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Reinventing the Whitepaper

The mother of all marketing content, the whitepaper, has been a staple of technology marketing for decades. Whitepapers used to be written by technical people for technical people to explain complex ideas. Or they were written by thought leaders to introduce new ideas and solutions.

Both of those styles have their merit, but there is a whole new approach to whitepapers that educates and engages prospects without putting them to sleep.

There Are No Rules
In the past, guidelines for whitepapers included suggested page counts and organizational structure. They all looked pretty much the same, stifling creativity.

As it turns out, there are no white paper police. You can do anything you want. Creativity released!

There Are Best Practices
While the floodgates are open to creativity, there are still ingredients that will make your whitepaper more effective.

  • Know your audience. Clearly define your target reader. Whitepapers should not try to be all things to all people. Focus on one topic that is important to your defined prospect.

  • Write for scanability.  Reading habits have changed. People scan pages looking for information that is relevant to their interest. Use descriptive subheads to help people hone in on the subjects that matter to them.

  • Use graphics. Help your reader "see" what you are writing about. Visual clues, like icons, can help the reader find applicable content just like subheads. Have fun with it -- your readers probably have a sense of humor, too.

  • Call out important numbers. Big charts are impressive and show you have done your homework, but can be hard to comprehend quickly. Highlight important findings to guide your reader.

  • Keep it short. Whitepapers don't have to be long to be valuable.

Educate, Don't Sell
Since the purpose of the whitepaper is to educate your reader, the content is clearly the most important factor. Tell your reader that you understand the problem he or she is facing and then explain the solution. Keep it simple and keep it educational.

Take a New Approach
Now the fun part. Once you have your content, you can focus on presentation. Some of the new approaches to whitepaper design include:

  • Use PowerPoint as the medium. If you can really abbreviate your message, PowerPoint can be a very effective way to present the information.

  • Think about wide-screen users. For people who are reading documents on their desktop or laptop, a landscape-formatted document takes less scrolling than portrait.  Don't go more than 100 characters per line for readability, though. Use the wide margin for quotes and graphs.

  • Add infographics. Mix in graphic depictions of the information you are presenting to add interest. Excel is a great tool for making engaging charts and graphs.

Whitepapers can be valuable components in your marketing content arsenal. Compelling evidence for your prospects, they set you apart as an expert. Without any whitepaper police to worry you, the possibilities are limitless.

How are you using whitepapers to demonstrate your expertise? Add a comment below, or send me an e-mail and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on June 28, 2012


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