(Editor’s note: Serial entrepreneur Scott Olson is president of MindLink Marketing. He contributed this column to VentureBeat.)
Every good marketing professional knows when it comes to Internet marketing; success depends upon high quality, original content. It’s critical to any number of goals, including search engine optimization (SEO), pay per click (PPC), sponsored links, newsletters, drip marketing and web click through and conversion.
Of all the web content available, white papers are the strongest in terms of conversion rates and value to the company. So how can you create a compelling marketing tool, that not only generates downloads, but engages the individual to read it and investigate what you have to offer? Simple: Make it narrative.
Far too often, corporate white papers read like boring technical manuals or patent applications. Though technology may be an important element of your company’s success, it’s not the key to a readable white paper.
Successful white papers depend upon telling a compelling story to your intended audience; a story that is uniquely relevant to the problems and obstacles they face in their business and how your product can uniquely solve it.
Marketers could learn a lot about crafting a compelling document by looking at guidelines for writing a novel. Camy Tang, an award-winning author, describes the five basic story elements for a successful novel in an article for suite101.com.
These elements are just as applicable to a successful white paper.
Introduce the main character – Remember, the main character in your white paper should be your prospect, not your company. This is one of the most frequent mistakes. You white paper needs to describe a scenario that your prospects can identify with personally. Your title and opening paragraphs need to reflect this.
Establish the situation of danger – If you don’t have any trouble, you don’t have a story. What compelling need is your product addressing? What problems are currently occurring and what are they costing the potential customer’s business? And what happens if this need isn’t met? This is usually the baseline for ROI analysis. I do a lot of work with security companies, so the danger is often very real. If you have a hard time with this part, it could be a good indicator that you have a technology in search of a market need.
Define the character’s external goal – What do your customers want to accomplish? Of course you want to address their goals, but you also need to paint a picture of their requirements. Do they need to do it without adding headcount? Are they lacking in time or a particular expertise? Is there a budget constraint that they must deal with?
Introduce the opponent – Your paper should address the situation that is working against your character/customer and should describe why this need hasn’t been met. Whether it’s a legacy technology or an internal process, something simply isn’t addressing the need and goals of your customer. In this area, the opponent may be an external factor – like a security threat or intense competition – or an internal reality like shrinking budgets, time, and staff.
Build to a specific climax – Here you make your case for your technology offering. Explain the key elements of your approach that allow this need to be met in a way that was not previously possible. This is a good place to lay competitive traps without naming competition. Explain the strengths and weaknesses of various approaches in achieving success with the approach you advocate in the spotlight.
These guidelines are applicable whether your audience is technical or business oriented. For most businesses, your white paper is about building credibility and influence with your potential customers. Ensure that you are writing for them and you will be on the path toward a happy ending.