Death by Whitepaper

As a B-to-B marketer, you should be very familiar with the strategy of whitepapers. But that doesn’t mean you are designing or using them appropriately for your business. I should know, as I’ve seen, read, created, written and rewritten literally hundreds of them. And I’ve often been so bored after the first paragraph that I wonder why I bothered to download the document.

As a B-to-B marketer, you should be very familiar with the strategy of whitepapers. But that doesn’t mean you are designing or using them appropriately for your business. I should know, as I’ve seen, read, created, written and rewritten literally hundreds of them. And I’ve often been so bored after the first paragraph that I wonder why I bothered to download the document.

According to Wikipedia, a whitepaper is an authoritative report or guide that helps solve a problem. They are typically used to educate readers and help them make a decision.

In the early 1990’s, marketers started to leverage whitepapers as a way to present information about a particular topic that was of interest to a marketer’s target audience, but written in a voice that sounded like a third-party, subject matter authority. It may or may not have even mentioned the marketer’s product or service. Instead, it provided in-depth, useful information that helped readers solve a problem or expand their understanding of an issue.

In 2012, whitepapers have often been used as the lazy marketer’s brochure-ware: A forum where the product/service attributes are extolled, at length.

Sometimes they are poorly designed, or not designed at all—just pages upon pages of text (“because,” as one client informed me, “they’re supposed to be white papers”). She wasn’t kidding.

I particularly hate it when a marketer designs a whitepaper with a full-color, full-bleed, front cover (thanks for soaking up all my printer toner!). As a result, I carefully print beginning on page 2, which often means the contact information for the company which was on the front cover (website, sales contact, phone number and email address) are not included with my whitepaper when printed.

It seems that whitepapers are a lost art. So here are a few tips on whitepaper best practices that every good B-to-B marketer should follow:

  1. Start planning a whitepaper topic by identifying your target’s pain point, or determine a timely issue that would interest your target. It should NOT be focused on your company’s product/service benefits, however those could be woven into your story as a support to your point-of-view, or to demonstrate a solution to an issue.
  2. Make sure it’s well researched, with footnoted facts and figures that support the point you’re making. Include the most current data to keep your topic timely.
  3. Your writer should be an experienced whitepaper writer, not necessarily a copy writer or the named author. It’s most important that the paper is well written, well presented and interesting. It should NOT include sensational headlines, exclamation points or product demos.
  4. Include an Executive Summary: A pithy, 100-word-or-less overview that allows readers to scan and determine if they’re interested in reading more.
  5. Break up reader monotony by including well-crafted subheads, large call-outs (interesting statistics or quotes), visuals (that support the copy), charts/graphs or even icons. Eyes need a resting place when they read a long document and visuals help retain interest.
  6. Number your pages please (so much easier when the reader forwards it up the food chain and includes a note that says to the CEO, “some interesting insights on page 4, 2nd paragraph”). After all, isn’t that your ideal scenario?
  7. At the end of the paper, include an “About the Author” to provide credibility. Your author credentials don’t need to include the name of a high school or favorite pet, but they should include years of experience, where/how they gained their knowledge, the names of articles/books they’ve written, etc.
  8. Include a short paragraph about your company, positioning it in the most relevant light as it relates to the topic. Include a link to a relevant page on your website to learn more (i.e., www.xyzcompany/resources), and an 800 number and email address. You’d be surprised how many people actually want to learn more after reading a helpful whitepaper.
  9. Make sure it’s easily navigable when viewed digitally, but can also be easily printed. And, please don’t bleed my toner dry by including lots of black or lots of bleeds.

Are Your B-to-B Social Media Strategies Socially Appropriate?

There’s lots of talk these days about how to leverage social media for your business. And with few exceptions, I’m a big believer that B-to-B marketers should subscribe to a strict division of “church and state” when it comes to Facebook and business relationships. Business colleagues/associates/clients/brands are part of my LinkedIn life, while my family and my “I’m interested-in-trivial-things-about-you-and-your-kids” peeps are part of my Facebook life. So I fail to understand why any B-to-B brand would even consider having a Facebook page.

There’s lots of talk these days about how to leverage social media for your business. And with few exceptions, I’m a big believer that B-to-B marketers should subscribe to a strict division of “church and state” when it comes to Facebook and business relationships.

Business colleagues/associates/clients/brands are part of my LinkedIn life, while my family and my “I’m interested-in-trivial-things-about-you-and-your-kids” peeps are part of my Facebook life. So I fail to understand why any B-to-B brand would even consider having a Facebook page.

It’s true that Facebook is the most popular social networking site. But it’s also true that it’s a place where I reveal some personal facts (my birthday, for one) and my latest family vacation photos. While I can’t control any of the comments written on my wall, I also don’t worry because I know the only people who can see them are those who are part of my personal tribe.

