6 “Dos” and 1 “Don’t” For Developing a Great White Paper

According to the Content Marketing Institute/MarketingProfs’ 11th Annual Content Marketing Survey, 47% of B2B content marketers used white papers in the past 12 months. Considering that the average white paper costs $4,000 to $6,000 to produce, with some complex projects costing as much as $10,000, it’s reasonable to assume that organizations receive a good return on their investment. In fact, white papers are among the best early-to-mid-stage content formats, particularly effective in generating early buyer interest from the awareness through the consideration and intent stages. What’s more, white papers often benefit from a long shelf life, and can be easily repurposed in a variety of formats and channels, such as blog posts, podcasts, webinars, press releases, bylined articles, infographics, and social media. A well-developed white paper is indeed the gift that keeps on giving.

Given the levels of investment, effort, and potential return associated with a white paper project, marketers have plenty of incentive to do it right. Whereas blog posts and infographics can be produced quickly and relatively cheaply, long-form content like white papers demand some additional thought and planning. Most importantly, your white paper should be fully aligned with your organization’s long-term content strategy and goals.

With this in mind, here are 6 “Dos” to consider before kicking off your next white paper project:

  • Do speak to your audience: A successful white paper begins with a compelling topic. And that topic needs to speak directly to a specific, unique challenge or issue your target audience is facing right now. The name of the game is clicks, and unless the topic clearly resonates with your audience, your white paper is likely to gather dust in a forgotten corner of their inbox.
  • Do say something original: One of the most important jobs of a white paper is to help an individual or brand become established as a “thought leader” in their field. The late economist and editor-in-chief Joel Kurtzman first coined “thought leader” in its modern usage in strategy+business magazine. In the decades since, many organizations overused this term, throwing it around to describe every regurgitated utterance of conventional wisdom. Don’t be that guy or gal! For your white paper to have a chance at making an impact in the marketplace, and to have legs beyond the current quarterly cycle, you need to say something original or counterintuitive, and be prepared to back it up.
  • Do cite relevant data: One way to back up your unique or counterintuitive big idea is through evidence – specifically, fresh, current, compelling, independently validated data that support your key points. This information can come from a variety of sources: proprietary research, published studies, government publications, or anecdotal evidence gathered through client interviews and focus groups.
  • Do quote industry experts: Another popular and effective way to establish credibility in your white paper is by interviewing recognized experts in the field. Not only will these quotes help validate your position and point of view, but since everyone loves to see their name in print, they will also extend your reach among the experts’ networks and spheres of influence. Don’t forget to approach your current customers as potential interview subjects, as well. They can provide real-world examples of how they solved the problem you describe in the paper (using your solution, of course), and the additional recognition can serve as a way to thank them for their loyalty and partnership.
  • Do avoid jargon: As much as you hope your shiny new white paper will enable you to leverage industry best practices to help move the needle on all your marketing goals and capture low hanging fruit along the customer journey, you can easily shoot yourself in the foot by overusing industry jargon, cliches, and the most annoying buzzwords of the moment. Nothing reduces a white paper’s effectiveness and credibility more than jargon, except maybe this …
  • Do proofread! Perhaps the only sin worse than overusing buzzwords is neglecting to weed out careless typos, spelling errors, and grammatical snafus. Not everyone will notice, but for the vocal minority that does, nothing is more annoying than silly mistakes that should have been picked up in a final round of editing. Take the extra time to have a second set of eyes read through the final product before you publish. Your readers will thank you!

As a bonus, here is one important “Don’t” to remember for your next white paper project:

  • Don’t push product! We all understand that the ultimate purpose of marketing is to drive sales. Long-form content like white papers are most effective when used in the top and middle stages of the sales cycle, when establishing brand awareness and credibility is most critical, and your audience is seeking objective, thought-provoking points of view. For this reason, avoid overtly selling your products or solution in the white paper, where product-pushing can be more damaging than beneficial. Leave the selling to late-stage content like case studies, website product pages, in-person and virtual events, sales sheets, and brochureware.

White papers hold a unique and important place of prominence in your content marketing toolkit. They help build awareness, credibility, and “buzz” for your brand and offerings. They also have a long shelf life and can be repurposed in multiple ways. Follow our tips for effectiveness, and you’ll be assured of a successful white paper project that will keep returning value for years to come.

Thriving Under Pressure

I am lucky enough to live in upstate New York’s Finger Lakes region, known for producing some of the country’s (and the world’s) best wines, especially those varietals that excel in cooler climates like Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and ice wine.

As spring finally began to emerge this past week, it got me thinking about the winemaking process. Although I am a happy consumer of wine, particularly vinifera reds like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Pinot Noir, I know very little about the wine-making process. So, I did a little research.

As it turns out, the best wine comes from the heartiest grapes— those able to flourish under the most challenging conditions. Vines with ready access to water and nutrient-rich soil tend to produce fat, characterless grapes, which result in watered-down, flavorless wine.

