What’s the best way to explain a complex business concept?
You could try a short video or presentation, but you might miss some of the details. Or, you could go the opposite route and create something long, like a full report or a technical manual. But these can be daunting.
A white paper is a good compromise. At about 5-30 pages, it provides hard evidence and persuasive language. A white paper is the perfect method to comprehensively sell a solution, and it’s digestible in one sitting.
Then, I tried reading a lengthy academic report, and I still didn’t get it. Later, I interviewed the speaker, and it only just started to come together. I was still struggling to figure out how it worked, let alone how it would be applied in real life.
I would have given anything back then to have a white paper, but alas.
For businesses, you can’t afford to leave people behind like this. You need to keep both the technical and novice audiences engaged. A white paper is the best of both worlds. It treads a line between in-depth expertise and straight talking. It explains a complex business concept in the best possible way.
Let’s go deeper on what defines a white paper.
The definition of a white paper.
Why white papers are so popular.
Why white papers are an essential part of doing business.
Examples: well-written, successful white papers.
How to write a white paper.
Research potential topics.
Read existing white papers on your chosen topics.
Choose an angle.
Write an outline.
Schedule Subject Matter Expert (SME) interviews.
Write the first draft.
Subject Matter Expert (SME) review.
Editing and proofreading.
Designing your white paper.
Promoting your white paper.
White papers explain your value.
The definition of a white paper
There are no strict rules or regulations on what a white paper can or can’t be. Here are a few definitions:
“White paper: In various countries, including Britain and Australia, a government report on a particular subject giving details of planned laws” — Cambridge Dictionary
“A white paper is a persuasive, authoritative, in-depth report on a specific topic that presents a problem and provides a solution.” — HubSpot (Lindsay Kolowich)
A great way to think of a white paper is as a popular nerd, like Bill Nye the Science Guy. This guy amazes and delights at every turn, and uses hard facts and logic to do so. A white paper should reflect this mood. It’s knowledgeable, but the emphasis should also be on being charismatic and approachable.
In more practical terms, a white paper is also a great method to gain valuable leads for your sales team. Create a landing page on your website, set up a short form for readers to fill out, and promise them an amazing white paper in return. Pretty soon you’ll have a list of interested prospects.
A whitepaper is low maintenance marketing, relatively low cost, and better yet, it’s evergreen content. Use it again and again for blog content, sales follow ups, training, recruitment and more.
Most savvy marketers know a white paper is an essential part of a content strategy. It’s one of the most powerful marketing tools available.
However, white papers weren’t always associated with business.
How did white papers start?
Why do we call it a “white paper” in the first place?
First used by Winston Churchill and the British Government in 1922, the “white paper” referred to the document’s white cover. It explained the government’s position on a very complex subject (in Churchill’s case, the Israel-Palestine conflict) and gave details of planned laws. Along with white papers, there are also “blue books” for explaining economics, and “green papers” for consultation stages.
This white paper was intended to help sway other politicians and get a law passed. By releasing the document publicly, the document also increased awareness, educated the public, and involved business leaders.
As you might have guessed, some aspects of white papers have changed while some remain the same.
How have white papers changed over the years?
Popularized by government, white papers soon entered the private sphere. They became a favorite of the tech industry, used in the 90s and 00s to explain innovations from Sage or the original Bitcoin white paper.
Due to their success, white papers have spread into a range of industries and are used to explain technologies, issues, innovations, and concepts. However, white papers are still most frequently used by industrial, technical, and software businesses.
They usually appear to support an intended action. In government, this is legislation. While in business this could be a product release, sales deal, or event.
As white papers have expanded in use, they have also changed in many important ways. Their language, format, and the way they are hosted are completely different.
What do they look like today?
Considering it’s been 100 years since the very first white paper, it shouldn’t be a surprise that there have been many changes. Here are a few key differences:
Language. The first white paper used phrases like: “...his courtesy in allowing us the honor of viewing the draft of the proposed order…” In business, this won’t cut it. You need something persuasive, modern, personable, and in line with what you are selling.
Length. Churchill’s white paper was 32 pages of dense, single-spaced copy. Massive slabs of text are never appealing. Today’s white papers use lots of white space, as well as color, diagrams, breaks, and subheadings.
Digital. One hundred years ago, you’d need a large printing budget to order a white paper campaign. These days, you can post a white paper instantly to the web. The white paper space has since become more accessible and competitive.
One thing hasn’t changed: white papers address an issue of importance. The document should explain a problem and solution at length, usually in about 5 to 30 pages. It should be long enough to cover the topic comprehensively and short enough to digest in one sitting.
Understanding the rich history of white papers gives an insight into what makes them so popular in today’s marketplace.
Why white papers are so popular
A few reasons white papers have grown in popularity and are one of the most effective marketing tools are because they:
help you focus on niche problems, questions, and markets.
solve problems directly.
show that you know your stuff and are a true industry expert.
provide unbiased advice based on research and analytical evidence.
speak to the C-suite and technically-minded buyers.
There is research to show they are a valuable tool far beyond the optics.
White papers are an essential part of doing business
Still unconvinced about white papers? Here is some recent research:
From the same study, 83% of respondents said that white papers were “moderately to extremely” influential in their decisions.
Most people (76 percent) are willing to register and share their information in exchange for a white paper. Compare this to podcasts (19 percent), video (19 percent), and infographics (24 percent).
Why is registering and sharing information important? When people share their email address in exchange for your white paper, you start a relationship with the reader. This is a relationship your sales rep can use. White papers work so well for sales because your customer actually gets value first through free information.
Now that you’re aware of how valuable a white paper can be, it’s time to start writing. But first, let’s look at some of the best examples.
