Friday, January 2, 2015

Before You Start Your White Paper Project, Ask These Questions

Before You Start Your White Paper Project, Ask These Questions 

This post is part 1 of a series on the homework you need to do before you start on a white paper project for your organization. First: What message do we want to convey?

Have you ever painted anything: a door, a bedroom, a house? Did you keep track of your time? Did you notice that you spent most of your time in preparation, and that the process of applying paint actually went pretty quickly?
White papers are not much different. Organizations that have done all the prep work and established a rhythm and process for marketing content can keep white paper projects rolling without much ado.
But companies still getting their feet wet with this type of persuasive, informative content should do the prep work so that the process of writing, reviewing and approving the paper goes smoothly.
This is a series on the questions to pose and the answers to get when starting a white paper project.

1. Do we agree on what we want the white paper to convey?

Not “What will the white paper convey?” but “Do we agree on what we want it to convey?”
In the case of a technical benefits paper, this is usually easy. Our paper needs to:
  • describe our new approach to trapping spam at e-mail gateways.
  • explain the advantages of electro-hydraulic over electro-mechanical motion control.
  • show our technique for evaluating both bond and derivative strategies in a single framework.
Even if three of us are reviewing the drafts, it will be obvious to us whether the paper accomplishes that goal.
With a business benefits paper, however, this is not always so clear, because the writer must align the paper with other landmarks around the company (some of which we haven’t gotten around to putting in place yet):
  • What’s our unique value proposition: that we’re cheap or that we’re effective?
  • Do we have messaging in place that the paper will support? Which shall we emphasize: our benefits to franchisors or to franchisees?
  • Is our sales team trained in the kind of sell that will make the best use of a white paper? Or are we just going to hang it out on the Website and hope people grab it?
Finally, in the case of a white paper designed to convey an organizational transformation or demonstrate thought-leadership (see my scoffing about that elsewhere), all bets are off. Opinions will vary from one end of our C-suite to the other:
  • How much should we tell people? Do we show them warts and all?
  • What do we want the moral of the story to be?
  • Who is the final arbiter of what goes into the paper (i.e., who’s the boss)?
Reaching agreement will take some time and work, but it helps ensure that the paper meets the needs of the greatest number of stakeholders. You don’t usually need to undertake this soul-search every time you want to start a paper, but you should weather it at least once the first time, and canonize your answers for future projects.
What are your thoughts?
Next: Who is the ideal reader for this white paper?

Comment: "One question I like to use with new clients interested in a 'business benefits' white paper is: "Based on what you've shared with me so far, what would you do differently if you could."
That sometimes helps people 'rewind' what they've been through and offer information that might rarely come to mind in a "hiring a writer" kind of conversation.
It's more fun doing this in person over a coffee than by phone or email, in my experience."

Too many companies underestimate the importance of this step in the white paper process—determining the ideal reader. When this step is skipped, the result is a white paper that tries to do too much for too many people and ends up boring most of them. Don’t let that fate befall your white paper project.
Do some homework on your ideal readers and be sure that your paper floats their boat. This kind of homework is akin to developing a buyer persona, which David Meerman Scott describes as
a distinct group of potential customers, an archetypal person whom you want your marketing to reach. Creating [content] based on buyer personas gets you away from an egotistical site based on your products and services (which nobody really cares about, after all). What people do care about are themselves and answers to their problems, which is why buyer personas are so critical for marketing success.
Your white paper needs to be valuable content. For that to happen, you need to think about what’s valuable to your reader. You can’t just publish a few thousand words of text that make you feel good and assume it will be read.

Characteristics of Your Ideal Reader

You can dissect your notion of the ideal reader with a few different knives:
Which hat are they wearing? Your company always has a variety of audiences with a range of priorities you may not be able to accommodate in a single paper:
  • Investors want to see that you have studied, understood and addressed the business problems in your industry.
  • Engineers need to integrate your product, so you need to convince them that it won’t blow up in their face.
  • Prospective buyers want to know what you’re promising them, and how you’ll make good on that promise.
  • Existing customers will buy more from you if you’re demonstrating technical advances.
  • Journalists race against deadlines and appreciate content that fits their publications.
  • Analysts want to know how your products fit in the industry landscape so they can describe it to their own audiences.
Where are they in the sales cycle? A white paper, or similar non-promotional content, is a good tool at any given point in the sales cycle, but it’s hard to write a paper that will work at all points in the sales cycle. Papers that comprehensive tend to buckle under their own weight, so consider different flavors of white paper:
  • Market introduction – I’ve spent jillions of dollars on travel for my sales managers, and now I’m thinking about moving more customer contact to the Web. The right paper will arm me with the vocabulary and concepts I need to figure out whether it’s a sensible move.
  • Business benefits – I’m ready to make a business case to my execs and to my customers, and this paper will arm me with a cogent rationale.
  • Technical benefits – My IT department needs to weigh in on the security and infrastructure around this change, and they have an entire set of their own questions that need answers.
  • Thought leadership – I want to work (and keep working) with smart people, so that I look smart. Tell me what your crystal ball tells you.
Which questions are they asking? This is your stepping stone into the meat of the white paper, because the paper must offer some kind of answer.
  • “You mean that’s possible?” In the early 1990s, I worked for a software company that doubled disk capacity using software. We spent a lot of time answering exactly this question, as people were trying to get another year out of their 30MB hard drives and didn’t want to have to upgrade hardware.
  • “How much will it cost/save me?” The paper that answers this question is probably the most useful sales tool. Help your ideal readers make their own calculations. And don’t fib.
  • “How did you do it?” Once I interviewed a room full of engineers about a project to convert a hydraulic application to an electromechanical one. “If you were reading a paper like this,” I asked, “what would you want to know?” Without missing a beat, the lead engineer replied, “I’d want to know how we did it.” While you have to be careful of what you put into such a paper, it goes a long way toward your technical credibility.
  • “What’s the Next Big Thing?” Speaking of credibility, a good thought-leadership paper answers this question and gives readers insight they can use to impress their boss.

