The Worst Mistake You Can Make with a White Paper… And How to Avoid It

October 4, 2018 by

The Worst Mistake You Can Make with a White Paper… And How to Avoid It (Read Now!)You want your next white paper to be a success. To make that happen, you must keep in mind where your prospects will be in their buying process when they read it.

Eccolo Media discovered that 80% of technology buyers use white papers in the “pre-sale process” – before they send out RFPs or initiate discussions with specific vendors. Only 46% use white papers once they contact vendors and begin considering specific solutions.  [i]

So, most white paper readers are at the very start of their solution search. In those initial stages, they’re seeking unbiased, problem-solving information. They’re not yet ready to consider specific solutions, so they’re not interested in product information at this point.

And the 46% who consult white papers at the end of their buying process?

Well, most in that smaller group are seeking detailed explanations of product features that will help them evaluate and compare competing solutions. They want more than just benefits, and they don’t want hype. They want technical detail – a deep dive. That’s what they expect from a white paper.

In other words, regardless of whether they’re at the beginning or the end of their purchasing process, the last thing a white paper reader wants is a sales presentation. In fact, the single worst mistake you can make with a white paper is to turn it into a sales pitch for your product or service.

But it seems many tech marketers can’t resist. In a survey conducted by CopyEngineer, 48.1% of the white papers reviewed turned out to be blatant product promotions. [ii]

The single worst mistake you can make with a white paper is to turn it into a sales pitch for your product or service.

KnowledgeStorm and MarketingSherpa found a similar dichotomy between what tech buyers want and what tech marketers offer. In a study they conducted, 84% of technology buyers rated "quality of educational information" to be either “very important” or “extremely important” to them. Yet only 53% of the technology marketers they surveyed judged the educational value of their marketing materials to be “very good” or “excellent” (Figure 1). [iii]

Remember, a white paper is not a brochure. Its appeal is logic, not emotion.

Prove your case

In most white papers – those aimed at the start of the buying process – your objective is not to show what your product or your company can do. Instead, you want to convince your readers that you thoroughly understand their problem, that the need to address the problem is urgent, and that the solution you propose – not your specific product or service itself, but the idea behind it – is the best and only reasonable solution to their problem.

84% of technology buyers rated quality of educational information to be either “very important” or “extremely important”.

Yet, only 53% of tech marketers rated the educational value of their materials to be “very good” to “excellent”.

To do this, you need to build an airtight case for your solution. Like a good lawyer, your white paper needs to present a lot of hard proof. Proof that the problem exists. Proof that it’s urgent. Proof that your solution is the best one currently possible.

And even if your white paper is aimed at readers at the end to the sales process, it still needs to prove your solution can deliver the benefits you’ve promised. It must be driven by facts and logic. It must provide your readers with solid information they can use to make a purchasing decision.

Good sources of proof

Credible proof comes in many forms. These include:

  • Statistics
  • Benchmarks
  • Test results
  • Verifiable historical facts
  • Expert third-party opinions or endorsements
  • Study and survey findings

Avoid typical marketing claims in your white papers. Don’t dwell on your product. Better yet, don’t talk about your product directly until the very end of your white paper. Instead, define a generic solution “class” and make your case for that class (of which your product may be the only member or one of very few). This helps reduce your reader’s perception of bias.

And if your product is the only member of this generic solution class you’ve defined, so much the better; you’ll have eliminated all your competition from your prospect’s consideration.

Above all, back up everything you say with strong evidence.

Takeaway Points

  1. White paper readers are typically in the early stages of a solution search. They're not ready for a sales pitch yet.
  2. The single worst mistake you can make with a white paper is to turn it into a sales pitch for your product or service. Avoid typical marketing claims in your white papers.
  3. Your white paper needs to build an airtight case for your solution by presenting plenty of credible proof.
  4. To reduce your reader’s perception of bias, define a generic solution “class” and make your case for that class.

Next Steps

This month’s article is an excerpt from CopyEngineer’s newly updated special report, 10 Common Mistakes that Kill White Paper ROI: How to Avoid Them and Generate More Leads. To get your free copy, click here.

Need expert help planning and developing a new white paper for your company? Call CopyEngineer at (+39) 011 569 4951. Or drop me an email at info@copyengineer.com. I’ll be happy to schedule a call and discuss your project with you.

References

[i]   Eccolo Media 2009 B2B Technology Collateral Survey, www.eccolomedia.com, September 2009.

[ii]   Cole, John, 10 Mistakes that Kill White Paper ROI: How to Avoid Them and Generate More Leads (Revised Edition), CopyEngineer, September 2018.

[iii] Connecting Through Content Survey, Issue 1: How Technology Marketers Meet Buyers’ Appetite for Content, KnowledgeStorm/MarketingSherpa, March 2007.

2 Comments

  1. Gordon Graham

    Good piece, John, with lots of sensible advice. I've said for years that the worst problem with white papers is today is that too many of them are thinly-veiled sales pitches... instead of persuasive essays driven by facts and logic.

    One distinction worth making: At a certain point in the customer journey, when prospects are comparing choices on their vendor shortlist, they DO need lots of product information.

    That's why I draw a line between problem/solution white papers used early in the process, and backgrounders used late in the process. The first type describes an industry-wide problem and a better way to solve it in generic terms (thus providing truly educational content backed up with lots of facts and logic).

    The second provides a deep dive into the specific features and benefits of a solution to help a prospects size up one offering compared to another. Of course, this type should also be driven by facts and logic, not by empty claims and pitches.

  2. John

    Thanks, Gordon. I completely agree.

    I have to admit that when I first wrote the white paper from which this essay was excerpted, every backgrounder I'd encountered to that point had been either an in-house or academic technical paper discussing a new technology – not one company's product or service – or a sales pitch in disguise. I didn't consider backgrounders to be modern marketing white papers. Your book has since convinced me otherwise, and I have added backgrounders to my repertoire.

    I'd intended to update this excerpt to account for backgrounders before posting it, but was "overcome by events" just before my newsletter publication deadline. I have now done so.

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