by Renee Fellows
August 8, 2006—You’ve probably seen them in your email inbox. Those teasers for a free white paper or case study on a specific problem or solution and you’ve wondered, ‘Do these offers really work?’ Have you ever clicked on the link to see what would happen? Of course you have! The sponsors of the white paper typically require a registration to access the white paper. It requires nothing critical in the way of information but personal data nonetheless. How badly do you want the information held beyond the walls of that passcode?
I must admit that I’m an avid downloader of case studies and white papers. In my line of marketing and public relations, case studies and white papers are how we learn and improve our own processes to help our clients. But for other industries, are white papers really necessary? Do they help to boost a brand or single a business out from the sea of competitors? I believe if written correctly that they can and do. There are many ways that businesses can leverage these tantalizing repositories of information to their advantage.
Information is king
As we stretch further into the 21st century, consumers are becoming increasingly more comfortable with online research tools to investigate potential businesses, suppliers, and partners. Think about the first thing you do when you receive a new business card from a potential client. I immediately key in their web address and review for content, background and products/services. (No web site at all? Don’t even get me started on that topic!) The more that company can tell me about their products or services, and more importantly, the more they can differentiate themselves from the competition, the more likely I am to pick up the phone to schedule a meeting or make a purchase.
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The wonderful thing about the Internet is the volume of writing that is readily available at your fingertips. The written word is back and better than ever carrying with it a higher perceived value. If the CEO or company’s technology officer pens a technical brief on the newest release of a software program, he instantly positions him or herself as the expert on the topic at hand. A word of caution, all experts are not equal. With easy access to information, so follows the scam artist. Be sure to perform due diligence and seek reputable sources and industry certifications for your experts. Utilize industry-accepted credentials and certifications wherever possible to help legitimize the writer’s opinions.
Tell your story
By identifying a problem and how you devised a solution that was cost-effective, creative and successful, a white paper or case study can provide a deeper look into how your company operates and interacts with its customers. Case studies provide a wonderful forum for your business to relate to an unknown audience and show how you understand a business or industry and can provide workable solutions to a problem they are experiencing.
One of the most frequently asked questions I hear from clients involves the concern that writing too much information will let the potential client solve their own problems and they won’t need that businesses’ product or service. My argument for this protest is simple. If other prospects believe that your solution worked, nine times out of ten, they will hire you for the job. That tenth prospect may go back to their business and try to implement your solution but will quickly discover that they don’t possess the expertise or the time to effectively manage the situation themselves. If they don’t call you, you probably didn’t want them as a client anyway.
White paper or case study?
Typically, a white paper is more technical in nature and focuses on a specific product or service than a case study. White papers are unbiased, highly detailed, and speak to a specific audience or market. White papers should be focused on a specific topic, be relatively short in nature and not longer than 10 pages with a bibliography. Clearly demonstrate how your solution will answer a technical issue.
A case study should: provide a descriptive scenario and tell a story about a business’ specific problem; outline how your product or service was implemented to correct the problem and demonstrate a return on investment or a measurement of the final successful outcome.
Where should you begin?
Writing a white paper doesn’t need to be complicated or keep you glued to your laptop for months on end. Follow these simple steps to create your draft and see how it shapes up.
1) Start with the big picture. Before you jump right into conversations about technical capabilities, begin your white paper with a short synopsis of how the solution was created, what problem was being identified in your industry and how your company devised a response.
2) Relate to the reader. Set the scene, describe the typical business and the difficulties they face and then lead them down a pathway toward your solution. Always wrap the paper with some type of summary or a bulleted list of quick points covered within the piece so that skim readers can quickly grasp your main points.
3) Reduce techno-jargon. No one wants to read about RAM, VOIP, or secure data ports for 10 pages, especially not high level CEOs who think on bigger scales of return on investment and problem/solutions. Remember that a white paper is different from a technical user’s manual and speak in a language that everyone can understand by presenting real solutions. If you are speaking about a technically advanced product, provide definitions upfront and use metaphor and analogy to help draw a clearer picture of how your product or service will work in a given situation. I don’t need to know how my car works to understand how it makes my life easier.
4) Provide in-depth coverage. The greatest feature of a white paper is that it has the ability to dive in-depth into a single issue or problem and address it. Avoid oversimplification by allowing a few historical paragraphs that can thoroughly describe the circumstances or reach into current events to convey how legislative actions or trends in the industry affect the situation.
5) Follow up your main points with supporting evidence. Remember that you aren’t an expert in a vacuum but rather part of a larger business community. Use experts in your field to help validate your arguments and support your solution. Third party quotes and other technical papers can be great fodder for your own white paper, too.
Taking your message to the street
You’ve completed your first white paper and now you’re ready to give it out to anyone who is interested, but how? Finding the best approach to market your new white paper depends on who you’ve identified as your target market and how they access information. A few promotion suggestions include offering access to the white paper via electronic newsletters or email, distributing printed versions at trade shows, including the paper in marketing packages, and offering access to a portable document file (.pdf) as a lead generator via your company web site.
In-depth white papers can even be released to the media for use as background material for larger industry stories. This is especially true if the white paper contains validated scientific research as is often found with medically-related papers. White papers can often become the springboard for soliciting speaking engagements at conferences and promoting other public speaking opportunities for the company’s executive officers.
If you’re still unsure about how to write a white paper or feel that you just don’t have the time or expertise to write one yourself, hire a writer to do it for you. Freelance writers are readily available from a variety of backgrounds and areas of expertise and can be a tremendous resource for busy companies that cannot carve out the time required to write. Your local chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (www.prsa.org) can provide you with a contact list of affiliated members in your geographic area. These talented professionals can not only ghost write the white paper but can help create a plan to promote the piece once it’s completed.
To learn more about technical writing and how it can boost your company’s public image, contact Renee Fellows at ClearPoint Marketing Communications by calling (603) 434-9433 or via email at Rfellows@oneclearpoint.com.
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