Examples: Here are some well-written, successful white papers:
“Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.” — William Faulkner
Before writing, you need to read the best. Here are three great white paper examples:
This white paper is aimed at companies interested in secure cloud services. After a cover page, contents, and introduction, it gets into Google’s “security culture” among its employees. Then it gets more technical covering technology, certifications, data, and compliance.
With this document Google is attempting to gain businesses’ trust. The topics covered are extensive, giving a feeling of authority. The report goes in-depth, but is not so technical that an average person couldn’t understand.
The design is clean and minimalist, reflecting the Google brand. It has high-quality and authentic pictures. The layout makes good use of balance and colors. In some sections, the slabs of text are a little long and could be further broken up using indents or line spacing.
However, it’s successful in persuasive writing, using empirical and detailed information. Google acknowledges its dominance in the marketplace, and matches their tone accordingly: “…over five million organizations across the globe, including 64 percent of the Fortune 500, trust Google…”
Apple’s ProRes white paper is aimed at post-production professionals. It covers products summaries, explanations of how codecs work, and how Apple codecs differ in quality and performance. There’s also a handy data appendix and a glossary.
The white paper aims to persuade video editors, special effects teams, and sound designers that Apple’s products are top of the line. There are detailed diagrams, extensive evidence, and strong pitches. Form follows function here; there are no useless sentences that could be cut.
Even if you don’t understand what a video codec is, you can appreciate this Apple-esque ultra-minimalist design. Low on exciting graphics, this white paper reflects the target audience of technically-minded professionals. It’s surprisingly easy to read too, thanks to simple language, clean layout, lots of white space, and attractive font.
Sundog’s white paper seeks to convince businesses to use Search Engine Optimization (SEO). The marketing company explains the basics of why SEO is important, the technology involved, helpful tools, planning, implementation, and how to measure results.
The white paper feels light and is easy to read. It doesn’t claim to be an absolute authority, providing plenty of links out to other sources. This approach reflects Sundog’s place in the market.
The writing style is friendly and informal in tone, mirroring the target audience of small business owners. By asking for an email before downloading, the company is building a lead list that it can nurture.
The document is nicely paced using subheadings and bulleted lists. While it might not be as polished as the above two examples, it gets the job done (for a lot cheaper, probably) and still oozes expertise.
If you want to read more examples, try looking within your industry. Check on your competitors and role-model brands you aspire to. You can find examples on their websites or in searchable white paper libraries.
How to write a white paper
Ready to write?
Firstly, we’re going to start at the end: your bibliography. Seems unconventional? Let us explain.
Start with the research: quotes, statistics, and other items of hard evidence (hyperlinked to original sources). This is the primary source material. Without this, your white paper is just an opinion. Plenty of white papers out in cyberspace lack evidence, or they link to dubious sources. You’ll lose readers if they think your writing is not truthful.
1. Research potential topics.
How do you find topics that interest your prospects?
Find out what your target audience is and what a customer might look like. Your sales reps are constantly talking to customers, so why not ask them? Have a quick chat with a sales rep and ask which topics come up most often. Or, look at sales data, and find some trends to address.
This research will lead you to topics that are related to the solution your company provides. It can also be useful to look at recent news and trends, but don’t go overboard. There’s an old saying in storytelling “write what you know.” It will sound more authentic if you have first-hand experience.
For an extra boost, find a topic associated with a high volume/low difficulty keyword. While this is a complex strategy, some services can help facilitate the process. By aiming for high volume/low difficulty keywords, your white paper is more likely to appear when somebody types that word into a search engine.
Note that your white paper topic doesn’t have to be in your industry. For example, a video game manufacturer might release a white paper on “Artificial Intelligence,” or a marketing company might release a white paper about “Storytelling.” Feel free to think outside the box.
2. Read existing white papers on your chosen topics.
Digital content is a highly competitive space. Your competitors have probably already released a few good white papers in your subject area. Don’t despair — this is a good thing. You now have something to work off!
After looking at a few other white papers, ask yourself these questions:
Can you produce something better? Think about design, expertise, and how you might promote the white paper.
Will you be able to add a unique voice? Use your company’s niches or specialties. What do you do that no other business does?
Are there few enough white papers so that yours will stand out? Perhaps if there are too many, try a different topic, or go for something slightly different.
After researching and reading some white papers, you should be able to settle on a topic.
Now, look at your company and network to identify Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). These are people who know your topic inside out. They are crucial to an influential white paper. Through getting to know your experts, interviewing them, and asking for feedback, you’ll absorb their knowledge, as well as any technical jargon and industry quirks.
External SMEs can be even better in some respects. If you find a notable leader in the field, ask them for an interview. A brief chat can be a great way to gain credibility. Plus, if they let you link to their content, the backlinks will build your organic reach for your white paper.
Know what important research looks like. Some of the best white papers come from the top consulting firms, industry organizations, governments, and universities. Just don’t get too wonkish — if your writing becomes technical, you’ll drop some readers behind.
3. Choose an angle.
You can approach a topic from any angle! For example, journalists write the same story any number of ways:
“Amazon Business Dollars Leave New York”
“Anti-Amazon Protests A Success”
“Are Cities Shunning Big Tech?
Choose your angle based on what others have written, and think about the potential benefits of a new angle. If your white paper is to be a persuasive piece of writing, it’s best to choose only one angle and stick with it. Otherwise, your attempt to persuade might just come off as confusing.
For example, you could focus on “business,” or even “tech businesses.” But a white paper on “Business, tech, software and Houston” is confusing. You might try “Software Businesses In Houston are Facing Staff Shortages” to make it an appealing read instead of a list of keywords. And within this topic, there are multiple potential sub-topics to explore, such as:
Return on investment
Adoption of a new process/technology
Application of research to a specific business problem
You could even try combining two angles, such as “Getting a return on investment from automation”, or “How to: eliminate inefficiency through intelligent hiring.”
