White papers are the most sought-out and influential content for B2B software Customers, as explored in Part 1. But most B2B software vendors have failed to deliver the white papers that their potential customers would like to use to help with decision-making buying cycles.
Part 2 covers the approach vendors can take to create the “new” white paper as an important part of content marketing strategies.
White Papers and Content Marketing Strategies
Potential buyers visit B2B corporate websites with the intent of finding all kinds of information that will help with purchase decisions. Buyers also look for vendor information on other web venues. It is critical for any vendors who see web presence as a key to success to build a strategy for content marketing. A content marketing strategy for B2B software vendors should focus on providing relevant, compelling, and frequently updated information for target markets and customers/buyers. A high quality white paper is a significant business asset for content marketing: quality content holds its value for reusability, engagement, impact, and vendor credibility.
Adam Needles: Content marketing is the architecture behind information exchanged with the buyer before we can get them to ’sales ready’; it is the rationalization of what content that our prospective buyers need at various stages of the buying cycle and via what media and channels; and it is integral to the nurturing process. Content thus has moved from tactical to strategic.
Many B2B software vendors could benefit greatly from buildin a content marketing strategy around white papers. Don’t just produce single white papers in a reactive fashion, as a product launch checklist item done in a hurry. Plan, create and publish excellent white papers well in advance of any product launches. B2B software vendors should be publishing white papers with high frequency (since customers want shorter white papers): set the stage for what your company does now and will do in future. Show authentic thought leadership, clear understanding of various customer needs and real problem-solving.
Publishing sets of “companion” white papers is a good idea for vendors targeting buyers with different perspectives such as business and tech buyers, and biz-tech composites. Some white papers can be created to bridge the gap between business and tech, to encourage collaborative definition of needs and problem-solving. Series of white papers that break down a complex topic can be an interesting approach as well. These approaches will show vendor commitment to helping customers understand current technology trends as well as provide guidance for solving problems or for becoming more competitive.
Beyond publishing great white papers is the opportunity for vendors to engage customers in conversations through social media, wherever customers participate. There already is a social aspect to downloaded white papers – customers have a high rate of sharing white papers. Tap into social media for interactive conversations with potential buyers and industry writers. On download pages include links to communities and forums to encourage discussion. Schedule Tweetjams for topics covered in white papers. Comment on blogs that address the topics of vendor white papers, not to directly promote the white paper, but to add to the brainstorm and show command of the topic.
The Right Industry Professional to Create White Papers for B2B Software Vendors
Keeping in mind that customers have made clear that they want high quality content with extensive tech details, it would make sense to work with a software industry professional with strong tech experience, business smarts, and who can articulate complex ideas clearly and authentically. This would be a professional who has worked with customers, understands both business and tech, has the ability to hold the interest of these readers. And of course, this professional has to be a really good writer.
White papers will benefit from a professional who has decent smarts for several software solution categories and who has good hands-on experience on the tech side of software. The business-technology professional should contribute rich insight, produce creative content and original thinking, see unexpected connections and future trends. Direct customer experience enhances an understanding of how tech will help customer competitiveness, and will enable writing from the customer POV.
Another very useful attribute of the right professional would be one who is inter-connected to individuals throughout the software industry: analysts, practitioners, consultants, writers, vendors. A professional who is in constant conversations with other industry SMEs will be up-to-date on key topics and trends, and will have resources at hand for research and confirmation. Quality white papers will result if the professional regularly writes software industry-related articles and blog posts, participates in new product briefings from various vendors and start-ups, and continually monitors several software solution spaces. A business-technology professional who is well-connected in social media can also provide guidance to vendors for content marketing strategies that target white papers and social media.
The ‘New’ White Paper
- Reflecting studies cited: high quality and accurate content, plenty of deep details (tech / business), 8 pages or less which engenders content that is tight, engaging, well-written, inspiring
- Often written from the customer POV, using customer language
- Covers trends that matter: new solution segments – transitions of solutions
- Real takeaways that benefit customers whether they buy the vendor solution or not - vendor is associated with insight to solving problem, doing things in new way that is useful
- Inform, educate at sophisticated level to provide real depth
- Create companion white papers when different customer roles come into play for the topic (business, tech, hybrid/composite)
- Passion in the treatment: blogging has shown that writing about software solutions is more engaging if the writer inserts personality into the work – apply this to white papers when appropriate
- Provoke thought about the solution space: new thinking for addressing needs; provoke desire to find out more; provoke a conversation that will lead back to the vendor
- Look into employing variety of buyer scenarios to connect customers to relevance of topic
- Infographics, tech details, guidelines, suggested reading, links to other resources (not necessarily on vendor site) – all add to value in buyer eyes
- Format for readability, flow, quick-scanning, engagement
- Publish on the distributed web – not just on corporate site but share on sites frequented by buyers
- Stir the pot: encourage social media conversations through blogs, Twitter, forums, communities, Facebook; also actively contribute comments on relevant blogs
- Not self-serving brochure-ware solely touting vendor offering – but can address issues that matter to buyers that generally could be solved with vendor’s offering