains are wired. They consume content through rich media as posts, videos, microsites and eBooks. They have been weaned on mobile technology and social networking. Print is dull.
White Papers Work
The problem with this narrative is summed up in the one word by which the white paper excels: evidence. All the evidence suggests that marketers still love them. Demand Gen reported that the top three content formats that B2B buyers seek out to research a purchase include: white papers (78%), case studies (73%) and webinars (67%). Data from the Economist Group and Peppercomm suggest white papers continue to be among the top three most helpful content types for B2B executives. MarketingCharts says research reports, case studies and white papers remain key content elements for buyers.
The usage and effectiveness of white papers are holding their own against rich media. White papers are particularly popular in the IT, security and supply chain management sectors – authoritative research firms like Gartners publish them frequently, and IT buyers use them to find out about enterprise tech. White papers even appear to be gaining importance among non-profits.
So why does does the white paper retain its vigour?
- Decision-making: there is a lot at stake when making strategic decisions. You need to circulate statistically sound data and well-researched findings among colleagues and your supply chain. The white paper provides the most detailed information of any content type.
- Thought leadership: your content positions you as a leader. Clients and rivals must associate your brand with new ideas that provoke innovative thinking. You must show you are an authority. Videos are great for selling, but white papers educate.
- Marketing reach: a white paper is unparalleled at engendering other content: leads, links, byline articles, interviews and speaking opportunities.
But of course, you must get it right. Evidence suggests firms can find it hard to put together research and white papers. You will need the help of PR professionals. The Content Marketing Institute gave some key pointers for compiling a white paper:
- It should pave the way: a well-crafted white paper provides an editorial calendar for other marketing content;
- Hone your point of view: ensure your focus is clearly based on a strong central idea;
- Know your audience: be relevant to readers by addressing issues they care about;
- Involve your clients: reach out to customers to refine your point of view.
Chris Searson of Citizen Associates and MBC (whose recent white paper confirmed their position as a thought leader in the British design industry) commented: “A well researched intelligent white paper, such as Quality by Design, raises the temperature of debate and burns its way into clients’ consciousness.”
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