The more unique and novel your angle, the more likely it will create interest and garner readers. Remember, there are a lot of white papers out there already, so finding a new way of looking at the topic could be what sets your organization apart.
Find the angle that your prospects will be most interested in. Consider reaching out to a few existing customers to see which angle interests them the most.
Ensure that your research and your company’s solution can support the angle. Now it’s time to start pounding that keyboard.
4. Write an outline.
You might picture yourself as a JK Rowling or Tom Clancy, sitting at the keyboard with each perfect word flowing out. Well, you’d be wrong. Even fiction writers create an outline before writing.
Like any large project, if you start with a detailed plan, it will allow you to write better, faster, and waste less time making changes.
Creating a detailed outline has two significant effects:
It organizes your research and links into a single cohesive document.
It gives internal SMEs a chance to provide feedback and fix structural issues before you start writing.
Start by writing out the main headings that will be included in the white paper. Then ask yourself these questions:
Do the headings flow logically?
Are there any critical pieces of information that are missing?
Is the amount of headings balanced?
Does this story have a beginning, middle, and end?
Next, fill in the points under the headings. Use a standardized format to make it easier to structure your paragraphs and transitions. If you are working on a long-form piece, it’s helpful to have everything listed in either numbered or bulleted lists.
Note that your outline doesn’t have to be linear. You could try a mind map, index cards, or charts. These are great to try if you find your creative juices are drying up.
Read over your outline to ensure nothing is missing and that it includes everything you want it to cover.
Next, share your outline with your internal Subject Matter Experts (SME). Let them leave comments or make changes using your word processor’s track changes or suggest mode. A feedback session will help you understand any logical problems with your white paper before starting. It will also create buy-in that will make SMEs more willing to answer questions and participate in interviews.
Finally, revise and finalize. Read it through fast, slow, and backwards line by line. If you’re working on something long, and your outline is already thousands of words, it can help to take a break, sleep on it, exercise, find some nature — anything to recharge your writing muscles and come back with fresh eyes.
For each section that will include an interview or quotes, consider who you should interview.
Why should you bother interviewing, when there is so much free content available online? Like Amazon or Netflix, you will come to realize, at some point, that you need to create original content. It’s a simple value proposition: your readers are coming to you because they are looking for information they can’t find anywhere else. Interviews are a fast and easy way to get this content.
Also, your interviewees don’t need to be professors, department heads, or a CEO. Average employees will have their own perspective, style, and value.
Try to match the SME to a section that truly reflects their expertise.
Send an email requesting 15-30 minutes to interview them. If possible include the questions you plan to cover. Plan at least a few weeks out from your publishing date.
Use a recorded conference line like Verba or UberConference for your call. If you find typing up the interview difficult, try a transcribing service or app such as Reportex.
Explain to the SME how the recording will be used and give them the option to review any direct quotes before publishing.
Optional: transcribe the interview for easy reference. Typing out interviews can be a lengthy chore. Try using some journalist “hacks”: use shorthand, make notes, or a handy app/service.
6. Write the first draft.
Take your research, outline, and SME interviews and start writing.
It might seem like the act of writing appears relatively late in this guide. The more preparation you do for your first draft, the better. You’ll find that ideas come to you more easily. Moreover, you’ll avoid the dreaded “writer’s block.”
Are there anecdotes and data to back your assertions?
Are you speaking with the correct tone for your audience and topic?
Are your transitions between sections strong enough to keep the reader engaged?
Once the entire white paper is done, let it sit for a few days and then edit it yourself. Solve as many errors as possible by yourself before involving your SMEs. That way, there will be less back-and-forth on edits that you’ll need to do later on.
7. Provide white paper to Subject Matter Experts (SME) for review.
Share the white paper with SMEs, and ask that they verify the information is accurate. Get their opinion on the style of writing and whether the topic will be of interest to prospects.
Everybody gets harsh feedback. If you’re a beginner, this can be hard to stomach. Try to remove all your emotions and ego from the process. Assume the perspective of your reader — what do they want? If you have questions, don’t stew over it. Get a clarification from your SME.
Implement SME feedback. Listen to your SME, as they likely know more about the subject than you. That said, you might be a better writer. So some of your SME’s feedback on your writing could be in error. Standing up for what you believe gives the white paper integrity.
8. Editing and proofreading.
Before sending your draft to an editor or proofreader, run it through third-party services like Hemingway App or Grammarly. Online editing programs aren’t perfect, but they can easily sort out basic spelling, grammar, syntax, and structure issues. It’s good to do as much of this as possible before you hand it off to someone else.
Perhaps even leave the draft for a while, then come back with new eyes. Whether it’s 24 hours or 5 minutes, you’ll find a break helps your editing immensely.
Give the white paper to a professional editor. They will approach it with a different mindset than your coworker or friend. You need someone who can tear it apart objectively, with no emotional attachment.
Many people ask, “Do I need an editor?”
Grammar and spelling are a lot like politeness, or manners. Poor manners are a turn-off. Good manners show people you care and are attentive to details.
Good editing converts into a real bottom-line impact. Large companies are spending billions on remedial writing courses, much of it going on college graduates who should have picked up communication skills.
Also, consider hiring a proofreader. Some readers may agree with 99% of your white paper only to discredit it altogether after finding a few grammatical errors.
Designing your white paper.
Once you’ve finished drafting, have a professional designer format your white paper, or use a template.
A professional designer is nearly always worth the cost. They can incorporate your brand, while giving your white paper its own “look” that stands out. If you’re not ready for a professional designer, there are great templates and free design tools available online.