In contrast, fruit that grows under the most Spartan of circumstances, like dry, rocky soil and low levels of rainfall have to work a lot harder. They develop complex root systems adept at seeking out the water table and hard-to-find nutrients. The plant ends up focusing all of its resources on producing rich, complex grapes instead of beautiful leaves and long, snake-like vines. It prioritizes the one thing most important to its species’ survival: luscious, sugar-filled, flavorful grapes, which in turn serve as the foundation of a delicious, complex wine. It also ensures the propagation of the species.

These challenging times feel a lot like growing grapes on a rocky Italian hillside during a harsh, dry summer. Many businesses are struggling, and more than a few aren’t going to make it to the other side. Yet some are finding ways to excel. They are innovating their products, services, and internal processes to adapt to our new reality, whether that means empowering employees to work from home, or offering curbside delivery to their customers. Meanwhile, those brands that have proven unwilling or unable to pivot to meet their clients’ and employees’ needs are withering on the vine.

We can learn valuable lessons from these companies that are spreading their roots further from the vineyard – seeking out new prospects and finding new ways to communicate their value propositions. Can’t hold your in-person user conference this year at a fabulous destination? Why not move it online? How about setting up a regular speaker series or webinar training program? This may be the year to start that podcast, video series, or weekly newsletter.

Innovation has always been the hallmark of the business community, and it amazes me how many companies have been able to survive and even thrive during this historic pandemic crisis. Yet, as more Americans get vaccinated every day and the danger of the virus begins to recede, the endless possibilities of springtime are blossoming. After a seemingly endless winter, it’s a great relief to cheer on those organizations, people, and brands that stared into the abyss and are now poised to reach new heights.

And that’s something we can all raise a glass to.

3 Tips for Nailing the Case Study Interview

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Case studies, also known as customer success stories, are an excellent way to communicate your company’s value to a qualified prospect, by demonstrating how you have helped actual customers solve real-life problems. You can spout all the features and benefits of your offering and preach outstanding customer service until you are blue in the face, but often it takes a well-positioned testimonial to close the deal. Your customers are your best salespeople!

Crafting an effective case study isn’t hard, but it must begin with a well-planned and executed customer conversation. Here are three easy ways to ensure you crush the interview:

1. Plan and prepare: Pre-interview preparation is critical. If you go into the interview blind, you’ll probably miss the most interesting quotes, which help your story come alive. Do a little research on your customer, and draft your questions in advance.

My interview questions follow this classic case study template:

  • Company Background
  • Challenge
  • Solution
  • Journey
  • Results

Develop your questions directly from this template, and in this order. This helps in a few ways: It will keep the interview on track, allowing your customer’s story to flow naturally. And by following this orderly sequence, the case study will practically write itself.

I recommend interviewing at least 2-3 key players at the client company, preferably in different roles and at various levels of the organization, reflecting a range of end-user perspectives.

2. Dig deep for golden nuggets: If you’ve spent enough time planning, the actual interview should go smoothly. Reference your script, but be ready to follow your subject wherever she might lead, particularly if she tosses up a particularly juicy data point or unforeseen benefit of working with your company’s solution.

Above all, listen to your subject’s answers, and ask follow-up questions. My business coach Ed Gandia turned me on to the “so what?” approach to interviewing. For example, if you ask, “What are some tangible benefits you realized after implementing ABC solution?” she may reply, “We reduced loan closing times by 25%.” Don’t stop there.

Ask yourself “So what?” and ask your interviewee, “What did that reduction in closing time mean for your staff? Are they able to process more loans, or take on additional duties now? What do the faster closings mean for your customers? Did they get their money more quickly? What were they able to achieve? Is your company more competitive in the marketplace now?” These questions will help uncover those “golden nuggets” that make for truly compelling stories.

3. Save time with smart technology: To save both time and effort, I use a few inexpensive (or free) technology solutions. First, I always record my interviews. Most often I do phone interviews, and I like using FreeConferenceCall.com. As the name implies, the basic service is free. You get a dedicated, reusable, password-protected conference line, and free call recording with ample storage space (you can pay a fee for additional storage). I have found the service to be extremely reliable and easy to use.

If I need to interview a source in person, I use the voice memo app on my iPhone. I have not experienced any issues with sound quality using the built-in microphone on the iPhone, but I recommend interviewing your subject in a quiet room, and testing the positioning of your smartphone’s mike beforehand.

Once you have the recording in hand, I highly recommend using an online transcription service, such as Rev.com. I’ve used Rev.com for years, and find them consistently accurate. The price is right (currently at $1.25 per transcribed minute), so for a typical 30-minute interview, it will only set you back thirty bucks. Rev.com keeps getting better and faster, and the company promises to turnaround your transcription in just twelve hours. This is money very well spent.