**Updated for 2018
There's a wealth of information out there on how to write compelling white papers. It's somewhat harder to find information on how best to integrate them into your sales and marketing efforts.
When used properly, a white paper can be a powerful addition to your content arsenal, helping to draw potential customers through your sales funnel. But modern marketers aren't always clear on how to do this. Where exactly does the white paper fit in?
Prospects need different types of content at various stages. Some forms of content are best suited to attract visitors, while others are more appropriate for nurturing leads. Still others are perfect for nudging them over that last hump before making a purchase.
When potential buyers have identified their problem and are now shopping around for the best solution, they’re most likely to appreciate the deep dive — authoritative, educational, non-promotional content that helps them figure out what to do next.
There is no better content asset than the white paper to meet that need.
According to the DemandGen Report – 2017 Content Preferences Survey, white papers remain one of the most valued content assets for your buyers. More than three-fourths of survey respondents said they are willing to exchange information about themselves for white papers — more than for eBooks, case studies, analyst reports, podcasts, or infographics.
Not only does offering a high quality white paper bolster your lead generation, but it can directly influence your sales as well. More than half the respondents to the Eccolo Media B2B Technology Content Survey reported reading a white paper before making a buying decision.
This data suggests that white papers provide huge opportunities. Thorough, engaging white papers serve to both lure more people into the decision stage of your buyer's journey and to encourage readers to make a purchase.
Needless to say, the effectiveness of your white papers and their ability to drive conversions will largely depend on their quality. With so much on the line, you cannot afford to cut corners with text-heavy, static PDFs. A better option is to go interactive.
Despite their continued widespread use, PDF is quickly becoming a legacy format. As more users engage with your site via their phones, mobile-first design becomes increasingly important. While web developers have adapted to this trend, producers of gated content assets (like white papers) generally have not.
A PDF's inability to accommodate responsive design makes it virtually useless to an increasingly large segment of your visitors.
Frankly, it's astonishing that so many websites still offer downloadable PDFs considering they're so difficult to consume on mobile devices. But the reality is that many businesses are unaware of PDF alternatives.
Another glaring limitation of PDF is that they cannot be measured or tracked. Once a user has downloaded a PDF, you cannot see how (or whether) they engaged with it, and thus gain no useful insights for improving your content.
Interactive, digital white papers overcome both of these limitations — they display perfectly on any device and can be used together with measurement tools like Google Analytics.
In addition, they offer a wealth of other features to help you capture and maximize the return on your investment, some of which we'll introduce below.
Personalizing content for your readers and their specific interests makes it more relevant and engaging. Our own customers have seen readers spend 22 percent more time with content that’s been personalized.
Readers already share their information with you to access your white paper, either by filling out a form or using social login. You can then use the information they provide to enrich your content.
With interactive white papers, not only can you address readers by name, but you can also show or hide particular sections of your white paper based on each reader's industry or job title as listed on LinkedIn. Increasing relevance on a per-reader basis with hyper-personalization can drastically improve the effectiveness of your white paper in generating sales.
As attention spans continue to dwindle, modern content consumers prefer to interact with visuals more than with text. Some studies have even demonstrated that the human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text. This has big implications regarding how you present key information in your marketing assets.
In an analysis of 650,000 articles, software company Sumo found that the average consumer reads only about 25% of an article's text. According to BuzzSumo, visual content is more likely than any other type of content to drive engagement, get shared and result in action.
With more people simply skimming over pages and scanning for salient information, it's essential that you communicate your value proposition as quickly as possible — and the best way to do this is with visual content.
Interactive white papers allow you to incorporate many more types of media than were possible with PDFs, including videos and animations. Embedding relevant photography, video, and other creative content into your white papers helps retain readers’ attention and allows you to communicate your key messages more effectively.
A common reason for not achieving success with a piece of content — whether it be a white paper, a blog post, or something else — is that marketers fail to strike the right balance between production and promotion. Often, most of the work is put into producing the content and then too little attention is paid to executing a successful distribution strategy.
This is unfortunate. After all, what good is your white paper if no one sees it? As it turns out, the most important step in content creation isn’t the creation itself but the distribution.
For effective distribution to happen, you need to mobilize every reader with whom you forge a connection. There’s only so much distribution you can do yourself.
Two factors determine the extent to which your audience will participate — and both are within your control. First, your white paper needs to be exceptional. It needs to be something that's worth sharing. Second, you need to make it extremely easy for your readers to share.
PDFs are neither exceptional, nor are they easy to share. They can be sent via email (in which case you lose track of distribution), but they are not designed for social platforms.
Interactive white papers, on the other hand, can incorporate built-in sharing options that allow readers to post your content directly to social platforms. Visitors that come via these links are then confronted with the same access control, meaning you can continue to capture lead information.
The biggest mistake content marketers make is using the “spray and pray” method, failing to set measurable goals. With interactive white papers, you can get more granular information about engagement and reader behavior than ever. Make sure to take advantage of that opportunity.
As you gather data about how users engage with your white paper, you gain the insights you need to make it more effective in driving leads further through your sales funnel.
Some great examples of measurable goals are what percentage of your readers you expect to make it through your entire white paper, the average time you expect them to spend on each page, and what links or calls-to-action they click within the white paper.
After setting these goals and distributing your content, measure your performance using Google Analytics and update your content based on the insights you’ve gathered. This process of collecting data and continually optimizing is what leads to higher and higher ROI — something that was never possible with PDFs.
With the abundance of online content continuing to grow at a rapid pace, today's internet users are extremely selective about where they invest their attention. Acquiring visitors and successfully drawing them through your funnel requires remarkable content.
As a marketer, interactive white papers give you the opportunity to impress, persuade, and convert right when prospects are closest to making a purchasing decision.
See some amazing examples of what interactive white papers look like.
Learn how to create stunning white papers yourself with a free Instant Magazine trial.