Weld the Ideal Reader to the Paper

Once you have identified your ideal readers, put their job title into the title of your paper. For example:
  • 5 Things Non-Profit Marketing Managers Need to Know about Social Media
  • 3 Ways Wireless Operators Can Use Personalization to Give Customers What They Want on the Mobile Internet
  • How Translation Managers in Retail Keep Up

How do you profile your ideal reader? Next: What do we want readers to do once they’ve read the white paper?

This is part 3 of a series on your internal preparation for a white paper project. Third: What is your paper’s call to action?
A good white paper is like a diving board.
  • You promote and preface it so that your ideal readers see the benefit in getting onto it.
  • You inform AND persuade, so that readers feel that they are drawing their own conclusions as they move down it.
  • You set it up so that those conclusions lead in one specific direction – to your category of product or service.
Once you’ve done all of this, and your readers are at the end of the diving board, what do you need to do next?

Tell Them How to Jump In

The last step in a strong white paper is a strong call to action. Just as it’s obvious what you need to do when you’re standing on the end of a diving board, you need to make it obvious to your readers what their next steps are. Since these can vary widely, the question to answer before you begin the project is:
What do we want readers to do once they’ve read the white paper?
  • Click here to register for our webinar on IT service management
  • Forward to a colleague via e-mail
  • Subscribe to our green energy newsletter or blog
  • Tweet/Digg this
  • Use our template to write to your congressman
  • Disagree vehemently with the author and post a comment
  • Agree vehemently with the author and post a comment
  • Rate the white paper with 1-5 stars
  • Do your own research on telemedicine reimbursement at these links

An Integral Part of the White Paper

Don’t just regurgitate your press release boilerplate on the last page of the white paper or give an info@ e-mail address. This is an opportunity to use your valuable content to cultivate a following and generate momentum.
Also, this call to action should be integrated to the white paper and to the rest of your marketing landscape. It should reflect your messaging platform or creative brief, and it should hitch the white paper firmly to the surrounding campaign.
“For more information, contact Sales” need not apply. Tell your readers how and why to follow you, and give them a good reason to do so.
How do you get your readers to dive in?

Next: Is the writer up to it?

This is part 4 of a series on your internal preparation for a white paper project. Fourth: Who is going to write the white paper?
Once you have decided on the message you want your paper to convey, fleshed out your ideal reader, and determined your paper’s call to action, it’s time to find someone to start writing it.
Before you start banging out tweets in a writer cattle-call, stop and think about four factors in selecting your writer:

  1. Who will write the white paper?Internal vs. External – “We write our papers in house because we can’t find external people who know enough about what we do.”I hear this often from technology companies who know that the knowledge they want to publish is locked in the heads of key employees, and the only practical way for them to tell their story is with internal talent.This makes sense in some academic and research circles, and when a company is first getting its marketing act together, but who is more likely to notice (and tell you) that the emperor has no clothes: an insider or an outsider?
  2. Industry expertise vs. writing skill – “Have you ever written white papers on mobile eCommerce widgets before? Can you send me a sample?” The answer will almost surely be “no.”This is a good question if you’re looking for ways to disqualify a writer, but if you really need the paper written, you had better ask a different one: “Can you describe a project in which the subject matter was new to you, and you delivered a paper that made the customer happy?” We all want both industry expertise and writing skill – and sometimes think that our technical writers are ideal for generating marketing content – but if you can’t have both, buy skill and let the writer learn your industry. (See Will Kenny for more on this.)
  3. Content vs. layout – Do you want the writer to deliver the content alone, or the content plus layout?Most of the time, you’ll move white paper outlines and drafts around in a Microsoft Word or Google Docs file because it’s easy for reviewers to edit them. But a paper done in Word usually looks like a paper done in Word, so most companies want the final draft laid out in an application like Quark Xpress or Adobe InDesign. If you want that extra touch, you need to decide whether you or the writer will be responsible for it.
  4. Scribe vs. project manager/owner – “This project could go on for a couple of months, so we need somebody who can work independently and stick with it until the very end.”If that’s your case, you want more than just a scribe. A lot of ancillary work will go into the project, and while you may not see it coming, often your writer will. The most sensitive areas are contact with your customers and follow-up with internal reviewers; your comfort-level with letting somebody else handle these will determine whether you need a scribe or a project manager.

What factors do you apply in deciding who will write your white paper?

No comments:

Post a Comment