I've long advocated practicing thought leadership by giving away free information in the form of articles, talks, email newsletters, etc. Lately, I've become especially intriqued with the potential of white papers as a marketing strategy to attract hot prospects to your web site, and ultimately your products and services.
White papers got their start as a governmental reports created to outline and advocate a particular policy. Since then, they have become common vehicles among businesses to educate prospects by appealing to their need for information related to particular needs, and to help them solve problems.
Today, a "white paper" can take many forms; increasingly, white papers are downloadable pdf files that serve as online "bait pieces." When done correctly, a white paper can not only serve as the vehicle for a thought leadership marketing strategy, but can attract prospects via search engines and other online channels.
Here's a few snippets of Michael Stelzner's excellent article How White Papers Can Turbo-Boost Your Lead-Generation Campaign:
Because they are pulled into the company by prospects, white papers have the ability to linger and travel around the business, persuading along the way. It's not uncommon for a well-written white paper to travel across the desks of dozens of people in a single company. Well-written white papers are proven prospect magnets.
The key to generating leads with white papers is for the content to avoid a hard-sell. This means avoiding the mention of your company or product in the first half of the white paper. When prospects begin to sense they are being sold to, the white paper shifts from being a valuable resource to just another marketing message.
As with any effective marketing strategy, white papers are most effective when they are created and aimed at a well defined target market.
As Stelzner says,
"white papers are akin to super-powered magnets that can easily attract leads outside the company Web site. To draw a visual picture, imagine attempting to fish for tuna in only two feet of water. You might actually draw something near the shore, but big fish live in much deeper waters. Your white paper needs to be where the fish are."