Like most pieces of online content these days, your readers will tend to skim. Your design should spur readers on. You need an eye-catching front cover that quickly tells readers what it’s about and why they should read it. Try to provide value for each of your readers. Assume that most readers will spend 5 seconds with your white paper, some 50 seconds, and a few 5 minutes.
Attention-grabbing doesn’t have to mean a strong color palette. Some of the best white papers are still mostly white. Generous white space, as seen in the examples from Google and Apple above, can actually aid flow, provide credibility, and make your document easier to read.
Consider what design elements will help you to communicate your points more effectively.
Images. High quality is always best. Low-quality pictures and photographs can still work if they are relevant to your topic or unique to your business. Try including headshots of relevant contributors and employees for a human touch.
Graphics. Make sure your graphics are being used to communicate. For example, charts are often useful for highlighting and explaining. Make the graphics both important and complementary to surrounding text, instead of simply repeating your points.
Breakout text. Larger sections of text work well to highlight parts of the report, or notable quotes. But avoid large bulleted lists or slabs of text.
When using these elements, and formulating your overall design, reflect on the topic you’ve chosen. For example, look at Google’s recent white paper How Google Fights Disinformation.Compared to Google’s security white paper (see above), it uses a reduced colour palette, wider columns, and has a more balanced, objective tone. This approach reflects the seriousness of the highly charged topic of fake news.
Use your intuition, and if possible, share the initial white paper design with a customer to get their opinion.
Finalize the design and optimize it for use online. A PDF is standard, but publishing directly to your website is becoming increasingly common. Next, think about how to attract readers.
Promoting your white paper.
You’ve finished your white paper! Well, almost. Now is the hard part — getting people to read it. How do you attract readers to content?
You need to create more content. Thankfully, there are any number of options:
Blog posts or guides. A blog post or guide might seem like more writing, but it could come quite naturally from a white paper. You can refashion some of the content in the white paper for a blog. Alternatively, perhaps there is another topic in the white paper’s subject area you didn’t get time to cover and you want to cover in a detailed guide.
Webinars. A webinar has potential for deep engagement. If you haven’t hosted a webinar before, you’ll start by scheduling a few hours in the week. Next, send out invites. Then, create some slides and polls. Finally, conduct a practice run and record the webinar. Don’t forget to follow up on people that registered.
Guides. Cross-promote to other guides and white papers you might have. With more time and effort, you could even build up a library that has readers coming back again and again.
Videos. These days, video is cheaper and easier than ever to produce. Consumers have come to expect it from every brand.
Social posts. Not only a great channel to get exposure, traffic, and leads, it’s also where your most loyal “fans” will be, waiting for regular updates. You might already be posting irregularly, without targeting. But a social media audit, strategy, and calendar could optimize your use of the channel.
Next, ask external SMEs to promote the post. Give them templates for social media posts and blog posts.
You could also try some “Ego Bait”. It’s a term that means reaching out to experts for more exposure. For example, perhaps you wrote a “list of industry experts” in your white paper or interviewed someone. Ego bait might be as simple as sending out an extra email to those people, telling them they have been mentioned and published. It’s an opportunity for more shares and links and to build your white paper’s authority. In writing your white paper, you’ve probably already reached out to a number of experts, but this is just one way to get value from them.
Don’t forget to reach out to your SMEs again. Write and schedule social media posts for these internal leaders, sales reps, and others. Your social media campaign for the white paper will look and feel a lot stronger if everyone at your organization participates. If they’re really pressed for time, consider providing templates or writing the posts for them.
Consider a paid ad campaign if the cost per click (CPC) and return make sense. Unfortunately, many search engines and social media platforms are becoming a pay-to-play environment. Therefore it’s doubly important to make sure your CPC campaign is highly targeted and measurable.
Another great option is to set up a drip campaign to nurture leads and turn them into customers. A drip campaign is a series of communications (emails, messages, calls) that go out to each new lead. They enable your organization to stay in touch and front of mind in the customer and track their progress through their buyer’s journey.
Finally, teach sales reps to use the white paper as a follow-up tool.
You can rerun the white paper campaign in the following months. There will be many people out there that missed the white paper the first time around.
White papers explain your value.
“Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly — they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.” — Aldous Huxley
A white paper’s value might seem diminished in an age of short videos, images, and social media. However, none of these new formats are quite as good as a white paper when it comes to business. Nothing beats hard evidence and persuasive language to sell a solution.
If there’s one thing to take from this “How To” it’s this: pay attention to research. You’re likely to spend days, weeks and months producing a lengthy document, so make sure the result is credible. Your white paper will be something that can be brought out again and again, for years to come. Make it valuable not only for your clients, but for your own team. You could use it in training, recruitment, and many other future business endeavors.
Content Reactor knows the value of a white paper. Our writers work your passionate, expert thoughts into a document that thrives within your content ecosystem. Contact us for a white paper that can do both: meet short term sales goals and create ongoing value.
I recently had the pleasure of listening to The Business Conversation with Brent Stickles and Don Ball. Brent is a Partner at YYES, a design company based out of Minneapolis. Don is the Chief Social Officer at Fueled Collective, a coworking space and social club in downtown Minneapolis.
“I am very low theory and very instinctual and more human than anything.”
– Brent Stickels
Brent had great advice for business owners and doesn’t subscribe to the belief that his organization can be better at everything than everyone else. I found this refreshing as this mindset helps business owners find balance and focus in their industry. YYES has been successful over the last 20 years because they know their strengths and play into them masterfully. Here are the top 10 lessons I learned from Brent and Don’s conversation.
Trust your gut. If a concept doesn’t hit you in the gut it’s not worth anything.
Develop empathy. The human and user experience are more important than anything for creatives.
Let creative ideas sit. Brent said they have a saying in the studio “Is it still funny in the morning?” If something doesn’t last the day it’s better to move on.
