White papers are informative, formal reports on complex issues that organizations often release to demonstrate an authoritative stance on a very specific field of study. In a lot of ways it’s like a research presentation, but with a lot more bells and whistles that makes it more digestible for consumers and marketable for businesses. White papers are a vital part of the content marketing strategy of a lot of businesses these days and can be a valuable inbound marketing tool. While there are plenty of guides floating around that explain how to write a White Paper, none of them really does a good job of explaining when.

White papers aren’t something that you can whip up overnight. It takes an incredible amount of work and man hours to produce a high-quality white paper that will lead to valuable leads for your business. The simple question always comes up in marketing discussions: “should we do a white paper?” Unfortunately, the answer isn’t cut and dry — you’ll really need to evaluate a few things before you take the white paper plunge.

You Have Unique Material

The cardinal sin of content is creating low-value content that your users can get somewhere else. You have to be presenting unique material that your audience can’t find anywhere else. So when thinking about developing a white paper, think about what you can provide as a business/expert/connoisseur that your customers will gawk over.

Provide a solution to a problem. When you think of the white paper as a sort of research document, you really have to be providing a solution that doesn’t exist to an existing problem. Once you describe the problem and your audience identifies with it you then have to present the solution. Together you’re giving the audience a reason to believe. Once they buy it, they’re in the bag.

You Have Authority

Authority isn’t something that can be quantified by any tangible source  — it’s a bit more mysterious and elusive. You know when people or a company has it, but you can’t always pinpoint exactly what it is. But when it comes to releasing a white paper there are really two forms of authority you need to possess: Expertise and Standing.

Your company needs to have a reputable standing in your field of expertise — and expertise takes time. You’re not going to be able to launch a company and then the next minutes, day, or even month put out a white paper that people are going to take seriously. The time you spend building your audience, infiltrating the marketplace, gathering data and case studies — all of this contributes directly to your ability to be taken seriously and demonstrating your expertise. Your standing in a community or field of expertise is supported by your ability to back up your claims. The proof is in the pudding.

Your Funnels Are In Place

This is all a part of the complex machine that is content marketing. And like most content marketing, marketing a white paper isn’t a Field of Dreams scenario — it’s more of a “if you build it and then also build all of the support structure to market it then they will come.” You need to have a solid system of distribution in place to really capitalize on the value of releasing a white paper. So now that you’ve got it made, you’ve got to give your gift to the people.

Distribution More than likely you’re going to host the white paper on your own website. You’ll use your social channels (where the majority of your audience is going to be) in order to distribute the paper. Email is another key distribution channel, so hopefully you’ve been building up that email list. If you don’t have a significant email list together then it probably isn’t a good time for you to release a white paper. However, a white paper can also be a great method of capturing email and user information. And that leads us to…

Capture Content marketing is all about using your unique content to capture leads and close on sales. So it seems counter-intuitive to give stuff away for free, but that’s exactly what you’re going to do. At least you’re not going to charge any money for them (or any of your content). But you still want to get something in return for releasing the white paper. This can be a number of things, but here’s a list of the most common:

  • Email addresses
  • User Data (name, age, address)
  • Sign-ups

Retargeting Once you’ve got that vital user data it then becomes your job to leverage that user information to sell the services. Ideally it’s a service that solves the problem your white paper addresses, but the good thing about your customers is that they have multiple interests and they’re more than likely to have more than one in common with your business.

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