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One of the most powerful ways B2B marketers can attract qualified leads is by offering expertise in exchange for contact information. Whether you call the resulting deliverable a "report," an "e-book," or a "whitepaper," the net effect is the same: You build credibility and trust by creating valuable content your prospects respect.

Whitepapers have been with us for a long time. But innovations in printing and distribution—and even in the way we conceive of whitepaper content—have dramatically changed the game. Let's take a look at the ways we can bring color to the whitepaper—and multiply the impact of our efforts.

It's no longer linear, but modular

Traditionally, the whitepaper obeyed a formal model that presented a thesis, an executive summary, a persuasive "argument," and a conclusion followed by appendices of research and data.

If my primary purpose were to impress my college expository-writing instructor, I might be tempted to comply. But my real goal is to attract and hold the attention of busy prospects with short attention spans and a single question burning in their minds: What's in it for me?

That's why I prefer a modular approach that favors scanning: It allows readers to pick and choose the sections relevant to them, and it packages the content in small, standalone sections that have meaning in themselves—without requiring readers to absorb the entire paper end-to-end.

Hence the beauty of papers such as The Nine Noble Truths of Customer Experience. You don't care for six of them? Fine. But you might still find value in the other three. And that's enough. 

It's no longer a heavy entree, but a pu-pu platter

The traditional whitepaper gives you a lot to chew on—perhaps more than you can swallow. Today, few of us have an appetite for long, uninterrupted blocks of text.

The alternative? Format your work in bite-sized pieces. The text body of any section can be "tenderized" with subheads and bullets. Better still, you can accompany the main dish with smaller appetizers, such as these:

  • Pull-quotes framed in graphic boxes that reiterate important points from the text
  • Customer quotes relevant to the topic in the main body
  • Call-outs of relevant, "did you know?" type of statistics
  • Sidebars of real-life anecdotes or mini case studies that illustrate the main point
  • Illustrations, photos, charts, graphs that support your text

See this idea in action: 7 Savvy Practices for More Efficient and Effective Resident Screening

It's no longer dry, but rich and flavorful

Moses earned the right to speak from the mountaintop. But for the rest of us, the voice of commanding authority—the dry, distant tone affected by too many businesses—is a pretentious relic. Today's whitepaper breaks the mold in two important ways:

  • The tone can be conversational, informal, collegial. It's me to you. As if we're having a coffee and sharing terrific ideas sketched on the back of paper napkins.
  • The look is no longer confined to black text on white or beige paper. Innovative marketers are using design and illustration to create themes, attract attention, and complement written ideas.

Even if you choose not to download this e-book, I think you'll be impressed by the quality of its cover: St. Jacques Big 30 Benchmark Report on Franchise Marketing. 

It's no longer confined to paper, but open to PDF distribution

And that changes everything! Now that whitepapers are available electronically, they can be distributed online with ease. Once online, viral marketing via blogs and other social media resources can play a major role in getting the word out—and your whitepaper in the hands of thousands of readers.

Take a look at how Daniela Barbosa promoted her e-book on her blog. The Taxonomy Folksonomy Cookbook is content-rich and visually stunning, and it has attracted considerable, viral attention

It's no longer passive, but incorporates a call to action

Were you to download any of the whitepapers I've linked to in this article (and I hope that you read or see at least one), you would notice that none of them concludes with a traditional summary. Or, worse, that prevalent call-to-inaction, the notorious "for more information, call..."

Instead, each ends with a checklist that recites every distinct idea in the whitepaper and invites readers to ask themselves whether they're applying or using that idea within their own organizations. That concluding checklist serves three purposes:

  1. It's a reminder of the value of the whitepaper itself, of just how much the authors (the business behind the paper) gave generously of their expertise.
  2. It moves readers from the abstract realm of "best-practices" to the particulars of their organizations—to imagining the impact of these ideas (and, by extension, the author's business proposition) on their lives or companies.
  3. Most important, it gives the reader a reason to take the next step, a reason to call the company—to get answers and insights on specific issues and how they can change the reader's life or business.

Here's how one service provider concluded a topical book with an engaging call-to-action checklist: 8 Ways to Save on Freight and Fuel

It's no longer static, but interactive

Suppose you could imbed forms in your whitepapers that could survey readers, track reader involvement, and collect contact information—without imposing software downloads on either you or your readers? That's exactly what docmetrics does. 

Docmetrics is a Web-based service that eliminates the need for gated registrations that discourage prospects from downloading your papers. Instead, docmetrics puts forms inside your PDFs. You ask the questions. You set the rules. And docmetrics compiles and tracks the responses for you.

See how it works by downloading the whitepaper, Document Performance: The Missing Piece of Marketing Analytics

Get colorful

Whitepapers can be extraordinary tools for establishing authority and expertise. By adding new color to a tried-and-true tactic, you gain a more powerful way to generate leads, attract favorable media attention, and move prospects further along your sales pipeline.

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image of Jonathan Kranz

Jonathan Kranz is the author of Writing Copy for Dummies and a copywriting veteran now in his 21st year of independent practice. A popular and provocative speaker, Jonathan offers in-house marketing writing training sessions to help organizations create more content, more effectively.

LinkedIn: Jonathan Kranz

Twitter: @jonkranz