Archive for November 2009

White Papers As Thought Leadership Tools.

November 11, 2009

bernieBubo-250White papers got their start in the government sector as reports outlining policy or offering authoritative commentary on a major issue. The origins of the term date back to early 20th century England, where it referenced brief research reports used by the British Parliament.

White papers were short government reports in comparison to longer, more detailed documents that were bound in blue covers and referred to as “blue books.” Since the shorter government publications were bound in the same white paper as the text inside, they took on the term “white papers.” When the use of white papers became standard practice during this time period, the term became associated with a document having a high level of importance.

White Papers Today.

White papers are now part of the corporate world. Klariti, an Ireland-based technical writing firm, offers this definition, “White papers discuss a specific business issue, product or competitive situation. In many cases, they summarize information about a topic; for example, the results of a survey or study and then suggest a proposal for action, with the research data providing the justification for the action.”

Why They Work.

Business people are increasingly searching for quality content. Studies show that company decision makers often use white papers as their initial external information source. White papers are an effective medium capable of educating, informing and influencing your targeted customers and prospects. Done properly, a white paper serves as reinforcement for preferring your company to the competition.

Consider these statistics noted by Senior Reporter Sean Donahue of SherpaBlog:

  • In 2008, 44 percent of business prospects said they were reading white papers more often than in the past. That’s an increase from the 39 percent who said in 2007 they were reading white papers more often.
  • More than 50 percent of business decision-makers and influencers said they read two to five white papers per quarter.

White papers can serve as excellent relationship starters followed by other thought leadership events such as invitations to webinars, podcasts and conference presentations. They also have terrific pass-along capabilities that tend to cross departmental borders as internal groups collaborate on business initiatives.

Elissa Miller, a senior marketing consultant for Hoffman Marketing Communications, a business and technology writing company, points out that “publishing white papers at third-party information sites such as Bitpipe.com [geared toward IT professionals] generates goodwill and ‘mindshare’ by making research and analysis widely available. In addition, it drives interested prospects to the company, prospects that might not otherwise have known that such an offering existed.”

Why They Don’t Work.

Corporate-sponsored white papers are strategic marketing documents. That is also frequently the root cause of a white paper’s downfall. It’s fine to carefully weave in positive points for your company through techniques such as case studies, but white papers unravel when sponsors lose objectivity. Most readers will quickly see through marketing propaganda disguised as legitimate research.

Further, many white papers provide an inadequate balance of technical details and the larger business context they address. They sometimes lack a compelling persuasiveness that helps people understand complex issues and how they can apply a solution.

Finally, a lot of marketing types shy away from white papers thinking that their other collateral, from brochures to product sheets, serve the same purpose. If they do get involved, they frequently fail to realize that white papers are unique communication vehicles that not only fill an important gap, but also require writing skills different from marketing communications and even technical writing.

To White Or Not to White.

The evidence is clear that white papers are highly effective thought leadership tools that do not require a huge monetary investment but do require handling with care. You’ll have the most success if you choose the writer carefully, and then develop the white paper through a collaborative process between the writer/researcher and your internal subject matter experts. The entire experience provides an opportunity to delve more deeply into important topics and can be a stimulating professional experience for everyone involved.

By Larry Bauer

Want Expert Advice?

Bauer Associates can help you develop white papers and other components of an effective thought leadership strategy. For more information, email Print Strategist Larry Bauer .

You can connect with Larry Bauer on LinkedIn. Or follow him on Twitter.

Do’s and Don’ts of White Papers.

November 11, 2009

vernVulpes-250White papers aren’t particularly expensive to create, but that doesn’t mean anyone can just slap one together. They take some careful planning and decision-making to serve as true thought leadership builders. Here’s how to get your white papers off on the right foot.

