A few months ago, during a coaching call, one of my students said about White Papers…
“But that’s not copywriting!” And I said, “Oh, but yes… it is!”
Over the years I’ve seen much confusion over White Papers and their role in the marketing process, among new copywriters.
So this post is meant to clear up some of that confusion and set the record straight.
I believe some of the confusion started back in the early days of the Internet. As memory serves, (and by his own recounting), copywriter Mike Stelzner was in panic mode when a recession hit and he found himself with a family to support and no money coming in.
But he had an idea. If he wrote a White Paper on how to write White Papers, that might bring in some leads, since… well… that’s the job of a White Paper.
He knew that, of course, because he had written White Papers.
Back in those days the Internet was not as littered as it is today and the early adopters like Mike Stelzner cleaned up.
So a lot of people bought Mike’s guide on how to write White Papers, including me (even though I was not clueless… I had written White Papers for clients myself).
But many of Mike’s buyers had never written a White Paper before, and because of that, they thought that Mike’s way of writing White Papers was the only way to write a White Paper. And many also thought that if you write White Papers, that’s all you do is write White Papers.
Well, here’s the reality.
There are many ways to write White Papers. It depends on the niche you’re writing for, and what you think will do the job, as copywriter.
Mike’s guide was excellent. But it was just one way. I know this because I’ve written successful White Papers myself for large companies in the technology and financial niches. And I’ve guided the creation of hundreds of White Papers targeting Marketing Directors. Very few look like Mike’s.
So Mike supplied his view of a well done White Paper, and indeed he did a great job of showing how it could be done to best advantage. He greatly influenced the copywriters of that day.
Then one day Mike saw an opportunity in the “new” social media and went on to create Social Media Examiner and copywriter Gordon Graham stepped into White Paper guru status with his new White Paper for Dummies book. Of course, it promotes Gordon‘s brand of best practices for White Papers.
So that’s a little history on White Paper influencers since the Internet entered the picture.
And during this time I have found myself often correcting (or modifying), the perceptions of my copywriting students on the subject of White Papers.
The biggest misconception I find is that White Papers are not really “copywriting.” With this new wave called “content,” White Papers have lost some of their power with a simple name change. Here’s how I see it:
White Papers are “content” if you don’t expect them to get a direct lead.
If you do expect a White Paper to get a direct lead then it is direct marketing copywriting.
Here’s what I think throws copywriters off: The tone of a White Paper is closer to “journalist” than “carnival barker” because the target audience is business and not consumers. Somehow new copywriters think that a “soft sell” is not copywriting.
Yet the work that goes into a White Paper is very strategic. To create a successful White Paper, the copywriter needs to know deeply and truly the pain of a target audience. From there, it could take days to come up with the best possible title… and make no mistake… it’s the title that brings the lead.
A White Paper writer needs to have a deep understanding of the product, which is sometimes complex. They need to overcome potential objections, work with psychology, and influence decision-makers who viciously guard their time.
Notable, however, is the Call to Action. In a White Paper it’s incredibly subtle. And here’s why. The paper itself is so damn convincing — or should be — that you don’t need to beat the reader about the head in order to get a positive impression that opens them up to the next step in the sales process.
Yes… the job of a White Paper is enormous and in the space of lead-generation, should be seen as King. And the copywriter who wrote it should be equally revered, and White Paper pricing reveals that they are!
So the take home on this is… White Papers are direct response copywriting and deserve more respect than some of today’s copywriters give them.
The second thing I want to say about White Papers is something I’ve wanted to say for a long time, and that is that you can be a White Paper writer… or you can do it all.
What I mean by that is that in my copywriting career, I would write the whole campaign. Clients would come to me and say, “I need more leads.” And we would plan a campaign. But I would always look at their bait piece — their White Paper — with a very critical eye.
After all… it’s the offer — the White Paper — that brings in the leads, right? And if I’m to do a better job of bringing in the leads, I need to assess the White Paper.
Most of the time the client’s White Paper was weak. They didn’t do enough research to understand their prospect’s pain. Or they jumped on the latest marketing trend as a topic, without considering its relevance. Or they paid $10,000 or $20,000 to Forrester® Research to write a paper just to get the prestigious name into their marketing.
My point is that I have never come to the copywriting business as a “White Paper” writer. I have always come to the business as “direct response copywriter” who can get leads or sales.
And therefore I get all the business. I get the concepting… the sales letter… the landing page… the postcard… the direct mail package… the emails, the autoresponder… and I get the White Paper.
What I want you to know is that if you feel you are most comfortable as a journalistic writer, then you might do best as a “White Paper” writer, like Mike or Gordon.
But you don’t have to become a “White Paper” writer in order to write White Papers. You can specialize in lead-generation if you like writing White Papers, and scoop up all of the other work that comes with it.
Got an opinion? Disagree with anything I say? Or can you add to the narrative? If so, please comment!
© 2016 Chris Marlow, All Rights Reserved
P.S. — In the Marlow Marketing Method™ for Copywriters Client Acquisition Course, which is located in the S.S. Treasure Hunt membership site for fast-moving copywriters, there is detailed instructions on how to write a White Paper that lands clients… plus examples of winning work done by other copywriters who came before!