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Getting the most from white papers

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Lori Smith, senior manager-corporation communications at Kinaxis in Ottawa, knows a thing or two about white papers.

After all, they're central to her company's plan to steal business from some of the deepest pockets in the world. Kinaxis sells supply chain-management software and competes head to head with industry giants.

“We're marketing against giants like SAP and Oracle, and we'll never have their marketing budget,” Smith said. “So we've taken a thought leadership approach. Our idea is to get more content out there. It's about building our brand and getting our message heard.”

This means producing 10 to 12 white papers a year, then aggressively promoting those white papers to bring people into the Kinaxis universe. The way Smith sees it, in the emerging world of content marketing, deep pockets aren't the most important thing—it's the content that's king.

As a marketing vehicle, white papers have evolved rapidly over the last few years, said Jonathan Kantor, principal at the White Paper Company and author of “Crafting White Paper 2.0” (LuLu Publishing, 2009).

“White papers are credibility builders,” Kantor said. “So many other forms of marketing are designed for an emotional appeal. A good white paper can build credibility quickly.”

According to Gordon Graham, a b-to-b white paper expert and owner of White Paper Guy the best modern white papers are six-to-eight pages in length. They are designed like high-end magazines, with lots of white space, graphics, subheads, an eye-catching cover and meticulous research.

One thing they aren't, however, is a “marketing piece.”

“You have to turn off the sales pitch,” Graham said. “Don't expect to work marketing copy into a white paper.”

This means no product names in white paper titles, no giant company logos on the cover, and no “buy now” calls to action. Instead, the white paper will first identify a problem using credible research, then outline the traditional solutions with pros and cons, and finally introduce a novel solution that just happens to relate to your company or product.

Instead of a sales office, an effective white paper might invite readers to visit an interactive online feature such as a webinar, poll or survey.

This has the dual benefits of drawing potential sales leads deeper into your sales funnel and providing another way to measure the ROI of a white paper beyond simply tracking downloads, Graham said.

Downloads are important, however, and even the best white papers aren't useful unless people can find about them.

At Kinaxis, new white papers are treated like mini-product launches.

“We'll summarize the white paper in slide decks and send those out,” Smith said. “Then we'll interview the author and provide a short video. We'll provide the white paper to a few bloggers and ask them to do a few blog posts. We'll blog about it. We'll tweet about it.”

Although many companies produce their own white papers, they aren't terrifically expensive to outsource. According to Kantor, a professionally written and produced white paper should cost somewhere between $3,000 and $6,000. The functional life of a white paper depends on its subject matter, but Kinaxis still uses some that are several years old.

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