Generating quality leads is a growing challenge for many marketing professionals. More than ever before, legions of marketing materials are competing for the attention of prospects. How can you be sure to stand out from the crowd?
New research shows that white papers are among the most compelling ways to attract leads ¡X and newsletter signups. Should white papers be on your marketing radar? If you are focused on business-to-business interactions, the answer is an unequivocal yes.
What makes white papers so attractive?
White papers help people make decisions, especially in the information technology world. Consider recent research that found an astonishing 70 percent of information technology professionals rely on white papers to make purchasing decisions in the U.S. (ITtoolbox, July 19, 2006).
Because white papers are informative, they are sought after by prospects early in the sales cycle and can generate quality leads. This is supported by a recent KnowledgeStorm and SiriusDecisions study that concluded white papers were more valued by those at an early stage in the sales cycle ¡X more so than free trials, analyst reports and Webinars (July 6, 2006).
Are white papers part of your marketing mix? Because they are pulled into the company by prospects, white papers have the ability to linger and travel around the business, persuading along the way. It's not uncommon for a well-written white paper to travel across the desks of dozens of people in a single company. Well-written white papers are proven prospect magnets.
Using white papers for lead generation
The key to generating leads with white papers is for the content to avoid a hard sell. This means avoiding the mention of your company or product in the first half of the white paper. When prospects begin to sense they are being sold to, the white paper shifts from being a valuable resource to just another marketing message.
"Successful white paper marketing hinges almost exclusively on the quality of the white paper itself. Still, many vendors expect great things from their white paper marketing efforts but give very little thought to the actual development and creation of the white papers used for these efforts," explains Peter Spande, director, TechRepublic.com and ITPapers.com.
White papers designed for lead generation must take a soft-sell approach, which starts with problems or needs faced by the reader, rather than the product or service offered by the company. This helps build affinity and trust. It also draws the reader into the white paper by discussing issues the reader can relate to.
Another important tip is to take an educational approach to your white papers. For example, talking about how overnight air transit can speed business transactions is much better than discussing the benefits of FedEx next-day services. Other educational content could include key market drivers, how the market has evolved over the last few years and what to look for in an ideal solution.
By guiding prospects in the research stage with a well-crafted white paper, you can gain the respect, trust and attention of key readers. The result is often a qualified lead.
Making white papers work for you
"Writing white papers is clearly an emerging marketing medium, yet many marketers continue to struggle with successfully leveraging white papers in the sales and marketing process," says Heather Foster, KnowledgeStorm's director of marketing.
With an "if you build it, they will come" mentality, companies often put forth an enormous effort to produce a white paper, only to post it on their Web site among other marketing collateral, such as datasheets and case studies.
However, white papers are akin to super-powered magnets that can easily attract leads outside the company Web site. To draw a visual picture, imagine fishing for tuna in only two feet of water. You might actually draw something near the shore, but big fish live in much deeper waters. Your white paper needs to be where the big fish are. Rather than posting and hoping, savvy marketing professionals are turning to post-and-promote techniques.
A great place to reference white papers is in the corporate newsletter. As new white papers come out, you can extract the first few paragraphs into a small article with a link to the full white paper. Alternatively, you can advertise a white paper within your newsletter as a way to bring readers to a specific page that either contains the actual white paper in PDF format or a form where they can register to read the piece.
Using white papers to grow leads and a newsletter list
Posting a white paper on your Web site and requesting users register to gain access to your paper is a great way to collect leads AND add names to your newsletter opt-in list. By simply adding a question that says, "Would you like to receive our monthly newsletter?" you can add names to your distribution list at the same time a lead is generated.
The most effective way to do this is to actually format the first few pages of the white paper in HTML. Let's take a cue from the world of computer game developers. New games build interest by providing access to the first few levels of the game in a free demo. The goal is to hook users with a sample that entices them to purchase the game. Similarly, white papers that require registration should include the first few pages of content so readers can determine if it is worthwhile to fill out a form to receive the entire paper.
Providing the full text of the first page or two increases the lead quality by assuring those who register are truly interested in the offer. If readers are exposed to enough valuable and relevant content, they'll be willing to trade personal information for access to the white paper. The result is a filter on leads and new names for your newsletter list. Those who are truly interested in your topic and have resonated with what they have read will be the ones providing lead information.
Consider the following case example from VistaPrint, a company that targets ultra-small business owners with print products.
Mike Ewing, vice president of North American Acquisitions for VistaPrint, wanted to push the boundaries of standard marketing processes. He explained, "With this endeavor, we started out with the hypothesis: If you give people something of value, in exchange they are willing to be marketed to." For Ewing, a key goal was to maximize the number of registrations for the paper and achieve a return on investment in three months.
The key of the initiative was to create and distribute the white paper from an altruistic approach. Rather than selling a product, VistaPrint wanted to give concrete tools to independent businesspeople to help them economically market their businesses. "With the campaign, we needed to move our standard marketing about buying printed products to permission-based, and offer value to those prospective customers who might not be ready to buy today," recalled Ewing.
The title of the white paper, Marketing Your Business on a Shoestring Budget: A Practical Guide to Success, was carefully crafted. A deliberate decision was made not to refer to the document as a white paper because the target reader was unfamiliar with the term.
The results were staggering. VistaPrint had more than 5,000 registrants in 60 days and more than 10 percent of these registrants converted into a sale.[fT]
With a simple form, you can ask the right questions that determine if lead follow-up is appropriate. Also, be sure to provide enough content to enable a reader to determine if the paper is worthy of registration. The result will be a lead from someone who has expressed interest, based on what he or she has seen thus far. With that lead, you can go about your ultimate goal of selling.
If you want to increase your lead generation campaigns, develop compelling white papers and wrap a marketing plan around the finished results, visit http://www.WritingWhitePapers.com for extensive resources on crafting compelling white papers and applying creative marketing tactics.
Michael A. Stelzner is the author of the new book, Writing White Papers: How to Capture Readers and Keep Them Engaged, and has written nearly 100 white papers for companies such as Microsoft, FedEx, Motorola, Monster and SAP.
Copyright note: Portions of this article are excerpted from Michael Stelzner's book, Writing White Papers, Copyright 2006, Michael A. Stelzner.