3 Things That Don’t Belong In A White Paper

How is it that as writers we start out with the right subject matter and focus (squarely on our target audience), but somehow (sometimes) end up with content that serves only our egos (a.k.a. off target)?

As a white paper writer, I’ve asked myself that question more times than I care to admit.

Speaking as someone who’d been there and done that, I can truthfully say that a common thread in my less-than desirable outcomes is failure to keep an eye (unwaveringly) on the primary purpose of my content.

In other words, I lost sight of the right answer to the question: Why am I writing this stuff?

White papers are stellar marketing tools used primarily (though not exclusively) in the B2B arena.  Companies that sponsor white papers use them to inform and educate their prospects, while building rapport and credibility.  For these reasons, effective white papers are distinctive marketing publications.

Successful white paper writers know this and apply the necessary discipline to develop persuasive content with superior marketing appeal.  To achieve that goal, it is imperative that the interests of the intended audience drive each project.

In addition to maintaining a clear focus on the target readers, it is important to omit anything that might act as a “turn off” to the audience.  The truth is, there’s no shortage of potential distractions.  This article discusses three distractions that don’t belong in a well-written white paper.

  1. Hyperbole

We recognize it when we see it and know it when we use it.  Hype is exaggeration.  While rhetorical language may sometimes help us make a dramatic point, an unbridled use may undermine the information value of a white paper.

How?  The simple reason is that by definition, hype often stretches the truth and lack full proof.  However, truth and proof are two essentials that enhance the marketing appeal of white papers, particularly white papers that target tech audiences.

So, if hype is a no-no, what helps?  Fortunately, what helps is also simple.  It requires straightforward and factual language that addresses the interests of, and proposes options for the target audience.

The good news is that factual language often is the best way (successful way) to provide useful information, to connect with the reader, and to encourage specific response from her.

2.      Sales Talk

For many (prospective) buyers, a sales pitch conjures up the image of a loud person wielding a high-volume megaphone.  Not a welcoming picture.  It is definitely not the type of image you’d want associated with your marketing effort.

Intrusive sales language has the potential to turn an otherwise informative white paper into a direct mail copy.

If no sales pitch, what helps?  What helps is a more subtle pitch that works from the point of view of the prospective buyer.

One way to create a powerful stealth-style pitch is to include a list (a pseudo- guide) of what to look for in a solution/provider in the white paper.  It is effective because it provides actionable tips that anticipate the needs of a prospect in the buying process.

Without overtly asking for it, the guide has the potential to pull prospects back to your solution when they are ready to buy.  Meanwhile, it reinforces your credibility as a provider.

No megaphone necessary.  Instead, amplify the benefits a prospect might reasonably expect from using your product/service, and make it easy for her to reach the purchase point.

3.      Glitz and Fluff

Viewed in the context of traditional marketing publications (brochure, magazines, etc), white papers are not glamorous.  Slick, colorful, and flashy packaging are typically unnecessary in white paper production.

This is good news.

It means that the cost of producing white papers is concentrated on developing the proven characteristics of effective white papers, namely informative, persuasive, and targeted content.

While glitz looks at exterior packaging, fluff tends to obsess about space – the filling-up of pages.  The downside is that fluff, such as unsubstantiated factoids, does not facilitate the pre-sale affinity-building process.  Fluff does little or nothing to enhance the education value of a white paper.  More importantly, savvy readers/prospects see right through fluff and are not impressed by it.

Leaving out fluff is consistent with creating white papers of desirable length (typically 6-10 pages), with right focus (that respects the time constraint of readers), and tight narrative (appropriate to the profile of the target audience).

No major production required; just good planning and diligent follow-through.

Conclusion

It’s easy for ego and distractions to get in the way of good marketing content.

If your goal is to use informative, credible, and viral white papers as part of your marketing program, leave out distracting hype, overt sales pitch, and unnecessary fluff.  Keep the focus on connecting with the reader, not turning her off.

© Copyright Rachel Agheyisi and Report Content Writer’s Blog, 2009-2010.

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