The “No-Brainer” Guide to Choosing Your White Paper Style

Written by Katie Daggett
Planning your white paper is a no-brainer

Writing a white paper can be daunting. Depending on your subject matter and industry, it can require a great deal of planning and research and an in-depth knowledge of the topic (or access to experts who possess this knowledge). Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start, especially when the format and topic of your next white paper is unclear. Fortunately, this part of the process doesn’t have to be complicated.  Just follow the steps below to help narrow things down.

  1. First of all, decide what you want your white paper to accomplish. Do you want to:
    • Generate leads?
    • Get noticed or stand out from competitors?
    • Explain the benefits of a product or service?
  2. Once you’ve determined the goal of your white paper, your next step is to consider the preferences of your target audience. Are they conservative members of the C-Suite? Or, are you trying to reach twenty-something entrepreneurs? Will your audience expect a list of points they can easily skim, or more in-depth data and research? All of these questions will help you determine the appropriate content, length and tone for your white paper
  3. And finally, conduct a thorough investigation of your target sector, industry, or vertical market. Research your competitors and industry trade journals to see what is common in the industry. Then, decide whether you want to fit in, by choosing a style your audience is used to seeing, or stand out by taking a new approach.

After you’ve completed these three steps, it will be much easier to determine the type of white paper that will work best. The following is a brief description of the three most common white paper styles and the most appropriate uses for each.

1)  The Backgrounder

What it is: A factual description of the technical or business benefits of a product or service.

Best uses for this white paper:

    • Supporting the launch of a new product by explaining it to the vendor’s sales force and channel partners, plus any journalists, analysts, or bloggers who cover that space.
    • Near the bottom of the sales funnel, to help a technical evaluator size up your company’s offering against the competition.
2)  The List

What it is: Quick and easy to scan, this white paper is a gathered list of points about an issue important to your target audience (and one your product or service addresses). It is often written with a fun, witty tone.

Best uses for this white paper:

    • Getting attention with a provocative approach to some issue
    • To cast fear, uncertainty and doubt on competitors
    • To nurture prospects through the middle of the sales funnel by keeping them engaged and entertained
3)  The Problem/Solution

What it is: Useful information that educates your target audience about a problem facing the industry and positions your company as a trusted adviser. It usually begins by introducing the problem, pointing out the draw backs of existing solutions, and then offering a new, improved solution to the problem.

Best uses for this white paper:

    • Generating leads at the top of the sales funnel
    • Educating your target audience
    • Increasing your company’s visibility

If your topic doesn’t fit…

Once you’ve picked a white paper style, you’re ready to pick a topic. The first step is to test potential topics to see if it is too broad or too narrow to be a good white paper subject.

White papers are typically five to twelve pages in length, with backgrounders falling on the shorter side of the spectrum, and problem/solutions going longer.

For example, the question: “How to solve the current economic crisis” is obviously too broad of a subject for a white paper, and possibly even a book may not be long enough to do it justice. On the flip side, “5 tips for writing a better email subject line” is probably more suited to a 500 word blog article than a white paper.

Has your topic been “done to death”?

You’ll also want to eliminate any topic that has already been covered extensively by your competitors, trade journals and the like. You want your information to be fresh and relevant to your target audience and not something that has already been thoroughly covered by everyone else. Do a quick Internet search on any topic you are considering to find out what has already been written on the subject. But don’t give up if the subject you had your heart set on has been heavily covered. If you can find a new angle or approach on a subject, or offer a unique solution to the problem, then it may still be valid subject for your white paper.

When in doubt…ask your customer

The best way I’ve found to choose a white paper topic is to go directly to your customers or talk to your sales people to find out what their prospects biggest problems or concerns are.  You can also conduct your own research by listening to what your customers and prospects are saying on social media. What questions do they have? What information are they looking for? What solutions have they already tried and are they happy with the results? Listen to your customers, and you will have your topic.

Keep it simple

Of course, choosing a style and topic for your white paper is only the beginning. There’s a lot of research and planning, not to mention writing, to do from here. If you are new to writing white papers, or could use a hand in expanding your company’s content library, I’d be happy to help. Give me a call to discuss your project at 970.556.1294 or email katie@kdcopyandcontent.com.

 P.S.  A lot of what I know about writing white papers (including the information in this article) I learned from white paper expert, Gordon Graham. If you produce (or plan to produce) a lot of white papers, I highly recommend you check out his book, White Papers for Dummies. Not only does it have a lot of great tips for writing white papers, but also explains how to manage the entire process – from planning to distribution (including working with outside writers and graphic designers).

Will you land more customers with a wide net or a smart hook? Narrowcasting vs. Broadcasting

Written by Katie DaggettB2B Marketing - Narrowcasting vs. Broadcasting

Suppose you decide to become a fisherman, knowing that the people of your village prefer a specific type of fish called the “blue-finned flyer”. The blue finned flyer is smaller in number and hard to catch, so the people of your village are willing to pay a premium price to get it.

Considering yourself somewhat of a smart businessperson, you decide to specialize in catching and selling blue-finned fliers.

The traditional way to catch fish in your community is to cast out your net, haul it in and sort the fish at the end of the day – selling whatever you bring in. Now, this approach does bring in a great number of fish with minimal effort, which is why most of your fellow fishermen use this method. The downside is, out of the daily catch, only a very small number will turn out to be the blue-finned fliers you are looking for.

So, you decide to try a different approach.

You decide to study the blue-finned flyer and get to know them as well as you can. What do they prefer to eat? Where in the river do they prefer to congregate? What time of day are they most active? What attracts them? Repels them? And so on.

After much research, you determine that the best way to catch a blue-finned flier is to bait your hook with a very specific type of insect, go out in the very early morning, and cast your line into the reeds along the shore.

Do your efforts reward you with a massive number of fish each day? No. But you are successful at reeling in exactly the type of fish you are interested in catching – and you bring in more of this fish than any of your competitors. You don’t sell a great number of fish each day, but those fish you do sell fetch a premium, so you end up earning more per fish for your time and effort.

So, how does “narrowcasting” apply to content marketing?

The first time I heard the term was in an interview with Avaya’s CMO, Mark Wilson. He used this method, when launching a software product, to target prospects in the financial industry. By focusing narrowly on the habits of decision makers in this industry, his marketing team was able to devise a plan to target their prospects heavily throughout their day – from the newspaper’s they read at breakfast, to the elevators they rode up to their offices. Wilson’s team carried out their highly targeted efforts for three years. And, according to him, the product launch was the most successful in the company’s history.

In my opinion, too many companies take the easy way out with “spray and pray” marketing methods. They devise one message and broadcast it to the masses.

Will they attract any leads that way? Sure. But they will turn many prospects off as well. Many of whom could have been converted into sales had they been approached with the right message at the right time.

The moral of this story?

Take the time to get to know your customers and prospects. Really study them. What are their needs? What do they read? Where do they congregate? What motivates them to take action?

You can find this information out by scanning your customer databanks, talking to your sales people, studying your analytics to see when your prospects first contacted you (after a webinar, an email, or a live event); what types of content do they most respond to, what are they talking about on social media, read the magazines they read, hang out where they hang out.

Then, take this information to create personas (or bios) for each of your various audiences. Make them as detailed as possible, until you can see them as a real live person sitting in front of you. Then write your marketing content as if you are speaking one on one with that person.

Finally, deliver your content through the channels you know your customer prefers – webinar, a written report, via Twitter or LinkedIn or email. And, provide the information your prospects want, when they want it (this comes from knowing the stage of the buying cycle they are in-for more on that, you may want to download my white paper).

Bait your hook with the stuff your customers want.

Cast your line along the shoreline in the early morning, when your prospects are primed and eager for the information you have to offer.

Become a trusted adviser, rather than a talking head with a megaphone.

You will be rewarded, not with massive, untargeted traffic to your website, but with a select group of highly qualified leads that are ready and willing to buy from you.

What approach do you prefer when creating your content – one with broad appeal or do you target a narrowly focused audience? Leave a comment and share it with us.

And if you’re interested in an easy-to-follow guide to improving your content marketing efforts, click here to download my white paper “The Marketing Pro’s Guide to Creating Great Content”.