The staying power of white papers in B2B content marketing

Written by Katie Hughes  |  30, August, 2018  |  0 Comments
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The popularity of video marketing, podcasts and webinars are expanding the horizon for B2B content marketers. By comparison, the written word may seem unexciting and a little out of date. But sometimes, it's worth going back to basics.

White papers certainly aren’t the newest platform for sharing your company’s content - but the power they can yield is far from being extinct. 

And the stats speak for themselves: 71% of B2B buyers have used white papers in the last 12 months to research purchasing decisions.

Here’s a reminder of why white papers are still a powerful magnet for B2B buyers in 2018 and beyond.

Tried and tested

Remember when Heinz launched green ketchup? It may have boosted sales for a while, but there’s a reason it’s no longer on our shelves. People tired of the gimmick and wanted the familiar, dependable red ketchup they’d been accustomed to for decades.

What about when Cadbury changed the formula for the beloved Creme Egg? And when Toblerone changed its shape? Both events sparked protests from irate fans.

The lesson is; it doesn’t always pay to change the status quo. People like tried and tested. They like the familiar and the dependable. And the written format of white papers offers just that.

A white paper is an informative text-based report which presents all dimensions of a particular issue. Arguably, the written narrative is useful for buyers when making big decisions as it gives them something they can print out and have in their hands to read and discuss with other decision makers.

The B2B buying process can be long and complex, often with more than one person involved. While video and podcasts certainly have their place, white papers offer something palpable that buyers can refer back to throughout their research phase.

Lead generation

A goal for any company looking to grow their business is to attract prospects to their website, turn them into leads, and convert those leads to customers. Infographics and snack-sized videos can be incredibly powerful for establishing that first connection with a prospect to attract them to your company. But white papers are all about the second stage in the funnel - capturing leads.

75% of B2B buyers say they would share information about themselves and their company in exchange for a white paper, making white papers one of the most powerful tools for lead generation. The same survey revealed that 62% would share their information for an infographic, and just 49% for a video.

Thought leadership

White papers are the cutting edge of educational marketing and present an excellent opportunity to position your company as an authoritative expert in your field. The purpose is to inform and educate your target audience about a complex issue they are facing - and how to solve it.

Readers expect you to show expertise, backed with data, illustrations and charts. The depth offered means it will usually require several readings for a buyer to obtain the full extent of its information. Which is why it pays to be able to keep hold of a printout.

Best practice tips

Writing a white paper can sound like a difficult task, especially if you’re doing it for the first time. However, with the right steps, it can be very straightforward. Here are a few best practice tips to bear in mind.

  • Consider your buyer personas - make sure your white paper addresses the problems your target audience are actually facing
  • Pay attention to design - if not designed well it can seem dry and even uninteresting, and this will reflect in the prospects' view of your company
  • Back it up with solid data and statistics
  • Don’t directly mention your products or services - the purpose is to help, not sell
  • The tone should be more formal and professional than a blog post or eBook
  • Have at least two experienced writers review it for grammar, spelling and accuracy
  • Structure it in a way that will make sense to the people with the problem - you may not decide on the best approach until you’ve gathered all your research and this is ok
  • Keep the language simple and avoid jargon
  • Consider repurposing your white paper into other content formats, such as infographics with key stats, or blog posts anchored around a key take away

Long live the written word

The written word is not dead yet. And white papers remain a must-have ingredient in your inbound marketing mix. They serve a specific role in compelling potential customers to act and establishing your credibility and expertise in your field.

But white papers are not simply articles that can be written quickly. In order to be compelling, convincing and effective, they need to be written in a way that speaks to the target audience and contains interesting and new information, facts and statistics. This requires research, commitment and knowledge about the topic.