Stronger white papers boost BTB networks

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If you work in business-to-business marketing, especially in BTB direct response, you've likely spotted these related trends:

• The number of white papers seems to grow by about one-third daily.

• Most of these documents are dreadful, falling into two camps: sales collateral masquerading as a white paper, or appalling displays of corporate chest-thumping.

So my colleagues and I are never surprised when a client is reluctant to use a white paper as a lead-generation offer. Yet we are convinced that a well-conceived white paper is an excellent hook to attract qualified leads.

First, let me define the kind of white paper that will meet your lead-generation goals. To compel a BTB prospect to respond, a white paper must explore a relevant, compelling industry topic with the primary intention of educating the reader.

Strong BTB white papers typically (a) explain trends and developments in your prospects' industries, (b) document problems or issues readers might face or (c) teach strategies and techniques for success. A document whose purpose is to show how your product can improve the prospect's business may be helpful, but it is not a white paper and not likely to pull as a lead-generation offer.

Second, let me describe the five-question evaluation our agency uses to ensure a proposed white paper has relevance, compelling content and an educational focus:

It answers a compelling question for the target prospect. Many white papers go off the tracks immediately by focusing on topics clearly selected because they played well among the troops. Topic selection must start by learning what the people in your industry care about. We not only speak with customers and prospects, we pick the brains of editors and industry figures.

It provides information or a viewpoint unavailable elsewhere. However, a topic will be compelling only if the information is fresh. Perform due diligence before wasting time writing a "me too" paper.

It shows thought leadership through the topic and content. By educating the marketplace, you not only have a solid lead-generation offer but also relevant content to pitch to trade editors (whose coverage can build your brand).

It leverages the topic to "subtly" reinforce the company value proposition. While a white paper should not sell product, the message should dovetail with your core messaging. For example, if you are a quality leader, pick topics that reinforce the importance of quality.

It has a narrow focus that "self-qualifies" prospects. The beauty of using a white paper as a lead-generation offer is you can tailor it to your target. While the temptation may be to write about the industry's hottest issue, that may leave you with unqualified leads. By considering your value proposition and selecting a topic that only likely buyers would find interesting, you can avoid waste.

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