Find your strength. It’s not possible to be great at everything, so you should capitalize on what you’re good at.
Be up front with prospects. Clarity will help both you and the prospect realize if you’re the right fit.
Strategy over decoration. If you’re not designing based on strategy, you’re not swinging at a target — you’re just decorating.
Let the client sell to themselves. When you get the client thinking it’s their idea, that’s the Jedi mind trick. They’ll be much happier with the outcome.
CEOs don’t care about the details. As experts, it’s our job to educate and help them turn their idea into reality.
Good ideas come from all over. Great creatives have a knack for listening and interpreting. Brent shared how his walk in to work takes him past the Walker Art Center, and through the Minneapolis Scultpure Garden. This exposure helps him start every day full of inspiration.
Be open-minded. Open yourself to be influenced by other industries and ideas. That’s when amazing creative work happens.
The Business Conversation is a fantastic event and I encourage business owner’s from all industries to attend. The ideas and inspiration won’t disappoint.
Plain and simple: content marketing is brands telling stories.
Modern-day millennials might like to think that their podcasts, blogs, and videos are new and exciting developments in this great canon of branded content. But, if we’re truly honest, the business has changed in name only.
Our poor pre-internet brothers and sisters knew only physical stores, printed media, and phone calls. What could we possibly learn from them?
Storytelling still occurs offline
First, it’s important to note that some of us are still pre-internet. And not just in the third-world. In the US, eight out of every 100 Americans don’t have high-speed internet or any kind of internet.
Some of us still go to books, newspapers, and magazines for content. Stories from hundreds of years ago still sell. From Homer’s Odysseus to Shakespeare’s Ophelia, great writers have always known the value in “evergreen publishing”.
90 percent of all retail still occurs within brick and mortar, leaving only about 9 percent of retail online. And there’s been reports of a recent boom for offline commerce. Half of the millennial demographic prefers brick-and-mortar shopping over e-commerce and 56 percent shop in-store at least once a week.
All these stats might indicate consumers are turning away from online. But could it be that businesses are the ones changing?
There’s evidence that businesses are starting to treat all their online and offline content channels equally. Examples of this convergence are Target and Walmart using “buy-online”, “pick-up in store”, and “personal shopper” services. Meanwhile, Amazon’s Go concept encourages offline shopping but is led by online technology, such as computer vision, deep learning, and sensors.
The best businesses think innovatively and blur any boundaries of technology. There are universal qualities in good content marketing.
What can we learn from pre-internet marketing?
1. First impressions count.
Shop window displays were one of the original technology-led “disruptions”. In England around the early 1700s, glass became widely available. Shops transformed, from dark rooms where you bought things, into transparent avenues of consumer leisure.
Retailers had to spend more money on their windows to remain competitive. The visuals enchanted shoppers and drove patronage. These initiatives had a cumulative effect over the decades, built brand loyalty, and are still in place today.
Today, digital natives know that first impressions are indeed everything. We have seconds to make a strong impression online. Avatars, landing pages, and customer experience are all about individual first impressions. Surveys have shown that 46% of shoppers assess the credibility of a site based on the look of the homepage alone.
2. Look at your customers, not the content.
Hundreds of years ago stores started off as one-room operations. Through economies of scale, they grew in size until shopowners could no longer keep an eye on everything. Through necessity or invention, retailers had to think about how consumers were moving through their rooms, halls, and levels.
Fast forward a few decades and a whole industry had formed around walking paths, mall design, and retail psychology. For example, research suggests that most shoppers look left when entering a store, then move right. Retailers use this knowledge when considering the design of store entrances.
This type of thinking has carried over to the digital age. Eye-scanning studies show that when people look at web pages, they:
Why do some stores resemble warehouses, like Costco, while others look like a maze, like IKEA? Retailers deliberately utilize layouts (aisles, displays, mazes) to create flow, align with catalogs and provide inspiration. Through a few imaginative design techniques, IKEA nudges people to spend hours, rather than minutes, in their store.
Content creators can employ similar methods. And it’s important that they do. The average American spends half their day engaging with media. Yet, we have no time for content: 43% of people admit to skimming long posts.
Making your blog easily digestible is key. Use headers, videos, and other visual tools to highlight the most important sections. Don’t overload, but gently direct using a call to action, a variety of content forms and lengths, and linking between each article.
4. Aim to provide lasting value
Mail order marketing brought the shop to your front door in the 1950s. Post-war incomes in the US soared and opportunity seemed endless. The Sears Catalog, “the Amazon.com of its day”, is now rightly remembered as the vintage content of this era. Not only would it affect people on an individual level, pouring over the pages for hours, it also changed society, empowering African-Americans against Jim Crow laws.
What does this mean for you? Think about how people will use your content today, and 50 years from now. Aim to create something that not only delights and informs but is treasured for years to come. Your content could have a wider value and serve many more purposes than mere “lead generation”.
5. Know your regulars.
It’s easier to build meaningful relationships with face-to-face communication. Anyone who’s worked in retail will tell you that lesson one is to “Greet the customer”. When shoppers are asked why they returned to a store, more than half of the time it’s because they experienced “superior customer service”.
Is online any different? The first thing your eye jumps to on Amazon’s homepage is a “Hi,..(your name)” in the top-left corner. It might not be the friendly face of your local Mom-and-Pop store, but it’s a pretty cool personal touch from a company with about 240 million regular customers.
You can do the same things you would offline as you would with your online community. Use a second person perspective. Read what your targets read. Hang out in the same places (online). Develop buyer personas. Be a friend.
6. Change your stock regularly
Shop owners have always known the value of new stock. Fresh products hold customer interest and provide an incentive to return.
Likewise, you need to regularly change your online “shelves” for return readership. Unfortunately, you only have so many hours in the day to generate high-quality content.
