By: Shama Hyder
This is the first in a series of interviews I will be doing with experts in various fields. This interview is of particular importance because I personally believe using white papers to market-especially in a tight economy is a fantastic idea.
Our guest for this post is Steve Hoffman, a Marketing Communications expert. His firm, Hoffman Marketing Communications, Inc. specializes in White Paper writing.
What makes white papers such a good marketing tool?
Steve: Good white papers give readers useful information that helps them make decisions. Many readers would rather learn something and make their own decisions, instead of reading marketing fluff. This is especially true when business people have a lot riding on their decisions.
Since this is what readers want, giving them what they want benefits the company that provides the white paper. Good white papers help companies establish themselves as leaders in their particular field. It shows readers that the company knows what it is talking about. So the reader is impressed with the company’s knowledge and leadership, and they want to know more about what the company offers. White papers are a pretty compelling way to get prospective business customers interested in what you offer.
Good white papers are also one of the best tools, if not the best tool, for lead generation. Offer a white paper on a particular subject on your home page in exchange for opting in via a name and email address, and you can gather strong leads. One recent study by KnowledgeStorm and MarketingSherpa found that 80% of visitors to a Web site were willing to register online for a white paper. This 80% was higher than any other sort of offering.
Do you consider white papers to be marketing documents?
Steve: Well, that depends on how you look at it. We generally recommend that the tone of the white paper be objective, credible, and informative, rather than marketing oriented. This goes along with the idea I mentioned earlier about providing useful information to the reader, rather than marketing fluff. But let’s not kid ourselves here. The ultimate goal of a white paper is to get potential customers interested in what you offer. We just do it in a way that pleases the customer – educate them now with the white paper. You can then provide the marketing materials next, after they are impressed with your knowledge and leadership.
Are white papers a good idea during a recession?
Steve: Marketing budgets are tight in a recession. So you want to spend your marketing dollars wisely. Exhibiting at conferences, designing fancy brochures, placing high-profile ads, or sponsoring events is expensive. White paper development is less costly, yet the paper you produce can reach a large audience.
And you need to get the most bang for your buck in a recession. A white paper does this for you because it’s a multi-purpose marketing tool. You can post it on your Web site, you can use it as an enticement to build registration-based prospect lists, you can post it on white paper library Websites, you can send it out as an attachment in an email in response to a prospect inquiry, and you can hand it out at conferences.
In a recession, you also want to do things that serve multiple purposes. You can use a white paper to inform more than just potential customers. You can also use white papers to inform employees (such as sales forces), potential employees, contractors, regulatory personnel, the media, analysts, and partners, including resellers, recruiters, suppliers, and investors.
What are the pros and cons of outsourcing a white paper?
Steve: Well, you can write it in-house if you have a good writer on hand who has time to do it. As an alternative, white paper writing is one of those tasks that lends itself to outsourcing pretty well. Writing a white paper is a clearly definable task. It’s a task that is probably not part of your core competency. You probably want it done right (so it reflects well on your company). And you probably want it done quickly (to beat your competition). So if you add this all up, it probably makes sense for you at least to consider outsourcing white paper writing.
What should you look for in a company when outsourcing a white paper?
Steve: Look for a company that proudly displays sample white papers they’ve written across a wide range of subjects. Read the samples carefully and see if you learn something from them, without being pushed into a particular product too early in the paper or too heavily. Look for writing that shows that the firm’s writers can learn a subject area, grasp it, and write clear, informative papers about it.
Don’t get hung up on finding an outfit that has written about your particular subject area. In fact, it’s usually better to hire a firm without intimate knowledge of your area. The reason is that industry insiders can bring preconceived notions or opinions to a writing project. A fresh, objective approach usually leads to better results.
A related question we often get is whether to hire a freelancer or an agency to write the paper. Freelance writers can produce high-quality work and may be fairly inexpensive, but they lack the strategic advantages of agencies. Agencies usually employ multiple writers, which reduces risk and can give you faster response times when you need it.
Do you see any upcoming “trends” or hot fields where white papers will really take off?
Steve: White papers are particularly good at explaining complex business issues and technology-based solutions. Perhaps the single largest use of white papers is any topic that involves information technology and its applications in a broad array of verticals. Following this logic, a hot field for white papers would be any growing subject area or industry that is increasingly adopting information technology. One example of this is health care. This industry consists of relatively late adopters of information technology, but it is really taking off right now.
Given that we are in an economic downturn, I think we will also see a growing number of white papers on how to solve business problems in this sort of an environment.