Do

  • Know your audience and focus on their interests.
  • Identify problems and concerns and provide a solution.
  • Understand that people with different responsibilities view the same problem differently—accounting vs. sales vs. technical people.
  • Think of your audience as a group of investors.
  • Attract interest immediately or risk losing the reader.
  • Assume that your reader is new to the topic.
  • Tell people what you’re going to tell them; tell them; and then tell them what you told them.
  • Subtly and carefully craft your own message into the white paper—case studies and customer quotes are a good approach.
  • Include an executive summary—many people will only read this portion or read it first.
  • Use compelling graphics to reinforce your message—charts, diagrams, illustrations, etc.
  • Adopt a conversational style that includes the word “you”—no one wants to read a term paper.
  • Let your first draft sit for a few days before you begin editing—you’d be surprised how much a little distance can help.
  • Identify key words for Web-hosted white papers before you begin and use them liberally throughout your white paper—load up the opening paragraph.
  • Edit, edit and edit again.

Don’t

  • Make your white paper self-serving—no one wants to read dull details about your product or service.
  • Forget to read a few white papers in your field—you’ll get a quick sense of the good, the bad and the downright ugly.
  • Attempt to write the white paper yourself if you don’t have the depth of knowledge or the writing skills.
  • Overwhelm your audience with techspeak and acronyms—offer clear definitions when you do use technical terms.
  • Get lost in theory and forget to provide real world, supportive examples.
  • Neglect to include a brief About Us section at the end—include telephone and email contact information.
  • Task technical people with the writing assignment—make them information sources and members of the editing team instead.
  • Make the white paper too long (6-10 pages are about right, but they could be as short as 1-2 pages—break longer topics into multiple publications).
  • Write a user’s manual if your white paper is addressing a product or technology solution.
  • Skimp on the promotional side—use news releases, email, postcards, social media, etc. to promote your latest white paper.
  • Shortchange the introduction, conclusion and executive summary.
  • Hesitate to use eye-popping color to attract attention and encourage readership.
  • Neglect the title or the look and feel of the white paper—they are two of the key drivers of readership.
  • Forget to ask yourself what action you want people to take upon reading your white paper.

White Papers Play Well With E-newsletters. Sending an e-newsletter highlighting your white paper and offering a free download from your website or a landing page is effective. We can write and design both your white paper and newsletter, create a landing page and broadcast the message through our MailVox system. You’ll get all the reporting you need right from your desktop, to say nothing of the benefits of working with an experienced single source.

For more information, email Print Strategist Larry Bauer .

By Larry Bauer

“White” Paper Doesn’t Mean Generic.

November 11, 2009

cainyCastor-250Creating a successful white paper isn’t just about the content. The content is in fact worthless if:

  • The paper doesn’t support the brand,
  • It’s too hard to read,
  • Your credibility is lacking because the paper looks amateurish, and
  • Your charts or graphics are boring.

I dare say most white papers are not tackling new theories or topics. And in a highly competitive situation, who are your prospects going to believe? The guy in the rumpled suit or the guy whose shirt is pressed, shoes polished and handshake firm? Likewise, a rumpled and amateurish white paper will not engender trust.

Here are five design guidelines for creating highly functioning and trustworthy white papers:

  1. Keep it readable: Readability is created by a combination of design tactics that take your specific content and audience into account.

    Choice of typeface is top on the list. While all computers have Arial available, a smarter choice for readability of long passages would be a face with a larger x-height. For example, for readability of lengthy white papers on screen, Verdana or Georgia are two excellent options. For readability on paper, Myriad Pro or Garamond may work well. Serif typefaces are usually more readable than sans serif, but you also have to weight that difference with your brand’s needs. Of course, there are thousands of typefaces available and your corporate brand style guide may also govern the ones you use.

    Bigger is not always better when it comes to sizing type. That said, there are many designers who adhere to the school of tiny type. Use a designer who understands the nuances of type size as it relates to your content, writing style, typeface selection and most importantly, the needs or your target demographic. Striking the right balance in size means ensuring readers can easily read your paper without squinting and that your type isn’t so large that they can’t see the forest for the trees.

