Clarifying White Paper ROI

February 20, 2013 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Industry Insights 

The topic of Return on Investment (ROI) is a frequent issue on the minds of business marketers today, especially in light of today’s soft economy. Since the cost associated with white paper development is not cheap, many marketing executives would like to know whether their investment in a white paper is going to pay off in the long run in the form of incremental sales.

This is the issue that was posted in, an online social media discussion site that I have posted answers to white paper related questions. Here was the original question that was posted to the site:

“Are there any examples/case-studies of white papers generating significant ROI for companies, particularly in the information services/market intelligence sector?”

This is a difficult question to answer, especially if one is looking for a simple yes or no response. With over 20 years of writing white papers, I find it almost impossible to provide an example of a white paper that I can point to which has generated a specific dollar amount of revenue as a direct result.


Think about all the factors that go into closing a typical business sale:


A Government White Paper that doesn’t do Justice

It’s not every day that a white paper makes the national news, so when it does, I think it presents a great opportunity to blog about it.

The white paper I am referring to was obtained by NBC News from a Justice department official regarding the controversial decision from the Obama Administration to execute American citizens that may be serving as enemy combatants in foreign lands. The confidential 16-page Justice Department white paper concludes that the U.S. government can order the killing of American citizens if they are believed to be “senior operational leaders” of al-Qaida or “an associated force” — even if there is no intelligence indicating they are engaged in an active plot to attack the U.S. (more…)

What’s the Future of White Papers?

January 24, 2013 by · 5 Comments
Filed under: Industry Insights, Social Media 

For the past year, I’ve been participating in a variety of white paper oriented discussions on Quora, a Q&A focused social media website. Most of the participants have posted many interesting questions about white paper structure, marketing, strategy, tactics, etc, all of which I have been happy to submit my two-cents worth.

One post from Elisa D. Coleman, who identifies herself as a Gamer and Bon Vivant, Know-it-all, submitted this answer to the question, “What is the Future of White Papers”, which I found interesting:

“Yes, I expect it (white papers) to become obsolete, very soon, if you take into consideration the usage of smartphones which allow for video streaming of shorter pieces of information and of course video is the replacement for .pdf documents because they’re live and provide so much more value than a static piece of lengthy content.”

While I don’t share Elisa’s pessimistic prediction for the future of the traditional white paper medium, her opinion does reflect a new reality for today’s social media generation, namely that the business document format will eventually be replaced by video. I guess her utopian vision of business communications would be to have video on your smartphone, video on your computer, video on your social media site, video everywhere.


Prioritizing White Paper Effectiveness over Size

In today’s tight economy, it’s important to reduce all unnecessary costs in an effort to balance an operating budget. But for many organizations the emphasis on reducing expenses is  so strong that it can negatively impact marketing and fail to meet the larger goal of attracting new customers and growing the business. After all, if you’re not moving your business forward along with keeping an eye on your total expenses, then it’s merely a question of time before you are forced to close your doors.

Sacrificing your white papers marketing campaign in an effort to trim costs is a good case in point.

Many organizations attempt to tailor their strategy message to fit a reduced number of set of pages to accommodate a reduced marketing budget. For example, a company that needs six to eight white paper pages to effective educate a target reader to all issues surrounding a business topic instead opts to constrain the project to four pages in an effort to fit a reduced budget. The result is akin to cramming ten pounds of material into a five pound bag. Neither the content nor the bag ends up ahead in the end.


Mind Your White Paper Research

October 15, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: White Paper Writing 

Research is an important part of a white paper. The inclusion of industry statistics, quotes from an industry spokeperson or expert, and testimonial examples makes a white paper more enjoyable and believable. It also makes it more effective.

This is especially true in the introduction section of a white paper when industry and background issues are presented. Quality research helps to establish credibility with the reader that can be verified later in the paper in the solution advantage section.

