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Making or Breaking Your Next White Paper

You know those ‘make or break’ decisions that we all face from time to time?

Those moments where one decision can spell success or disaster?

These moments are faced by marketing professionals every time they sit down to create a white paper.

The decision making process you go through when writing one of these pieces will determine how effective it is in doing its job.

Yep, that’s right. These decisions can actually make or break your next white paper. They’re that important.

But, before we walk through the decisions you need to make, let’s go through the biggest mistakes made by nanotechnology and high-tech marketing professionals when writing this form of marketing communication.

Mistakes to avoid

The common mistakes I see:

  • Focusing too much on your company and product. You’re not writing a brochure here. You’re writing a carefully crafted content marketing piece that provides valuable information on how a technical issue can be solved.
  • No useful information that’s backed up by facts and proof. The information needs to be useful. All claims have to be backed up with proof. Any fluff or hearsay should be discarded.
  • You spend too much time selling. A white paper is not a sales pitch. It is supposed to help B2B buyers make decisions using educational and informative content.
  • Writing it like an academic paper, data sheet or research report. I see this all the time in nanotechnology and general high-tech and scientific companies. This is a mistake, even for high-tech companies selling to engineers and scientists.

Don’t get me wrong, you do need to research a white paper and reference your sources. But you’re not writing a scientific or academic paper. You don’t want to bore your prospects when trying to generate leads.

Don’t forget that this is a marketing tool with a specific marketing purpose.

The problem here is that there is no industry standard for describing a white paper. I’ve seen them written in the form of 120 page technical manuals and 1 page data sheets. I’ve seen technical academic papers being called white papers, as well as research reports.

White paper expert Gordon Graham uses the following mantra:

An effective white paper helps prospective B2B buyers understand an issue, solve a problem, or make a decision.”

Tattoo this mantra on your forehead. It will save you a lot of trouble down the line.

Remember this when creating your next white paper and you’ll be ahead of the curve, well poised to create a dynamite marketing piece that makes you look like the best thing in marketing communications since sliced bread.

Now, let’s walk through the decisions you need to make before writing your white paper.

Decisions, decisions…

In my never-ending quest to help nanotechnology marketers improve their communications and copy, I find that white papers are the cause of more anxiety around the office than any other type of content.

Certainly they can be tough, but going through the following decisions will ensure you’re in the best possible position to bang out a great white paper from the get-go.

And make no mistake, these decisions are critical.

Don’t believe me?

Well take a look around at some examples in the nanotechnology industry. In fact, take a look outside the industry too. Go on, I’ll wait.

You’ll see plenty examples of crappy white papers that bombed because the marketers who were responsible for them didn’t bother going through this decision making process.

Their ‘make or break’ moment went south of the border.

So let’s now look at 4 of the most important decisions any writer must make in order to write a winning white paper.

1. The objective

Ask yourself and your marketing team: “what are you trying to achieve with your white paper”?

The most important thing you should remember is that a white paper can do one thing, maybe two things… but it can’t do everything. One of the easiest ways to make sure it bombs is to try and write it for many different purposes.

Some of these purposes might include:

  • To support a product launch
  • To use as a technical evaluation guide
  • To nurture prospects through the sales process by keeping them engaged
  • To get attention using a provocative approach to some issue
  • To generate leads
  • To build recognition
  • To educate your market

So figure out the purpose. Remember, try and narrow this down to a single objective.

2. The target audience

Probably the most important decision you need to make for any marketing communications piece is the target audience.

Obviously, if you only market to once specific target audience, this will be an easy decision.

But if you have several different audiences in mind, you need to narrow this down to one target audience.

We’ve already mentioned that it’s critical to decide on a single objective for a white paper. This also holds true for the audience. A jack of all trades is not gonna cut it here.

A single objective and a single audience works best.

Knowing this critical piece of information is necessary to get the style and language of the paper correct. It will also help you determine how easily you’ll be able to understand the audience.

For instance, if you assume the white paper you’re writing is for electron microscopy facility managers, but it’s actually meant for (and going to be read by) end-user scientists, then the language, style and content is going to be off.

3. The topic

The topic will depend on the objective.

For example if you want to write a white paper to generate leads, your topic might about a new and better solution to a specific problem in the nanotechnology industry.

If your objective is to support a product launch, then it will cover the features and benefits of a specific product.

4. The length

The length is the easiest decision to make. It will largely depend on who you are writing to (which is another reason why deciding on the target audience is so important).

The sweet spot for most white papers is around 6-8 pages. This is typical if you’re writing to a business audience like a bunch of C-level executives who want the high-level overview of how a technology solves a specific problem

If you’re writing to a technical audience looking to evaluate a product, like at the bottom of the sales funnel, then a longer version may be required (maybe 10-12 pages).

Taking the time to plan your white paper and go through these decisions will pay off in the long run. A well-written paper will continue to give back for many months and sometimes even years after it was written.

These decisions are that important. So give them the time they deserve and you’ll be well rewarded.