    Also consider line length and line spacing. Line lengths that are too short cause too much hyphenation and make reading a choppy venture. Lines that are too long make it difficult for the mind’s eye to track from the end of one line to the beginning of the next. To optimize reading speed, designers have for years been using the 66-72 characters per line rule. Generally speaking, this rule continues to work very well but again, is dependent on your white paper’s specific needs. Papers with lots of very long words may require a slightly longer line length. Just try reading a James Joyce novel with a short line length—painfully slow.

    Line spacing also affects the ability of the mind’s eye to read quickly. Spacing that is too much or too little will slow the reader down, getting your message embedded later rather than sooner. Line spacing is also interdependent on typeface selection and average word length.

    Keeping your white paper readable at maximum warp speed is a fine balance between many factors.

  2. Look professional: Good design will pre-sell your white paper and ultimately, you.

    Not realizing this and acting on it will place you in the league of second bests or the do-not-consider group. It’s really not any different than showing up at an interview in a freshly pressed suit, shoes polished, hair in place, teeth clean and nails trimmed.

    Likewise, if your white paper looks like it was created in Microsoft Word, it will compete poorly against a competitor’s paper that is branded, polished, neat and professional. There are many design nuances that Microsoft Word or Publisher lack but a good designer trained in traditional typographic techniques can provide.

  3. Be interesting: Being lively and interesting will get you more attention than the party bore.

    Don’t think that the term ‘white paper’ means you can’t use color or interesting graphics. White paper doesn’t refer to the overall design of your paper, and you’re doing your brand and your customer or prospect a disservice by not making your paper visually interesting.

    Now I don’t mean embellish your paper with fancy dingbats and doodads that don’t add value. Good design is not about decoration. Make sure all your graphics are working hard for the content and/or the brand image. And do something to stand out. Don’t be boring.

  4. Design for the distribution method: Good white papers will be shared digitally among peers.

    If your white paper is being distributed via email, be careful to adhere to the email marketing laws in the country of distribution, don’t use spam triggers, do apply permission-based marketing techniques and make it easy to share by including forward links.

    If your paper is a downloadable PDF, recipients are more likely to print it before reading. So make sure you design it to be most readable printed from an inkjet printer.

    If you are professionally printing your paper for snail-mail distribution, you must also consider the paper stock used and ideally, make sure it is ballpoint or pencil ready with healthy margins for jotting notes.

  5. Pay attention to details: If God and the devil are both in the details, then this is where you’d better spend some time.

    We all know of HR people who throw away any resumes with typos, punctuation and grammar errors. It’s one way to narrow the field to the real professionals. Ditto with thought leadership and design. If you don’t look buttoned up in terms of details, how will prospects trust you with the details of their business?

In terms of white paper design details, look out for these common mistakes:

  • Ditch those double spaces between sentences. It affects reading speed and isn’t necessary since we no longer use typewriters.
  • Be consistent with periods and commas. If you’re using a serial comma, stick with it.
  • Don’t break proper nouns at the end of a line, especially if the line length is long.
  • Watch for too many hyphenations, which also slow reading and just look like you don’t care.
  • Keep your bullets closer to their text than the line below them.
  • Use a grid to align your content perfectly so nothing looks out of place.
  • Consider balance of elements on a page. Look for triangulation of weight.
  • Use styles to keep content consistently formatted.
  • Use color appropriately and don’t overuse. This isn’t a flea market.
  • Consider how your document will be printed and if on an office inkjet, make sure key content doesn’t exceed printer margins.
  • Align table columns appropriately for the content. Align decimals on the decimal, for instance

Skimpy Investments Deliver Skimpy Results.

Ultimately, good white paper design is about taking care of your prospects, making it easy for them to consider you. Yes, it’s a larger investment, but if that’s what gets you moved to the head of the pack, then that’s what you must do.

Remember, looking the part and being easy to understand shortens the distance to being considered a thought leader.

By Julia Moran Martz

Upcoming Newsletter Topics.

November 11, 2009

Just a few of the topics we’re working on for future newsletters:

  • Thought Leadership Series Part II: White Papers
  • Thought Leadership Series Part III: Seminars/Webinars
  • Thought Leadership Series Part IV: Social Media
  • Using research to improve your bottom line.
  • Choosing the right personalization strategy.

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