White papers can be great lead generation and sales support tools when properly constructed with purpose, impactful design and digestible content. But sadly, many technology companies publish white papers that miss the mark and fail to engage readers. Today’s executive decision makers are busy. They don’t have time to sift through text-intensive white papers in search of a few great nuggets of information. Boring, unformatted or overtly marketing-focused white papers will collect dust while hampering the sales cycle and negatively impacting your brand.
To make sure your white papers work for you, and not against you, follow these 5 essential steps.
Step 1: Define the Purpose. Before you write a single word, define the, “Who, What, When and Why?” of your white paper. The answers to these questions will help keep the paper on target and the content interesting.
- Who is the intended audience?
- What problem is your reader trying to solve?
- When in the sales cycle will the paper be used?
- Why should the reader spend his/her valuable time reading your paper?
For more tips on writing with purpose, read, “Sales Collateral Success Tips: 4 Questions to Ask Before You Write”
Step 2: Build the Outline. I know plenty of writers that skip this step, but you are more likely to stray off course or be repetitive without the outline as a guide. An outline forces you to think logically about how to best present the information before you invest time in writing. That said, an outline should be fluid. Make adjustments as needed to eliminate issues or incorporate new ideas that arise in subsequent steps.
Step 3: Give it an Attention Grabbing Title. The title is one of the most important determining factors for whether your paper is read or passed by in the search for better content. A seemingly endless number of books, blogs and articles are dedicated to the mechanics of writing effective titles. If you are unfamiliar with these resources, you may want to search out some of them or view my post on the topic, “Get More White Paper Downloads with a Great Title.” Otherwise, here’s some basic tips:
- Focus on what’s in it for the reader.
- Be specific.
- Balance relevance with creativity.
- Be succinct.
Step 4: Create an Impactful Design. In the old days (as in 5 years ago), the writer wrote the paper and then the graphic designer formatted the content and added a few graphical elements to make the piece visually impactful. The written word ruled supreme and the layout was just the icing on the cake. Today, this is no longer the case. With increasing job demands, constant disruptions and less time to do more, I think it is fair to assume that nobody actually reads any more – well at least not until they are convinced that the read will be worth their time. Within as little as 5 seconds, your prospective buyer will decide whether to read your paper or move on to the next task. Stack the odds in your favor by contemplating the design first. Aim to teach your reader something useful in 2 minutes or less, and make sure the design helps you accomplish this goal. Headings, call out boxes, tables, diagrams and imagery can help make your paper visually interesting and quickly demonstrate value. For each section of your paper, define what graphical queues will help tell your story before you write.
Step 5: Make the Content Digestible. When writing content, understand that your reader will probably not read your paper from start to finish in the first pass. “Reading” for most has become a 3 step process. Step 1) Skim the entire paper in search of interesting information. If the information presented is engaging, move on to Step 2) Review sections which stand out as potentially useful. Finally, if value is derived, move to Step 3) Read the entire paper. Support the 3 Steps process by avoiding text-heavy papers. Instead offer the reader relevant section headings, bulleted lists or tables and section summaries that can be easily consumed when skimming.