Uncovering highly accurate and timely research directly tied to your particular point can also be a time consuming and arduous process to uncover on the Internet. Because of this, many organizations outsourcing their white paper function also want the writer to conduct the background research. Here are some flaws with this strategy:


Weighing White Paper Price Against Market Impact

September 25, 2012 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: White Paper Writing 

I received notice of an interesting link to this blog a few weeks ago from a blog called, “Stunt & Gimmick’s” with a post entitled, “Getting What You Pay For: Scripted and the Continuing Death of Good Writing”.  The article discusses another writing service offering cheap white papers for only $49 with a total length of 300-500 words:

“The basic premise of the site, which bills itself as an exchange for writers to connect with people needing writing, is that they will sell you a blog post of 350-500 words for a flat $49 by “expert writers”. Lets examine that, shall we?

A blog post of 350-500 words in and of itself is not bad. We prefer to go a little longer (averaging about 600-700 words for client blogs), but it’s perfectly acceptable to have posts of 300-500 words, especially on quick-release schedules and when you’re posting a lot of content. The next part, however, is what should scare anyone who even remotely cares about the quality of online content. $49 for 350-500 words. Do the math, and that breaks down to $.10 and $.14 cents per word. We’ve all heard about how terrible the situation is for writers these days, but magazines are still paying a dollar or so per word, and reputable news agencies are not too far behind. So what kind of writer are you getting at $0.14 per word?” (more…)

Choosing Between Narrative or Conversational Style for Your White Paper

September 17, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: White Paper Writing 

There are two ways to write a white paper which are identified as either a Narrative-style or a Conversational-style.

The vast majority of white papers today are written in a narrative-style, where information is provided similar to a story-teller or narrator. The facts pertaining to the topic are provided in a methodical order which is written from a third-party perspective. It’s plain, simple, and straightforward. Just the fact’s, maam.

The alternative to this approach is a conversational-style, which is becoming increasingly popular for business decision makers accustomed to reading business media such as news sites, articles, and online magazines. The conversational style inserts questions, affirmations, or thought-provoking statements that cause the reader to pause and think about what has been and will be presented. The style is similar to holding a conversation with a well-informed person. (more…)

The Elements You’ll Need for Effective White Paper Design

By now just about everyone has heard of the well worn marketing phrase “The 3 Second Rule”, that represents the amount of time that a web visitor will devote to your website before they will either be engaged by your design and content, or leave it to go somewhere else.

Is there a 3 second rule for white papers? I think so, but usually most readers will give it a little more time, about 30 seconds.

While an all-text white paper may be important to the technical whitepaper reader that just wants “the facts”, it does little for the online and Social Media savvy business reader. A far more effective whitepaper format is the application of visual elements and graphics such as colorful graphics, illustrations, and highly engaging text elements to engage today’s Social Media oriented reader. (more…)

The 3 Key Elements of a Highly Effective Executive Summary

September 3, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: White Paper Writing 

It’s funny how some marketing terms evoke vastly different responses. Ask 10 people what a white paper is and you’ll probably get 10 different responses. The same holds true for a key element of that white paper, the Executive Summary.

Some view an Executive Summary as another form of an Introduction, providing the lead-in and background information for the primary white paper content. To others it serves the same task as a product “sell-sheet”, providing reasons why a reader should buy or implement the advocated solution.

To me, an Executive Summary serves a multi-faceted purpose for a business reader. A well-written white paper Executive Summary should contain three important elements:


Should you Design your White Paper for Print?

It has become a generally accepted premise that we live in an connected world of shared online information. Email, Chats, SMS text messaging, websites, blogs, podcasts, wikis, webinars, social media updates, online video and a plethora of shared document formats form the framework of our day-to-day communications, one of which is the infamous Acrobat PDF, today’s white paper standard.

The truth of the matter is the vast majority of white papers today are read on screen, whether on a desktop, notebook, smartphone or iPad. Formatting an PDF for on screen reading is easy enough, but designing one for print is another story since most 8.5″ x 11″ white papers are printed from a folded 11″ x 17″ broadsheet. This requires additional time and cost to re-design an on screen formatted white paper for print.

So when it comes to distributing a PDF white paper does it still make to spend the money designing a white paper for print given the predominant preference for on screen reading? (more…)

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