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Diagnosis: Reimagining the Tried-and-True White Paper

Interactive white papers and video white papers are helping revive the reputation of the B2B marketing workhorse.

Some say the value of the B2B white paper is slowly eroding under the weight of its success. White papers were once the simple, functional, unfussy marketing tactic of B2B. These days, so many businesses are pushing out poorly conceived and unprofessionally written white papers that some marketers are questioning the format itself.

Recent research says otherwise. The B2B Content Marketing 2010 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends report revealed that 50 percent of marketers find white papers valuable. If you’re in technology, they’re even more important. According to the Eccolo Media 2010 B2B Technology Collateral Survey Report, 83 percent of technology buyers say “white papers were moderately to extremely influential in helping them make their final purchase decision.”

So, how can you create white papers that excite and influence your target audience?

One answer: Use technology to reimagine the classic white paper. Let’s explore two trends that are changing the way we think about this marketing tool.

Interactive white papers

Today’s buyers spend more time conducting their own research online before they contact a sales representative. They rely on content to gather information, gain corporate buy-in and make purchasing decisions. That’s why it’s vital to provide your prospects with information that addresses their concerns and encourages them to take the next step in the sales cycle.

Interactive white papers are emerging as a way for you to engage your audience, provide highly relevant content and stand out from your competition.

Here’s how they work …

A website visitor completes a form to request a white paper. The form may contain three to six questions about the visitor’s industry and role—not very different from the questions someone would answer to download a traditional white paper. Based on the visitor’s responses, however, the user will receive a customized white paper that focuses on his or her interests and concerns. For example, a white paper on B2B content marketing will contain different sections depending on whether the reader is the owner of a small business or a marketing director for a large corporation.

You can think of interactive white papers as the marketing version of “choose your own adventure,” where readers are in control of the content they want to explore.

“White papers are still the fuel that fires the marketing campaign,” says Tom Pisello, chairman and founder of Alinean, a company that develops interactive white papers. “However, many tend to be one-size-fits-all and too long. By adding interactivity, white papers can be shorter, more relevant and deliver the right content for their readers’ needs.”

Early adopters of interactive white papers report impressive results.

According to Alinean, its first campaigns have attracted 350 percent more prospects to a website and generated 120 percent more qualified leads than traditional white papers.

Ready to get started? Here are the top three things to consider when you develop an interactive white paper:

  1. As with any project, start by defining your goals. Do you want to attract more leads? Support prospects already in your sales funnel? Build your company as an expert in a particular area? Having clarity about what you’re trying to accomplish will inform the level of detail and customization you want to provide.
  2. Define the areas of customization you would like to achieve. Consider this from your audience’s perspective. What particular types of customization would be most valuable to your audience? For example, would your prospects prefer to be defined by company size? Role? Industry? All three? What sections of the white paper will you customize for each of these dimensions?
  3.  Scope out your project. Providing interactivity may mean that your overall scope of work is larger. Prepare yourself by creating a content storyboard for your “choose-your-own-adventure” white paper. The storyboard will likely have some sections shared among all readers and others that offer detours to provide more customized, relevant content.

Interactive white papers are still in their infancy, as marketers develop new ways to use them and maximize their ROI. In the future, they will include more multi-media, social functions and peer-support options.

Video white papers

Since white papers often address complex topics, adding video can make your messages easier to digest. Here’s how a video white paper works:

Viewers complete a short form embedded in the media player to access the video. Then, they can watch the video all the way through or jump to the most relevant sections. Links along the bottom of the player allow viewers to download a text version of the white paper, submit a question, complete a survey or share the content with their friends.

“A huge benefit of online video is the ability to track your results,” says Ann Roskey, vice president marketing and audience development, KIT digital, a provider of end-to-end video technology services. “You can see how long people watched and what segments they watched. This tells you how well you’re engaging your audience. You can’t get access to this information with a text-based white paper.”

Biomni, one of KIT digital’s clients, tracked the results of its video white paper and learned that the average viewer watched 81 percent of the content, and 76 percent of the viewers downloaded the text version of the white paper. These results suggest that video can engage your audience for longer periods, allowing them to learn more about your product or service than they would from a traditional white paper.

Video white papers are still a new concept, with marketers just starting to explore their possibilities.

“We’re always envisioning something new and exciting to do with the technology,” says Ginger Shimp, marketing director, SME marketing, SAP America Inc. “For example, we put together an interactive video for industries with 19 different segments. Branching technology guides prospects through a decision tree where they can explore solutions for either their own industry or a related one. We find that using video makes our message more entertaining and thus lowers the barrier to engage with SAP. The use of video is also more compelling and helps us capture our prospects’ attention.”