As a rough guideline, most professional blogs reach for 300 words as a minimum, but posts over 1500 words have been shown effective for gaining traction on social networks.
However, don’t think that more is always best: a study found that when smaller companies posted twice a day, posts gathered 50 percent fewer clicks than once a day, or once a week. In general, your content will be more effective if it is high in quality, rather than high in quantity.
The more marketing changes, the more it stays the same
Content marketing has changed in form, style, and degrees of effectiveness over hundreds of years. It used to be called a brochure or catalog. Today its email, social media, and blogs. What will be tomorrow’s content be?
As technologies change, the medium shapes the message. TV commercials, ancient almanacs, and YouTube influencers are all different in many important ways. But at their heart, they remain brands telling stories. If you’d like help telling yours, contact us here.
According to Bloomberg, 8 out of 10 entrepreneurs fail within the first 18 months, and Forbes says that the top 3 reasons those businesses fail have to do with marketing. So, how do you find buyers for that innovative product you created? Or, how can you attract more attention to your existing business?
Unless you’re selling on Etsy, you won’t do it by cobbling together a 1-page website and making homemade fliers. Everyone wants to save money, but being stingy doesn’t make any friends, especially not with your content marketing budget. So, how can you maximize your resources?
Add these 4 key expenses to your content marketing budget and send your product popularity soaring!
1. Find Your Niche with Market Research
You wouldn’t fly overseas without checking the passport and visa requirements, would you? Likewise, you shouldn’t start marketing your product without first researching the market. Even major names have had a stumble or two in this area. Twitter started as a place for people to share podcasts, but Apple came out with the Podcast app at the same time. How did the Twitter creators find their niche? They did their research and kept an eye on the trends. Market research gave Twitter its true home at the center of the social media-verse.
Market research is an integral part of your budget. Market researchers, who know the market well, can identify your target market. They perform buyer persona interviews and use analytical data to discover your ideal client. He may be a single guy in his mid-40s named Phillip, who loves to hike, hates shellfish, and needs your product. He just doesn’t know it yet.
With market research in the budget, you will set a solid foundation for success.
2. Build Confidence with a Polished Web Presence
Everyone has a place to stay on vacation, whether it’s a hotel, hostel, or your great uncle’s cabin in the woods. Shouldn’t your business have an Internet home? Beyond having a presence, your website needs to look professional to build confidence. Studies show that it takes less than 1 second to form a first impression of a website. So, your site must impress your credibility and vision on visitors as soon as they load your home page.
Many businesses try DIY websites, but design matters. What can a talented web designer do for your business?
Talented designers analyze your online goals and structure your website to reach them.
They perform usability studies to ensure customers can find the products you offer.
They pinpoint the colors, fonts, and even spacing needed to attract buyers.
Website design is one expense you don’t want to skimp on in the budget.
3. Develop Loyalty with Content Writing
Location is not the only factor. Vacationers want to have an experience and so do your customers! What does your website offer beyond a handsome logo and 20 pictures of your fabulous product? Create interest to keep people coming back to your page. This year, 61% of marketing leaders are investing in content creation. They know that keeping readers interested requires a talented writer.
What can content writers do for your business?
Content writers develop a clear brand voice for your business.
They research what your audience should learn about your product.
They use storytelling skills to form an emotional bond between buyers and products.
As a bonus, budgeting for a content writer will free up your valuable time to expand your business and vacation horizons.
4. Connect with Customers on Social Media
When you’re on vacation, everyone takes selfies. Why? Because 77% of Americans have a social media profile. Connect with them using social media’s exciting marketing options, such as paid advertising, geofilters, and endorsements.
Facebook and Instagram allow you to pay a small price to reach thousands of people. Directly input your target market’s age, gender, location, interests, and more. Snapchat and Facebook offer location-based advertising using geofilters. These show ads to users who are within a certain distance of your company’s physical location.
With social media’s ability to draw more people to your website, it is a must-have in the content marketing budget.
Plan to Get the Most from Your Budget
You plan a vacation, so plan your content marketing budget, too. Improve your budget, and your company’s future, by adding these 4 key expenses.
Market researchers can reliably identify your target market.
Web designers can polish and promote your online presence.
Content writers can form lasting bonds between you and your clients.
Social media can connect you to potential customers in your area.
Get the most out of your content marketing budget and start your product on the path to popularity.
At The Content Reactor, we thrive on taking the pain out of developing your marketing and content strategy. Contact us to discuss the best options for your business today!
“Congratulations on your one cousin. I have seventy, each one better than the last!”
If I told you that Dwight, Darth Vader, and Clint Eastwood each said one of these quotes would you have trouble matching up the speaker to the quote. I doubt it, and I’m pretty sure that most people could get these right on the first try. Why is that?
In showbiz, it’s important to establish strong characters who are easily identifiable. This makes them more loveable, memorable, and relatable which ultimately increases profits for the networks. Can something from showbiz really help your B2B company?
Yes, it can. Creating a memorable brand is very similar to creating a strong TV character. You want people to easily recognize your brand, remember you even when they’re not in direct contact with one of your ads, and stay loyal because they love your brand. To do this effectively, you can create a brand voice to help your business stay in character.
In this article, we’ll talk about the ROI of creating a brand voice, how you can make one, and how to make sure your team gets the most out of it.
Increase leads by 97% with buyer persona research
Messaging built on strong buyer persona research can have a profound effect on your ROI when done consistently and with the right voice. Study after study shows improvements in email marketing, web-traffic conversion rates, marketing-generated revenue, and site visit duration.
Skytap saw an increase of 97% in leads from online marketing.
NetProspex got a 171% increase in marketing-generated revenue.
