Screen Shot 2013-01-18 at 2.29.47 PMThere is a lot of talk these days about “content marketing.” If content isn’t king, it certainly is somewhere in the royal court of marketing. While a lot of content marketing evangelists focus on blogging, white papers are becoming an increasingly popular tool for offering valuable information to your customer base while also presenting your company’s expertise. What seldom receives much attention, however, is that white papers can be difficult and time-consuming to produce. Today, we’re going to break the process down into five steps. Note, these are not the only steps, but they will be enough to get you started, and hopefully they will help make the process seem slightly less intimidating.

1. Determine your ultimate objective

Like any marketing tactic, white papers should be developed with some sort of goal in mind. Are you hoping to add names to your email database so that your sales department can nurture leads? Are you hoping that some well-known sources in your industry reference your white paper, thus elevating your credibility? Are you simply hoping that as many people as possible read your paper so that your brand can be strengthened? Depending on you answer those questions, your approach to your white paper and how you track your success will differ.

2. Cover content your audience will actually find interesting and helpful

Often, companies want to put together white papers but end up with a 20-page advertisement. On the other end of the spectrum, to avoid accusations of being too promotional, companies will create a white paper that truly would only be of interest to their own employees. Your white paper will only perform well if people actually want to read it. If you aren’t sure what kinds of information your audience is most interested in, don’t be shy about conducting a brief survey at the end of one of your e-newsletters.

3. Infuse your company’s expertise into the white paper

White papers are nuanced pieces of work, just like blog posts. While you do not want to blast your readers with a strong “sell” message, do be sure to remind them that you are a credible resource and that your content is based on solid experience. This can be done without braggadocio. Using phrases like, “In our experience” can be helpful in this regard.

4. Determine in advance how you will distribute your white paper

Depending on your end objective, there are several different ways you may want to distribute your white paper. In almost any scenario, it makes sense to post white papers to your company website, particularly if you are planning to build up your library over time. You may want to write a blog post specifically to promote the paper, or you may want to schedule an e-blast inviting people to download the white paper. There may even be a reason to print out some copies and bring them to conferences as hand-outs. Keep in mind, if you are going to email your white paper you should do your best to keep the file size down, and if you are posting a PDF to your website you need to make sure it is web-friendly. These are easy things to forget over the long haul of a project.

5. Decide how you will define “success”

Again, this traces back to our initial point about defining your objectives. If you simply want to strengthen your brand, it may be difficult to measure how successful the relative success of your overall results. In that scenario, perhaps you build in a feedback mechanism so you can get a good idea of how the paper was received by your readers. If you are hoping to build your email database, you will obviously need to coordinate with your web team to make sure you have a way to capture names via a registration process. Make sure you don’t make your registration form too long or cumbersome. The easier it is to fill out, the more downloads you will get.

This of course is just the tip of the iceberg, but it should be enough to help you wrap your arms around the process. As always, if you have any questions, let us know!