Whitepapers are among the most overused and abused promotional tactics short of news releases. The consistently made mistake is they are merely revised sales literature and don't deliver a clean, clear, informative story. Self-publishing is an inexpensive and effective tool for tech marketers but just don't call product promotional stuff a “whitepaper.”
However, whitepapers can be successful communication tools if the sponsor is delivering valuable content to a specifically identified and understood readership. They can be a great way for tech marketers to demonstrate expertise as part of an overall thought leadership strategy. The creators just need to put their education hats on rather than only pushing features and benefits.
Teaching and helping are essential in the whitepaper development phase. Topics that make life easier for your customers and prospects are the starting point. How to use a product or why to use a category of products that obviously includes the ones you sell are good directions. Naturally, any content will be either under or over the understanding levels of some percentage of an audience. Here are some guidelines that will help you be more successful in creating your next whitepaper:
- Write for the mid-level understanding and don't be afraid of adding a definition of terms for neophytes. Assuming “everybody knows that” will always get you in trouble.
- Respect readers' time by keeping to the subject. Less is more. Extended length doesn't necessarily make the item more valuable. If you have more to say on the topic, write another whitepaper.
- Outline the content. Know where you're going.
- Stay narrowly focused (see No. 2 above again).
- Pick a topic that hasn't been done. Search for what others have written and don't repeat these.
- Find a content expert who can write. Failing that, find someone who can write and feed them the content or hook them up with the content expert for the project. Avoid pure content experts who aren't effective writers. A former trade publication editor or reporter with appropriate domain expertise would be one way of nailing both criteria. Otherwise, hire a writer (a PR pro or journalist, not somebody's friend) with strong professional writing credentials. Quality counts and shows.
- Plan on how you're going to use, distribute, and promote your whitepaper. It's not much good just sitting hidden on your Website.
- Consider working with a publication that covers your business sector and making the whitepaper into a contributed feature. Even a small local business can benefit from being published nationally and linking the story to its site, then getting re-publication rights for either electronic or print reuse. Remember, an existing publication gets far more eyeballs and greater credibility than your Website ever will. (For more on this see: How to Write, Pitch and Place Bylined Articles.)
- Plan a series of whitepapers (or contributed articles). One whitepaper does not equal a marketing campaign. Schedule production so they appear within a reasonably close time to each other, perhaps monthly. A series demonstrates far more expertise than a single item and provides a way of engaging and nurturing prospects toward a purchase.
- Turn the whitepaper content into a presentation that can be delivered live as a Webinar or an interview. Valuable information is applicable across a variety of media. Don't get hung up on just one way of delivering content and demonstrating your brand's expertise. Get more mileage out of the original idea. Content reuse in various media makes plenty of economic sense and provides a degree of communications consistency to your campaign.