HubSpot found that having buyer personas can increase a website’s effectiveness and ease of use by 2-5 times.
These examples clearly show the value of using a brand voice for your company. But, a brand voice can help in other ways too. It can help cut down on team confusion when creating sales and marketing materials, and ensure that communication between employees and customers is always building your brand. So, how can you get started?
Infuse your customers, employees, and leadership into your brand voice
To create a compelling brand voice, you need to get input from your customers, your company’s leadership, and your employees. This will help you create a voice that’s appealing to your customers and that your team believes in.
You need to find out why your best customers are choosing you over the competition. Customer interviews are a great way to find out. What should you ask in these interviews? Start off by learning basic demographic information. The following points are the essence of what you want to learn in the customer interviews.
What were they looking for when they made their choice?
How did they look for solutions to their problem (blogs, friends, competitors, etc.)?
How did you solve the issues they were facing?
Is there something about your brand personality that stood out to them? Are there any specific qualities they were looking for in your company?
What do they like most about your offering?
It’s usually better to ask these questions subtly as you tend to get more honest answers than asking them directly. Below is an image you can save showing the types of questions we would ask when performing buyer persona interviews.
Depending on how long you’ve been in business and the size of your customer base, you may have other sources of customer data available to you. For example, you can also leverage analytics data and customer surveys. The more data you have will give you a better pulse on how your customers actually feel.
Get company leadership on the same page
To truly find your company’s voice you need to identify the core of your business. This includes things like company values, mission, roadmap, target market, and your competitors. We know it can be challenging, but you need to get leadership to commit to a day when your team can discuss and decide on all of these elements.
We like to use a method called a brand sprint to get this part done. This is a method developed by Jake Knapp from Google Ventures. Jake describes it this way: “The point of these exercises, it turns out, is to make the abstract idea of ‘our brand’ into something concrete.”
During this meeting, you’ll get all the elements you need from your team to create your brand voice. We like this method because we can get the right people in the room, have time constraints that limit the amount of distraction, and get the buy-in we need to move forward.
Input from employees
Your employees typically interact with customers more than your leadership. While it’s probably not possible to implement all of their feedback, you should still listen. This is especially true of input from your sales and customer service teams who have frequent interaction with customers. Look for trends among the input and weigh them accordingly. When you find recurring themes, it may be a sign that you need to incorporate them into your brand voice.
The four main components of your brand voice
1. Brand story
Every great character has a brand story, and your brand should have one too. Now we’re not talking about your company history, but rather a story that clearly shows the purpose of what you do.
The brand story should describe who you are, the problem you solve, why you do it, and how customers benefit in a few concise paragraphs. This main messaging is instrumental in helping you persuade potential customers.
2. Buyer Personas
A buyer persona is a fictional representation of your ideal client. The buyer persona should include demographics, information on how they shop, goals, roadblocks, and other helpful data. Whenever anyone on your team communicates with a customer, writes for your website, or creates sales and marketing materials they can write to your buyer personas.
Doing so will ensure that everything your team creates is always done with the customer in mind.
3. Brand avatar
The brand avatar represents your company. Creating this helps to humanize your company. Since it personifies your company, you’re able to use this resource to imagine how your company communicates, and the qualities that communication should embody.
4. Content Strategy + Guidelines
Finally, we get to the strategy that all this customer research makes possible. Because we have done the work of talking to customers, digging into analytics, and talking to our team, we now have the data we need to make a powerful strategy.
This strategy should include a content calendar that’s based on customer insights and SEO research. Together these help you target the keywords your customers are interested in and are attainable within your current website authority.
Within your content strategy, you should include guidelines for posting on social media. This will ensure that employees use your brand avatar when talking on the company’s social channels. This can have a profound effect on your success when marketing on social. But we’re not the only ones who think so.
“With all of the noise on social today, creating a unique brand voice is a crucial aspect of differentiating your brand. Think about how your brand voice on social helps further the connection you want to build with your community. Here at Sprout, we really focus on a social voice that embodies our values. For example, “Care Deeply” is one of our core values, and we demonstrate that by truly listening to each customer who reaches out, welcoming feedback and trying to foster a genuine connection with the people we encounter on social. “Seek Simplicity” is something we practice by responding on social in a way that’s both thoughtful and concise, reducing the number of interactions it takes to solve an issue and making the interactions we have more impactful.
On a practical level, every brand needs to articulate and document what its voice entails. This means developing guidelines and training your team on things like word choice, editing style, do’s and don’ts, and so on. From that foundation, anyone representing your brand on social can feel confident in developing creative content that’s always on-brand and furthering that voice in every social engagement.”
Just like any other marketing tool, your brand voice is useless if not implemented correctly. While your brand voice can help many different aspects of your business, there are three areas you should focus on to take advantage of your brand voice.
Web and marketing content. This includes your content marketing, web copy, branding, social media, and ads.
Client communication. Train your sales and marketing teams on how to use the brand voice in every interaction with your clients. This will ensure that every communication with your clients is consistent and brand building.
Client treatment. Your sales and marketing efforts are only as good as your service. If you don’t actively try to delight your customers, you’ll lose them.
These are the areas where it’s most important to use your brand voice. But, how can you help your team make the best use of this new tool? Here are four steps that will help.
1. Have them read it. Before training, they should read the entire brand voice. This will help them get a complete understanding of what the overall voice of your company will sound like.
2. Identify what parts of their job they will need to use the brand voice for. For example, the social media expert will need to refer to the social guidelines frequently, while employees who write for your blog will need to understand your buyer personas and their pain points.
3. Designate an expert on your team they can turn to for support. Someone on your team should be available to help answer questions about the company’s voice. This person should also be in charge of reviewing new material and ensuring it’s in line with the updated voice.
