White Paper: An Effective Tool for Persuading Potential Customers
Companies that sell new, complex or expensive items must wait for the approval of a committee to close business. It is a process involving several people and can last for weeks, months and even years. This situation can limit the number of transactions carried out. A white paper simplifies this process. Using facts and logic, a white paper educates, informs and persuades potential customers. The following article discusses the advantages of this tool.
Many products that you buy in supermarkets, you have seen them on TV, heard on the radio or found on the Internet.
It is a type of business called B2C Marketing (Business to Consumer Marketing).
You see the products, you like them, you make a decision, you go to the supermarket, and you buy them.
It is that simple.
But if your company supplies items to other companies, the decision is not easy. Especially when you sell new, complex or expensive items.
Companies may need a committee to analyze the cost and benefit of the sale and calculate the time required to recover money invested.
These are decisions that involve several people, time, and paperwork.
And a lot of money is on the table.
Understanding Today’s Complex Sale
Companies that sell to other companies use B2B Marketing (Business to Business Marketing).
For many years, the way to do B2B marketing was traditional: advertisements, letters sent by mail, telemarketing, and door-to-door sales.
But new methods appeared when people started using the Internet.
Companies started asking for permission to send advertising to their potential customers.
Then they improved the visibility of their websites in search engine results.
At the same time, they positioned their brands using social networks.
And finally, they updated the information on their websites.
The latter three methods are part of what is now called Content Marketing.
Content marketing is a strategy that encourages potential customers to visit a website. The approach is useful because most customers today conduct their research before buying. And they only communicate with the vendor at the end of the process. Or maybe never.
Google plays a key role in content marketing. If your company website does not appear on the first page of search results, it does not exist.
But content marketing works well when Google gives its blessing to a site. It generates many customers and helps close deals.
No one outside of Google knows how they test websites. But one thing is sure. If you put practical and useful content on your site on a regular basis, Google will show your site before that of your competitor.
According to the Content Marketing Institute, Content Marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and keep a clearly-defined audience — and, to drive effective customer action.
Change strategy and get new customers
Content marketing is growing at a steady pace. It is a strategy that allows you to focus on potential buyers with laser precision. Companies that adopt this approach sell more because they offer content that engages their customers.
The good news is that you can do the same.
Start by not using your website as an electronic brochure. Offering your company’s address, product line and the eternal commitment to serve your customers is no longer enough. Today you have to create and distribute quality content to attract and keep a defined audience.
You must convince them that the products or services you offer will solve their problems. But in a smart way. Earning their trust first and persuading them to buy second.
And to achieve this, there is a tool that has worked for 100 years: white papers.
White paper, the king of content
What is a white paper?
A white paper is a persuasive essay that uses facts and logic to promote an individual product, service, or solution to a problem.
It is not a sales proposal. A white paper provides useful, effective, practical and educational content.
It contains valuable information for readers who are seeking to understand an issue, solve a problem or make a decision.
How many types of white papers are there?
Gordon Graham classifies them as follows:
- Backgrounder is an old type of white paper that focuses on the features, functions, benefits and payback of a product or service from one vendor. Use: To support the launch of a product or service. See example (PDF).
- Numbered list is a quick set of questions, points, issues or tips about a certain topic.Use: To knock off competitors from a short list of vendors. See example (PDF).
- Problem/solution is a genuine discussion of a major issue that has never been solved. It considers the scope of the problem, describes the existing solutions and their drawbacks, and recommends a new, improved solution for best results. Use: To educate vendors, distributors, analysts, bloggers and journalists. See example (PDF).
Who publishes white papers?
Any company that sells something new, complex or expensive (products, services, technologies or methodologies).
Why do companies publish white papers?
In general, vendors publish white papers for three reasons: to generate leads on the top of the sales funnel, to nurture prospects through the middle of the funnel, or to help sales at the bottom of the funnel.
Who writes white papers?
In-house writers or professional writers hired by the company.
Who reads white papers?
People responsible for purchases and those who make final decisions about purchases read white papers.
When do B2B prospects read white papers?
When their company has a problem to solve, and they need to find a solution.
How can people find white papers?
Through Internet searches, social networks or on the sellers’ websites.
Where do people read white papers?
On desktops and mobile devices (laptops, tablets or phones).
How long are white papers?
On average, 10–12 pages. Today’s readers have little extra time to read documents longer than this.
How can you tell whether a company needs a white paper?
The following three questions help to decide:
- Does the company sell something new?
- Does the company sell something complex?
- Does the company sell something expensive?
If the answer to any one of these questions is “yes”, the company would likely benefit from a white paper.
But if the answer to two or three of these questions is “yes”, the company definitely needs a white paper.
Although the white paper is a tool dating back 100 years, its use in marketing is relatively recent. In the United States and some European countries, its use is common. In Spain and Latin America, it is only now becoming well-known. But its potential is enormous, as can be seen in this article.
If you decide to write a white paper for your business, be sure to do it well.
You must write white papers:
- with useful information (not intended to sell)
- with evidence and facts (not superficial), and
- focused on the customer (not on your company)
Here you will find a list of books that teach you how to write an effective white paper.
If you or your colleagues do not feel comfortable writing the white paper, please hire a writer. But a writer with experience writing white papers. He or she will best know how to help customers “understand” your product or service.
And do not forget to assign the resources necessary to create a quality document. Remember that the white paper is a document to share. If there is something that destroys the credibility of a company is a poorly written document in the hands of your prospects and contacts!
This article is an adaptation of some chapters of the book White Papers for Dummies.
Jorge Luis Alonso G. is a freelance writer and blogger based in Argentina. He specializes in writing white papers (English and Spanish) and reuses its content in blog posts and articles to newsletters, magazines or newspapers. Also, he writes content for websites.
Originally published in Spanish at medium.com on December 10, 2015.