4 Common White Paper Mistakes And How To Avoid Them

According to a recent survey by Eccolo Media, white papers (aka special reports or executive briefings) ranked for the third year in a row as the marketing tool with the most influence on purchasing decisions.
There are several reasons for this continuing trend, but a few things stand out:
With each passing year, technology becomes more complex and it becomes harder to educate potential prospects using small news bytes.
The advent of the Internet has made it easier for companies to educate potential prospects and provide quick access to their white papers.
As purchases become more closely scrutinized and budgets continue to shrink, white papers can provide increased justification for the expense.
And when it comes to overcoming the barriers to the adoption of green technologies, white papers are uniquely suited to addressing the ongoing issues surrounding lack of awareness, understanding, and cost.
But many marketers are unclear on how best to utilize them and end up getting either a lackluster response, no response — or worse — a negative response.
It’s no joke that a lot of steps go into the successful launch of a white paper, but if the writing itself goes awry, no amount of marketing can cover up the flaw.
So a marketer needs to get clear on several things before they ever put pen — or keyboard — to paper.
1. Know thy audience.
If you’re writing a TV ad selling vacation packages to people over the age of 65, you’re probably (or hopefully) not going to show a bunch of scantily clad college students living it up on a spring break package to Cancun.
The same is true when writing a white paper.
A surprising number of folks forget who their target audience is when they sit down to write, or they never got clear on that point in the first place.
Either way, if you don’t know who your audience is, your white paper will go off course before it ever reaches its target.
For example, if your paper is aimed at CEOs, focusing on technical specifications will work against you. Instead, address issues near and dear to their hearts — like the impact on their bottom line.
2. Watch the length.
A good length for a typical white paper ranges from about 6 to 12 pages.
Shorter than 5 and your paper risks being seen as too flimsy and short on substance. Longer than 12 and you risk getting into the realm of too much information.
But it also depends on your audience.
Upper level management will appreciate more brevity, while the more technically minded will tolerate more length — as long as your paper provides a lot of informative detail.
3. It’s all about the education.
By far, one of the biggest mistakes writers of white papers make is treating the report as though it were some kind of giant, glossy brochure, specifically designed to hawk their company’s product or service.
Bad idea.
A good white paper is all about substance — facts, figures, case studies, third party experts.
Of course, you want to mention your product or service at some point (more on that in a second), but what you’re really trying to do here is identify a problem or concern your reader has and then lead her to the solution.
A solution coincidentally provided by — you guessed it — your product or service.
In this way you’re not only keeping the focus on the reader and her needs, you’re establishing your credibility and positioning yourself as a trusted expert.
4. Bring on the solution.
So you’ve discussed the problem or concern your reader has. And you’ve provided her with helpful, objective information backed up by hard evidence.
You’ve taken the reader by the hand from the beginning, through the middle. Now it’s time for that all important ending.
If you’ve done your job properly, you’ll know when the time is right to introduce your product or service. (Hint: It’s right after you’ve thoroughly addressed the reader’s concerns.)
Just be sure you don’t forget to include a clear call to action as well. After all, if people don’t know what to do to find out more, all your efforts were for naught.
Concluding thoughts…
In an age of shrinking budgets and growing complexity, white papers are becoming an increasingly vital part of the sales funnel.
When used as part of an effective front-end strategy, they can be strong vehicles for generating leads and proactively positioning your company as a thought leader.
And done well, white papers can be an integral part of the relationship building process, boosting both your reputation and your client base.

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