By Jonathan Kantor
Have you seen any of the commercials for the Dyson vacuum cleaner? In these segments, founder James Dyson demonstrates the unique properties of their Root Cyclone technology and why it is a better path to a cleaner carpet.
So in these commercials, is James Dyson educating you or selling you a vacuum cleaner?
The correct answer is BOTH.
In my opinion, it is possible to use a white paper to both educate a reader while explaining how a branded solution solves a specific business problem. This is the primary approach employed in the modern business white paper that has unfortunately been deemed a “sales” message.
But for many marketing professionals, associating the words “selling” and “white paper” in the same sentence is akin to openly belching at a Malibu cocktail party. This same contingent believes that once a solution is mentioned by name, it is considered a SALES message, permanently destroying both its educational potential and the credibility of the white paper.
Their alternative approach is to use a high-level, generic description of a solution without mentioning it by name. They believe this tactic is a more effective way of educating the reader and more in line with the traditional view of a formal white paper. From their perspective, a white paper can only build credibility by leaving a solution description as generic as possible.
So should you mention your product by name and thereby label your white paper as a sales tool, or instead provide a generic, high-level educational message that risks its subsequent lead-generation capabilities?
The answer to this conundrum lies with the accurate and orderly flow of information. Enclosed is my short list of suggestions that writers can employ that will achieve a paper’s goal of being an educational medium while building brand awareness for potential lead generation marketing:
1. Provide an accurate assessment of the specific business problem(s) – Before you can educate readers on the benefits of a specific solution, they need to know that you fully understand their specific pain points. White papers that jump right into a branded solution message without supplying any background information or a confirmation of a business problem are more likely to be perceived as an overt sales tool. Make sure your problem assessment is as detailed and accurate as possible and that it matches your customers’ experience.
2. Provide an accurate and detailed solution message that addresses the specific problem(s) – Like the Dyson vacuum cleaner, the white paper must explain how the solution solves the problem(s). White papers that drift from this one-to-one relationship are viewed as selling rather than educating. When this occurs, a white paper is more appropriately perceived as “marketing fluff.”
3. Support the branded solution message with additional educational aids – Visual aids such as concept and workflow graphics, bullets and tables enhance a white paper’s educational value. These visual elements allow the reader to quickly correlate a branded solution to the problem and provide greater value to the reader. This is one of many ways that you can more closely tie education to a branded solution, thereby convincing or “selling” the reader about that solution.
Education and selling don’t have to be two diametrically opposed concepts. Like everything else in life, the way in which you apply both the education and selling processes will determine the perception of your white paper and its ultimate level of success.
About the author: Jonathan Kantor is the principal of The Appum Group, also known as “The White Paper Company,” an organization specializing in business white papers. You can read his blog at http://www.WhitePaperPundit.com