White papers – what’s the point?
It’s a question we get asked every so often by our clients; “Does anyone actually read white papers? And is there any point us creating content like this?”
In a mega busy world, it’s a question worth asking. And one that deserves answering with evidence, not just opinion.
What you thought you knew is changing.
Leading American agency NeilPatel.com published startling figures last week, demonstrating social media’s dramatic descent from powerful business tool to potential waste of time. Shares across all major platforms have fallen by 60% since 2015 and this figure is set to get worse.
Social media now forms the backbone of nearly every campaign by default but as marketers, we need to acknowledge that Facebook, Twitter et al. are driving less and less sales. We need to respond to consumer boredom by giving people what they actually want, when they need that information. And when that time comes, they are most likely to be looking for a provider of products or services related to the topic they need information on.
What do prospects want?
The demandgen.com report shows that half of your leads will look to four to five pieces of content before they engage with a sales rep and a whopping 96% of respondents want to see authoritative content from industry thought leaders.
When asked which piece of marketing collateral most informed their purchase decisions in the past 12 months, 82% identified white papers as the most persuasive documents.
White papers – the secret tool of powerful campaigns
Everybody is fatigued by rigidly choreographed status updates. We’re all hungry for reliable, educational material to help us make well-informed decisions. Common Google searches are dominated by the prefixes ‘how’ and ‘what’ as people look for dependable answers to their questions – white papers give them the information that they need.
White papers are not sales documents. White papers are soft-sell promotional pieces of information. They can come in the guise of traditional white papers – academic, governmental or science-based papers – or they can come in other forms:
A short e-book
(e.g. ‘10 great ways to improve office productivity’, ‘How to implement sales strategies that really work.’)
(e.g. ‘Annual report on the cyber security industry – and a look at what’s ahead’, ‘Bitesize brief on consumer attitudes – how to engage with prospects in changing times’)
An informative leaflet
(e.g. ‘Understanding the dangers of a busy kitchen: what you need to know about HACCP’, ‘The obstacles to team harmony – and how to remove them’)
(e.g. ‘What house buyers are really looking for’ ‘How the coffee supply chain really works’)
Authoritative content must be based on information that is unbiased and objective. Note that all the above examples offer solutions, advice and dependable information. These are the qualities that your audience is looking for.
In addition to adding to the number of valuable touchpoints with your brand, white papers offer some powerful advantages.
In a study of over $3 billion in ad spend, Wordstream identified that a valuable offer like a white paper (as opposed to a less valuable offer of a ‘free consultation’ or similar) ‘has the single biggest impact on conversion rates’.
Additionally, white papers perform the following valuable functions:
- Create lead generation. When placed behind gated access, website visitors gain access to your white paper by inputting their email address, helping to build a greater contact list.
- Establish thought leadership. White papers identify your brand as one that understands your industry, products, personnel and the contexts surrounding your marketplace.
- Establish credibility. Not just important for clients, but also for stakeholders, such as investors and partners, establishing and maintaining credibility is essential for any brand.
- Provide organic reach. White papers give your visitors something interesting to share and help your site to attract attention and links, generating more organic traffic in the long run.
- Educate. Not just your visitors but your internal sales team, white papers help to make everyone more intelligent as to the factors that affect your market. White papers are also brilliant resources for sales personnel to forward to potential clients.
- Expand your brand presence. By being a go-to resource for quality information, white papers help to get you cited, shared, referred to at conferences, etc.
- Lend themselves to repurposing. Sections of white papers can be reused in blogs, infographics, slide decks and presentations, to create smaller chunks of valuable content.
- Generate press. Informative white papers (particularly in the guise of industry analysis, reports or briefs) attract media comment.
All of the above adds up to one simple thing:
White papers are the most influential marketing tools for B2B buying decisions.
The ‘ripple effect’
It’s also worth remembering that the use of a white paper goes far beyond the here and now. A busy health and safety manager might download your paper on COSHH reporting, to guide them through preparing for an imminent inspection. But they’ll likely save that document to remind themselves of the information at a later date, and they may even pass it along to a colleague.
Similarly, white papers positioned as free guides are circulated as training, and in addition to the trainer (usually a manager) becoming acquainted with your brand, their staff will be too. Some of them might be in a junior position today, but in six months-time they might not be, and they might just need whatever it is that you specialise in.
Additionally, copywriters looking for material pore over reports and analysis for salient data and if they find your piece and it teaches them something useful, your brand could reach publications and journals right across your industry.
These are just three examples of the ‘ripple effect’ of excellent white papers.
What will you focus on?
Now that it’s clear that social media’s impact on sales is on the slide, we should all be focused on marketing that really works. White papers are by far one of the most effective weapons in your arsenal.
Maintain your reach, grow your audience and generate more leads by becoming a valued resource to your target audience.
If you’d like extra-guidance, speak to the expert team at Zing. We’ve created white papers for multiple clients across a broad range of industries, and would love to do the same for you.
Make contact to discuss your requirements.