Internet Marketing: Confessions of a ‘White Paper’ Junkie

    March 8, 2006

I’m a sucker for a good white paper.

When I’m researching something online, and I see a link or menu item marked “White Papers,” I undergo a predictable Pavlovian response: “White paper? Yes please! Where do I sign up?”

So What’s a White Paper?

White papers used to be exclusive to scientific and engineering fields. When a new finding was discovered, it was often published in a white paper. But now white papers have entered the marketing mainstream. Today, many companies (especially in the high-tech B2B sector) use white papers to educate prospects about topics pertaining to their products or services.

I download white papers about Internet marketing, search engine optimization, new software … you name it. I download white papers about white papers, but don’t think too hard about that one or your head will explode. I even have a special Hotmail account set up for my white-paper-harvesting habits.

White Papers and Internet Marketing

Why do I download so many white papers? I’ll tell you. And if you’re a savvy Internet marketer, you’ll immediately see the opportunity in this.

When it comes to improving my business, I’m an information junkie. There isn’t a twelve-step program in the world that can cure me of that. I read three or four articles every day and spend about two hours online — researching, reading, and, of course, hunting for relevant white papers.

And here’s what it means to you as an Internet marketer. If you’re selling a product or service related to my areas of interest, you could capitalize on my desire to learn about those areas. With a little effort, you could have me (and thousands like me) reading your message with rapt attention.

What Makes a White Paper Worth Reading?

Don’t just throw together a bunch of old news and call it a white paper, in hopes of capturing leads. Don’t repurpose the company brochure and call it a white paper. Instead, focus on putting new and helpful information into the piece.

I may leave your website, and I may ignore the emails you send to my alternate email address, but there’s a magic moment in every white paper experience where the author has my undivided attention…

What happens from there depends on the white paper’s content:

* If it’s an outright sales pitch, I’ll probably delete it.

* If it’s helpful information, I’ll probably read it and save it.

* If it’s relevant, helpful information — with clearly described value and an effective call-to-action — I’ll probably read it, save it, and act on it in some way.

In the latter case, I might return to the site to learn more about the subject. Or who knows, maybe I’ll even call or email directly … with my real email address. The point is that white papers, when expertly prepared, can educate readers into the company’s favor.

Qualities of a good white paper:

* It educates before trying to sell anything.

* It’s objective during the educational stage.

* It’s well developed and thorough.

* It provides information that can help the reader in some way.

I’m a white paper junkie. So are a lot of “information shoppers.” Use this to your advantage by offering white papers full of helpful content. Educate first, and sell second.

* Copyright 2006, Brandon Cornett.

Brandon Cornett manages the Software Learning Center, a holy shrine for software geeks looking for independent software advice. Online at: