There’s no denying the power of a blog, in fact it’s one of our most valuable communication tools and one that we recommend for our clients for a multitude of reasons. But the reality is that just about everyone has a blog these days, and the criteria for content creation and who’s creating is sometimes loose. Beyond the blog though there are other content formats that can provide additional value and have higher levels of expectation like the white paper.
A white paper is intended to be an authoritative, in-depth piece that educates the reader on your unique point of view. Some might tell you it’s an old-school technique that has lost its luster. Don’t be quick to judge. If crafted properly the return on investment can be valuable in terms of generating new leads, creating brand awareness, and establishing an expert reputation.
Where Do You Start?
Start by creating a creative brief. This will help outline all the necessary details you need to establish from the beginning, as well as provide a great resource to share with internal stakeholders to get everyone on the same page, and make sure it fits within the company’s overall positioning. Here’s a quick look at what the creative brief should include:
- Describe the initiative
- Outline what is the focus or big idea of the piece
- Highlight what are the supporting themes
- Identify the primary audience
- Establish what is the benefit for the reader
- Identify what you want to gain
- Determine what action you want the reader to take
- And lastly establish a timeline
Content Quick Tips
Capture attention. Much like a blog post you’ve got to create a captivating title that’ll attract readers. Make it powerful and intrigue them to give a little whether it’s their contact information or just the time it takes them to read. Consider an active verb suggesting the need to take action.
Tell them something they don’t already know. Share some secret sauce or exclusive insight that they might not have otherwise known unless they read your white paper. Make it thought provoking.
Build credibility. Consider co-writing with other industry experts or simply including a relevant quote from an influential individual that supports your content.
Do your research. White papers shouldn’t just be an opinion piece. Do your homework to compile supporting information and stats or interview subject matter experts.
Make it visual. Yes, the primary focus here is the content, but a bunch of words on a blank white page is going to be a total snooze to the reader. Use compelling photography and embrace colors and fonts as a way to highlight or call out key points within the piece.
Don’t focus on length. White papers vary in length from several to double-digit page numbers. What’s important to remember in the ideal length of the piece is that it should be long enough to convey your point effectively—period. Don’t make it too short that the reader feels disappointed that they didn’t get much out of it, but don’t add fluff to reach an arbitrary page length.
To gate or not to gate, that is the question. There are benefits on both ends of the spectrum. By gating the white paper you gain valuable contact information and can help you build email lists and provide an opportunity for follow up. On the flip side there’s also hesitancy amongst most individuals to want to provide that information. Consider not gating the information with the belief that the content will be powerful enough to ignite the reader to need to contact you. You can also try gating the white paper for a period of time, and then opening up after it’s been out in the public for a bit.
Plan for Promotion
There’s no sense in creating a great piece of content if you only intend to put it up on the website in hopes that someone will come find it. That’s like publishing a book and putting it in the library with the hope that it gets discovered one day. Establish a promotion plan the beginning.
- Consider creating a few blog posts on the subject in advance to further position credibility around the point of view.
- Develop a tiered approach to distribution. Establish a segment of customers that you can provide exclusive access to before you officially make public to everyone else.
- After that, utilize social media channels for additional distribution, and consider both organic and paid promotion.
- Add calls-to-action in other logical places of the website where visitors might see it, or add a link in the bottom of your email to help spread the word in day-to-day communications.
- Share with online resources and publications that might be interested to feature the piece.
While it may take days or weeks to produce a long-form piece of content like a white paper the benefits can outweigh only focusing on short-form content pieces like a blog post as a part of your overall content marketing strategy.
Photo Credit: Dan Taylr