The purpose of lead nurturing is not to create content. That is not to say you won’t need content to develop a successful lead nurturing initiative, but let’s not confuse a means with an end. In most companies, the compelling driver behind lead nurturing is that they don’t get enough good quality leads. While most companies simply discard the prospects that are not ready to buy yet, smarter organizations prefer to move them gently along the sales funnel. That process is what is called lead nurturing.
Now, there is no denying that lead nurturing requires content, but the whole point is to convince potential buyers to take the next step. Depending on what that next step is in your nurture path—visiting the company’s website, making an appointment with a sales representative, or something else—there are many types of content you can choose from. The question is: are you giving to white papers the place they deserve in your lead nurturing program?
The most influential content type
Living in an age of information overload, where everybody’s attention span is getting shorter and shorter, you would think that nobody has time for white papers anymore. Here is the contradiction: white papers may indeed take more time to read, but according to a study by Eccolo Media, they are still perceived as the most influential content type when compared to other forms of collateral such as case studies, podcasts, videos and brochures.
There are a number of reasons for that.
White papers are written with a purpose in mind
It is no coincidence that white papers are more persuasive documents than any others. That is precisely how a good white paper should be written! White paper specialist, Michael Selzner, even considers that when you are writing a white paper you are actually making a case and backing it up with data. Also, if you look at the origin of the word, you’ll see that back in the 19th century the term was used to designate legislative documents delivered by the British Government for consideration by Parliament. In other words: the purpose of the document was to present summary information that would influence the way parliament voted on specific issues. The document was merely called a white paper, as opposed to the blue books that described longer documents.
White papers are written for specific audiences
People are more likely to relate to white papers, because good white papers are written with specific reader profiles in mind. In fact, it is not rare for copywriters to specifically name their ideal target audience in the title of the white paper. For example, a CFO is more likely to read your white paper if it’s called “How CFOs can scale for growth using Managed Services,” than if it’s just called “How to grow with managed services.” And if the white paper in question focuses specifically on the challenges of CFOs, then it will undoubtedly be more convincing to CFOs than any general article, video or blog post.
White papers are written with fact-based research
People like to rely on facts to make informed decisions. So fact-based white papers understandably enjoy more credibility than other marketing materials. Readers are aware that white papers are written with a purpose in mind and that they are therefore not totally unbiased documents, but as long as the third-party research or statistics quoted provide valuable information, the credibility of the document won’t be affected. This merely proves that you have done your research to support the case you are trying to make. The fact that white papers educate without taking a direct sales approach makes them the ideal content type to nurture leads. They should be viewed as a unique opportunity to educate a prospect on the implications of specific problems and the alternative solutions to consider, even if ultimately that prospect decides to do business with one of your competitors.
Use white papers as part of your lead nurturing strategy
In order to include white papers as part of your lead nurturing strategy, you have three options. You can rely on third-party white papers, develop your own or outsource them.
Relying on third-party white papers is very common in the high-tech industry. For example, Oracle and Microsoft often sponsor research from independent third parties and then negotiate distribution rights for them to be used as part of marketing campaigns by their value added resellers. That approach works well when the third party has strong credibility such as Gartner, Forrester or IDC. In a lead nurturing context, providing such reports is often more effective when prospects are still in the early stages of the buying cycle, to catch their attention. However, as the nurture lead “ripens” you don’t want to miss on the opportunity to build your own credibility, and ultimately position yourself as a thought-leader. That is when you should consider the option of developing your own white paper.
Developing your own white paper is ideal to strengthen your credibility, but doing so internally can be a huge task. A good white paper will take anywhere from 20 to 40 hours to produce, including writing and research time. Besides, writing requires talent, and you may realize that the most knowledgeable people about the topic are not the best writers. Also, once you’ve factored in the cost of 40 hours of engineer’s or senior executive’s time, you may realize that the in-house option is not the most cost-effective one.
Hiring an experienced copywriter is often the most realistic option, but here again, you need to use some caution. You need to find someone who understands both the needs of your target audience and the objective of the white paper itself, but also someone who speaks the audience’s language. Otherwise, it won’t be a very convincing document. Also, you need to find someone who can effectively synthetize existing research. This, according to copywriter guru Bob Bly, is the biggest challenge nowadays: finding a writer who respects the reader’s time by including only the facts that are relevant to the case you are trying to make and not all the unnecessary information that can be found on the Internet.
So, now that you now how you could better use white papers to nurture leads, the question is: where do you start? Start by doing an inventory of the white papers available in-house. Are they all third-party white papers that can easily be found on your competitors’ websites? If you have not produced any white papers that can be branded with your company’s name, find out why. Once you have identified the root causes, determine if the situation is likely to change in the near future. If not, chances are you would benefit from hiring a good copywriter to develop white papers that would persuade your prospects to move beyond the status quo.