4. Check-in and identify problems with implementation. Your brand voice expert should check-in with the members of your team who contribute significantly to your company’s voice. Find out if they are having difficulties implementing, and what you can do to smooth out the process.
These steps will ensure that your team gets the training it needs and that everyone is on the same page. From there your voice will only get louder and more distinct.
A brand voice gives your communication the superpower of being super relevant.
47% of buyers viewed 3-5 pieces of content before engaging with a sales rep.
Practical topics are more likely to be shared and motivate web visitors to return. Creating a brand voice gives you an insiders look into what your customers want to see, and you can focus your content strategy on super relevant information. This will accelerate the results you get from your content marketing efforts and make you feel like you have a marketing superpower.
A brand voice will also help you treat customers like human beings. This isn’t only good for business; it’s the right thing to do. When you engage your audience, you’ll start turning one-time visitors into repeat customers and brand evangelists.
Are you tired of content marketing efforts that fail to build your brand? We can help you create a brand voice and give your brand superpowers. Send me an email, and we can chat over coffee (in-person or virtually).
Let’s imagine that you enjoy a particular kind of candy. It tastes amazing, and it’s made with organic ingredients so you can pretend it’s healthy. Then, after you buy a big package of this candy, you taste one and… it’s awful. After trying the rest, you find that only 1 in 10 tastes good. You decide not to buy this candy again because the flavor isn’t consistent.
You already know that creating high-quality content is one of the best ways to increase traffic to your website and build a strong brand. But creating high-quality content on a regular basis can be challenging. Like the candy example, your consumers won’t read your content if it’s not consistently great.
In this article, we’ll provide 9 tips that will help you produce great content consistently to attract organic traffic to your website and build a loyal following.
Readers Want Actionable Content
When people are reading your posts, they want to find value in it for themselves. This perceived value comes before any other goal you might have for them. If your readers can find ideas and tips in your content that will benefit them immediately, they’ll likely keep reading your website for more.
So, it’s imperative that you clearly show, right from the beginning, how reading your content will help fix your audience’s problems. Can you add an example of how your readers can apply your information? Or show them ways they can use your tips right after they finish reading your blog post? If you’re always looking for ways to add value, your readers will notice.
Create Content That Interests Your Reader
People love to learn because they’re curious. So, when you’re deciding what content to make, think about what kinds of things your audience wants to learn. The best source for new topics is your readers. Why not directly ask them what they want to see, whether through emails, surveys, or a conversation.
People also like to feel challenged and encouraged to think about what they are reading. Incorporating questions that are relevant to your content is a great way to do this. Just don’t frustrate readers by making them work too hard, or they might not come back for more. It’s a delicate balance.
It’s Best to Keep Things Short and Simple
Keep things short and stick to main points. You may have a word count you’re trying to meet that causes you to try to stretch two paragraphs of information into a 500-word blog post. DO NOT DO THIS. It will not be actionable content or interesting for people to read.
If you have a post that’s too short, try expanding the topic title or adding the content to a relevant post that already exists. Adding fluff around great points will only make them less valuable.
Make Sure Your Sources Are Reliable
Whenever you quote a statistic or link to a blog post you didn’t write, you open yourself up to be discredited for something false. It doesn’t matter that you didn’t originally write the information. If you spread it, you own it. Remember that time you posted that video of the kid being picked up by an eagle in a park only to find out that the whole thing was fake? Not only did you feel deceived, but it may have made people wonder how gullible you are.
Let’s not do that with our content. Always check the authenticity of the website you’re quoting and linking to. It’s a good idea to look at the website’s other articles and social media posts to get an idea of their credibility. When citing statistics, make sure the information comes from an unbiased source.
Stockpile Source Material and Do Tasks in Batches
Having to look up source material every time you write breaks the flow of your writing and takes too much time. For example, if you were going to write a series of articles on puppies, why not figure out the topic of each article and find the source material all at once. Then, use a content calendar to organize it. Your content calendar should include topics, possible headlines, and source material you can use to reference.
After you’ve stockpiled your source material, you now need to write your content. But there’s more to creating content than just writing. You also need attention-grabbing titles and applicable images. To save time, try batching some of these tasks. Like finding all the pictures for your posts at the same time or writing several blog posts at once. It keeps your mind from having to switch between tasks and improves your focus.
Know When You Are Creative
Every person has their own internal clock that regulates when they should do things like go to bed or eat meals. This clock also regulates your creativity.
There are times during the day or night when you’re most creative and able to write well. (Our project manager really likes this book called The Power of When that has an entire chapter about the best time for you to be creative.) Try scheduling your writing for the times when you work best. Doing so will help reduce frustration and the risk that you may give up.
Follow Content with Related Services or Promotions
When creating your content calendar, keep in mind when you want to release new services or products. Writing about what you’re releasing beforehand can build anticipation and excitement for your offer.
Creating new content is hard, so don’t waste the work that you’ve already done. Repurposing old content is a great way to get more value out of previous articles. But how can you do it? Converting content into various formats, republishing on different mediums, and just updating older articles are all great ways to give your content new life.
Document Your Writing Process and Use It as Much as You Can
Once you’ve written a couple blog posts or e-books, you’ve most likely developed a process for writing certain kinds of content. Once you have a process, document it.
This will save you time because you don’t have to remember every step in the correct order or rewrite part of your content because you forgot something. It’s already written down. It will also help when training new employees without you having to hover over them to correct things.
Do You Want Better Content?
After reading these steps, you may feel that you’re ready to create a new piece of content every day. That’s great, but some of you may feel overwhelmed by the amount of work it takes to make great content. At the Content Reactor, we help B2B, professional service, and tech companies create engaging content that helps them target their ideal clients, increase traffic, and establish thought leadership. Set up a free consultation today.