Learn why you should consider using white papers in your marketing and what it takes to write one
Are you selling pricey items to green industry businesses like landscapers, greenhouse growers, nurseries or garden centers? Do you have a white paper to explain some of these products?
If not, you’re missing one of the most cost-effective ways to generate leads, nurture prospects, and close sales.
A white paper is different from an ad, flyer, or web page that merely sells a product. A white paper is a 6- to 8-page document that uses facts and logic to explain a B2B product or service. Buyers read them to keep up with the industry and research the details of a big-ticket item they’re considering.
Photo courtesy of Stano Landscaping
Items worthy of a white paper represent a sizable investment for these companies and include things like the latest UTV’s, skid steers, greenhouses, automated trimmers, fertilizer injection systems and tracking software.
How can you tell whether your business could profit from a white paper? Ask yourself these questions: are you selling something relatively new, relatively complex, or relatively expensive? If you answered “yes” to two or more of these questions, you can likely benefit from a white paper.
White papers may also be used to detail products that would represent a significant change (and a sizable investment) in operations for a green industry business, such as switching to a different fungicide, fertilizer, growing medium, or even a new type of growing container.
“No other marketing tactic works as hard or lasts as long as a white paper,” declares Gordon Graham, a copywriter who has specialized in this format since 2005. “Unlike the short lifespan of an ad in a magazine or on TV, a white paper can be embedded in your website, where it remains available for prospective buyers around the clock for several years.”
White papers don’t have to stay on a website and collect dust: they can be distributed by e-mail, around the internet, and to your targeted audience via social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. They can also be sent to a printer so you have them to offer at trade shows and conferences.
And a white paper is fairly easy to recycle into other forms: a press release, blog posts, opinion piece for an industry journal, slide deck, presentation or speech.
White papers need not be dull affairs. The writing can be lively and studded with facts and quotes, just like a magazine article. These documents can be produced by a graphic designer who gives them a slick look, with your company logo, colorful graphics, and product photos.
The Essence of a White paper
White papers are for informational purposes only and are not a sales letter, advertisement, sales pitch, or case study. If there is any hint of a sales pitch in a white paper it may actually have a negative effect on the prospective buyer. An effective white paper walks a thin line, making a persuasive argument to sell a product, service, or solution without actually making a sales pitch to buy the item.
At the top of the sales funnel, a white paper can draw in fresh prospects interested in your product and prepare them to take the next step in the sales process.
If you think it may be hard to stay impartial when writing a white paper, or you might be unduly pressured by your superiors, you can farm it out to a professional copywriter who can remain more impartial. A copywriter experienced in writing white papers knows the ins and outs of producing and marketing a white paper.
There are three approaches to creating a white paper, as explained by Graham in his easy-to-understand book, called (you guessed it!) White Papers for Dummies.
This is a cut-and-dry description of a product. It details the benefits of the product, such as using a UTV to save labor costs. Features, such as carrying space, size of tires, and horsepower would be covered in a pretty matter-of-fact way with only a hint of persuasion. A backgrounder for a greenhouse would delve deep into its construction, including the bows and purlins, covering, heaters, and fans. Likewise, a backgrounder for an automated trimmer for cannabis growers would detail the strength of the blade and specs of the motor and other moving parts.
The numbered list
A numbered list is just what it suggests: a list of points, tips or questions about some issue or product. A green industry white paper of this type could list the features of a piece of equipment, such as a skid steer. Or it could list the pros and cons of using a fungicide or insecticide on a particular plant or crop. A numbered list is easy for a reader to skim through, catching the most important details in an accessible way. A numbered list is best for nurturing existing prospects, or simply generating noise and getting your company recognized. The only shortcoming: a numbered list may lack the deep details the reader is looking for, details those folks in procurement want to see before making a recommendation.
A problem/solution white paper shows how a green industry business can solve a common problem. For instance, if accurately scanning shipping carts has become a problem, this type of white paper can describe the problem and then detail how their software provides the solution. Or perhaps there is a new insect in the environment that is hard to control, such as the emerald ash borer. This type of white paper could detail how a new trunk injection product can eradicate this insect.
A problem/solution white paper is best for generating fresh leads.
What is takes to write a white paper
There are three stages of putting together an effective white paper: Planning, production, and promotion.
Your own marketing team should handle the first and last stages. The middle stage is where the research is assembled, the content is written, and the final document is produced. This stage is often outsourced to a professional writer who can work without “writer’s block” or procrastination, and can avoid the most common pitfalls in these complex projects.
To succeed, every stage takes cooperation and collaboration. The challenge is to get everyone on board to offer their expertise. This could include engineers, product managers, and sales reps working in the field. A professional writer will help facilitate this collaboration.
There is no set page count for a white paper, although most contain 6 to 8 pages of content, plus front and back matter like the cover, table of contents, conclusions, about the company, and sources that can push them to 10 or 12 pages.
The important thing is to include all of the pertinent information the potential buyer needs to make their decision.
A white paper can contain photos, charts and graphs. Because the product you’re selling represents a sizable investment for your buyer (you’re not just selling a few shovels) many prospects will be willing to spend time reading a fairly lengthy white paper.
Bottom line? A white paper is a hardworking, cost effective way to introduce new and/or pricey products to green industry businesses.
Stats: White papers are the favorite source for 64 percent of B2B buyers during the early stages of decision making, higher than any other type of marketing collateral.–Sirius Decision, 2010.
Neil Moran is a freelance writer/copywriter for the green industry and a graduate in horticulture from the University of Guelph. To grow your profits with a white paper or other written communication contact him at 906-322-4264, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org , or fill out a contact form on his website.