So how can you leverage social media for your business?

I think it’s time to go back to basics. And, not to be insulting, but if you can get these basics right—which so many B-to-B marketers do not—you can graduate to a more sophisticated use of social media.

Smart B-to-B marketers have already discovered that their websites need to be well organized and segmented by target audience—whether by vertical segments, company size or some other segmentation strategy that’s appropriate for your business/industry. The goal is to help your site visitors navigate your site quickly and easily in order to find information most relevant to them.

Savvy marketers take their websites one step further and create pages directed at each targeted “segment” and include useful content beyond just product/service descriptions or purchase options. Whether it’s a series of case studies that clearly lay out the problem and how their brand/product provided a solution, a topical white paper, or the results of a current research study, the goal is to stimulate engagement such that the visitor thinks, “I can clearly see how these guys understand my business needs and how their products/services can help a company like mine.”

The next step should be to refresh the content on a regular basis. By doing so, it gives you the right to invite your site visitors to register for updates with the promise of emailing them when new content is available.

There are two ways to leverage that email message: You can craft a short, pithy email with a focus on and a link to the content itself, or create an email with a link to the page that contains the content. If you’ve updated your site with lots of new content, I’d choose the latter strategy, but if you’ve only added one or two new items, just provide links to that content directly (the less work you make for your target, the better).

Now that you have an easily navigable site, good core content and regular updates, the next goal should be to drive new prospects to your site so they can begin to engage with your brand. As I mentioned before, I am a firm believer that Facebook is simply not the place to be trolling for B-to-B prospects. So instead, here are a few tried and true strategies for starting socially appropriate relationships online:

  • Guaranteed Lead Program: Using a third-party media provider, place one of your most current white papers in an online media property where you know your target seeks information. It costs nothing to post and you’ll only pay for those leads that download your white paper. Chances are that these information seekers have some sort of problem they’re trying to solve and they’re in the right mood to be gathering intelligence on potential solutions. To make sure your white paper gets noticed, have a professional copywriter craft the headline and word-limited description in order to “sell” the white paper without a big sales pitch about your company. Remember the goal at this stage of the game is to start trying to make a connection with a potential customer; it’s not the time to offer discounts, freebies or other “offers.” Once they’ve downloaded and you’ve acquired their contact information, it’s appropriate to send them follow-up email and invite them to view additional content on your site, or offer an additional white paper or case study related to their particular industry. This is a productive example of how to get social with your prospects.
  • Expand your reach: Contact the editor of your industry trade publication(s) and, using a current white paper topic as a hook, outline an article you can offer as content. It’s important that your white paper NOT be self-serving (i.e. a blatant attempt to simply push your brand or one of your products), but rather an article written from a third-party perspective about the industry or a trend. Your business/product can be mentioned, but so should other products from other companies, otherwise an editor is not prone to accept the article as it’s more of an advertorial and should be part of paid content. This places your company in the right “social” setting and lays the foundation for the credibility of your brand.
  • Seek out speaking engagements: A knowledgeable expert is always a draw at an industry conference. Identify those in your organization who have the ability to speak intelligently about a current trend—perhaps they were quoted in or authored your white paper. If they don’t have great speaking skills, get them enrolled to gain superior presentation skills, and then leverage them across many industry events throughout the year. During and after the conference, there are plenty of ways for your speaker to participate in social events and swapping business cards over a meal is certainly a better way to be building future relationships than pithy notations on Facebook.
  • Leverage the company blog: Reach out to the company blogger and provide a truncated version/extract of the white paper and then link to it from within the blog. Tweet about the blog topic and provide a link, then link that tweet to your LinkedIn update. If your blog allows outsiders to post comments about the topic, that’s a great way to start engaging with a potential customer.
  • Increase LinkedIn connections: Once sales start a dialogue with a prospect, it’s appropriate for them to reach out and invite that prospect to connect on LinkedIn. Don’t use the default copy on LinkedIn to connect! Instead craft an appropriate message that’s meaningful to the target to make it feel like a worthwhile connection. I’m always surprised when someone I don’t know invites me to connect on LinkedIn without identifying a reason within an appropriate context. My first reaction is to reject the invitation because I think it may be spam—and, is a good example of how NOT to be socially appropriate.
  • Video on YouTube: If your company provides products that require instruction manuals, consider developing a series of “how to” videos. Host them on your website, but also on YouTube. These types of videos can help increase the post-purchase engagement factor and, are often one reason I make a purchase in the first place. It’s gratifying to know that if I get “stuck,” there’s an easy-to-view solution at my fingertips vs. the dreaded customer service support line. You’ll also find many viewers will post supportive comments about the video—again, a great way to use this social media to build support from customers and prospects.