How to Write White Papers that Educate, Resonate, and Motivate

White papers

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Stephanie Tilton, principal consultant of Ten Ton Marketing.

White papers have become a bread-and-butter content option for many companies. But it’s one thing to churn out a paper and check it off the list, and another to produce hard-hitting content that generates measurable results. Here are three ways you can take your papers from run-of-the-mill to first rate.

1) Choose a Topic with Teeth

Crafting an effective paper hinges on the audience you’re trying to reach and what matters most to them. Yet it’s not uncommon for organizations to approach their white paper with a topic in mind based on what they want to discuss. Sometimes this is on target and resonates with the audience. But this approach can also backfire if the topic isn’t top of mind with prospective buyers.

Papers written in a corporate marketing vacuum, from the sole perspective of the company, tend to be product-focused. That’s why many papers end up as thinly veiled brochures.

It’s not that selling your products shouldn’t be the goal. But it’s about the path you take to achieve that goal: You can’t move from A to Z in one step. Instead you need accompany prospective buyers along the path to purchase. And you do that by aligning your content – including your white papers – with your target market’s buying process and their concerns at every stage.

It’s important that you understand the buying process from your ideal buyers’ point of view and map your white papers to it. In other words, understand what information is needed at each stage, so you can deliver the right information at the right time and guide your buyers through the process.

2) Get Inside Your Reader’s Head

To really connect with your intended reader, you need to understand what makes this person tick. In addition to pinpointing the issues that are top of mind you need to find out:

  • What role the reader plays in the purchase process
  • Who she trusts and who influences her when it comes to making business decisions
  • Why she would take action to change something about her work environment
  • How familiar she is with the topic you are writing about
  • What words or phrases she uses to describe the issues she’s facing

The answers to these questions will help shape the paper. For example, if you find that your ideal reader is influenced by a certain industry analyst, you can reference research conducted by that firm in your paper. If your prospective buyer has a shallow understanding of the issue, you’ll need to cover the topic in depth. By understanding how the person describes pressing concerns, you can include compelling words and phrases in your white paper title and executive summary to make sure your paper shows up in the search results. In other words, the insights you glean through research into your audience can directly impact how you write the paper.

If your company or client has developed buyer personas – which are archetypes of the ideal customer – then you’re off to a good start. A fully developed persona or profile should answer these questions about your target reader.

3) Keep Buyers Moving Forward

Your paper should end with a call to action that guides the reader to the next logical step.

You should determine your call to action based on the intended audience for the paper as well as where they are in the buying cycle:

  • Business decision makers at the beginning of the buying cycle: you may want to encourage them to sign up for a webinar or download a customer case study.
  • CFOs who will sign the purchase order for your solution and are reviewing a paper that compares your offering against competitive alternatives: you may want to point them to an ROI calculator.
  • Technical evaluators who want to understand how your solution integrates into their environment: you may want to offer them a technical solution brief.

Whatever you suggest, spell out how the prospective buyer will benefit by responding to the call to action. In other words, incent them to take the next step.

By including specific directions at the end of your piece, you’ll increase the likelihood of the reader responding to your call to action. Leave it up to the reader to decide, and he may just drift off to another vendor’s website.


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