Have you ever downloaded a white paper?
I have, and I know countless others have, too. Why? Because even the government gets involved in creating theses great big collections of insight, numbers, opinion and statistics.
So, they must be useful.
But are they just for academic types who need genuine research for their own papers? Or is it tabloids who benefit the most from white papers when they want to highlight the latest type of food that’s almost guaranteed to give you a horrendous disease?
As it turns out, white papers are far more useful than that. If you’re a business, they could – and should – form a significant part of your content marketing campaign, no matter your industry.
What is a white paper?
A white paper is a report, guide or piece of research that answers a question or solves a problem.
White papers typically include research statistics, quotes and facts that are readily quoted across all types of media, from social platforms to blog posts and tabloids. You may even hear them mentioned on the news.
Modern white papers usually come in the form of PDFs that can be downloaded from websites. Some authors will ask you to input your name and email address before you can access the content (a classic, brilliant content marketing strategy), but some are freely available without any form of ‘gating’, as it’s known.
However they’re presented, delivered or obtained, white papers are still regarded as one of the most influential forms of content on the web.
4 reasons your need them in your life as a modern business
So, now we know what a white paper is, let’s consider why producing one is a great idea for any business.
1. White papers help generate leads
Let’s start with the one which will probably pique your interest.
White papers are great lead generators. This is because a white paper contains informative content and usually has plenty of authority attached to it – even if you’ve only just encountered the business behind the white paper.
That means the people who download them are genuinely interested in hearing more from your business and will have inadvertently started the process of building a layer of trust with you.
What’s more, the leads generated by this content are likely to be more qualified than people who just pass by your website and idly request a brochure.
2. White papers spread awareness
A paper produced by your business will do a great job of increasing your brand recognition within the industry – and further afield.
White papers which feature original research and genuinely interesting statistics are likely to be quoted elsewhere, and providing the referral links back to your site (or at the very least mentions you by name), you’ll gain free publicity.
Glossy brochures aren’t capable of doing this, and it would require a significant amount of spend on social media advertising to achieve similar reach and gain that much authority from a single piece of content.
3. White papers help build mailing lists
No one wants to fall foul of the GDPR’s strict rules, which makes ethical mailing list building a priority for every business.
White papers are brilliant tools for helping you do this. If you gate the content by requesting an email address in order to download, you’ll steadily begin to build a list of subscribers who are actively interested in what you have to say.
Most white papers have an admirable shelf life, and that means your list building should continue unabated for as long as the contents of the white paper is relevant.
4. White papers will make social media worthwhile for your business
There’s no doubting the fact we live in a pay-to-play arena these days when it comes to social media, but there are some exceptions when it comes to organic content that actually works.
If you produce a report or study that has highly emotive statistics or quoted opinion within it, there are few better platforms on which to post snippets from it than Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Choose the right hashtags, and you’ll almost certainly incite some healthy (and not so healthy) debate.
A point of note: there used to be a feature on Facebook that enabled ‘fan gating’. This meant you could advertise the availability of something like a white paper on your Facebook page, but only allow access to it if people ‘like’ the page. Facebook has since removed that feature (encouraging likes in that manner is frowned upon, apparently), but don’t let that put you off.
Just like a video or long-form blog, white papers can be broken up into smaller chunks and used almost infinitely on social media. It’s a brilliantly way to get more out of your hard work and fill your social posting calendar with stuff people are more likely to engage with.
And finally: Do people actually read them?
Here’s the rub.
In fact, the vast majority of people who download your content may not even give it a second glance once it lands into their inbox.
But that really isn’t the point. If someone downloads your content, they’ve actively engaged with your company; you did something right.
This is powerful stuff – particularly if you decide to gate the content and ethically gain an email address in the process. And who cares if that person doesn’t actually bother to read your hard work? They’ve demonstrated that they have an interest in what you have to say. Hell, they might even trust your opinion.
White papers are just the start of the conversation with prospective new clients, and your content marketing strategy isn’t running at full speed if you’ve neglected them thus far.