So, you’re thinking about writing a white paper? After all, Fall and Winter are the best time of year to write white papers! (Actually, there’s no white paper season. Their production tends to be driven by marketing budgets and product release schedules more than anything else.)
To Write In House or Not?
While it’s not the point of this article, you of course will want to think about whether you want to write your white paper in-house or not. While almost no one will know more about the subject than your staff, the chances are high that charging a full time staff person with writing a white paper will land it in the unfinished valley.
The Prep Is Almost The Same Either Way
Whether you do the writing in house or not, you will want your subject matter experts (SMEs) to prep for writing process in basically the same way.
Word Lions has written for both small and large players on both business and technical subjects and have helped construct a lot of persuasive content like white papers. Through that experience, we’ve learned that writing a persuasive write paper is based largely on:
- Resonance with the audience’s concerns. This means that the paper can convince them you have the solution to a pressing problem that they would like solved. It also means that when they read the paper they see themselves (their vernacular, their real-life concerns, and their thought patterns) mirrored in the content.
- Authority on the subject. This happens through both overt and subtle cues. The subtle cues are the precise, formal tone of the writing, and the relative formality and austerity of the visual presentation. The overt cues are content that prompts the reader to think, “Oh, I didn’t know that but I’m glad I do now!” or “Yes, that sounds right.” or “These people do know what they’re talking about.”
- Framing the discussion properly. This is relevant to all white papers, but especially to those that are making a competitive argument, like saying “you should buy Product ABC instead of Product XYZ.” My favorite easily-accessible example of framing is related to Apple’s iPhone product line. When the original iPhone was released, the dominant frame that defined mobile devices was that they were great telephones with a small amount of mobile computing ability added on, generally focused on email. The value proposition of the iPhone was in essence saying, “What you really want is a great multi-purpose mobile computer that also makes phone calls.” Apple was able to follow through on that framing argument by delivering a device that had a highly-usable interface, especially with respect to the mobile browser. Subsequent releases of the iPhone continue to expand the “great mobile computer that also makes phone calls” value proposition, and the entire mobile device industry was upended as a result.
SME Prep Strategies
The following are some critical points that your SME(s) should be prepared to talk with a white paper author about:
- Think about how you sell the product or service that is the subject of your white paper. How do you pitch it to people when time is short (the so-called elevator pitch), how do you counter their objections to the price or other common objections, etc?
- Think about the competition. What does your product or service offer that they do not? These are your product’s differentiators, and they can be very overt, like yours having features or benefits or a price advantage that the competition does not, or they can be subtle, like yours being easier to use or better-designed or the like.
- Think about benefits vs. features. A feature is something like “modular design with 1-on-1 followup sessions.” A benefit is “learn 20% more in 30% less time, with proven information retention and 20% better on-the-job performance,” for example. Features matter, but (substantiated) benefits ultimately sell. Benefits have a clear relationship to value, performance, and results. Read more about features and benefits here. So do spend some time thinking about the headline features of your product or service and especially about the product or service’s benefits.
- Think about real-world product performance. What do your customers tell you their needs are, how does the product actually satisfy those needs, and so forth.
We’re White Paper Geeks
If you’d like to talk more about white papers, please drop us a line. We love writing white papers and helping others with their white paper projects.
Written by Philip
If you wanted to guarantee that someone finishes what they started, how might you go about that?
I propose that you might make their payment contingent on their finishing the work. Payment on completion is a great idea, and it’s part of what makes hiring out certain kinds of work so damn efficient. (The other way to help a person or team finish a project is to set a public deadline, but that’s for another blog post.)
Full Time Employees and the Unfinished Valley
We love full time employees (FTEs). They’re the engine of the world economy, but one flaw with having FTEs do certain things–say like writing those three case studies you’ve been meaning to get out the door this quarter–is that they get paid whether they finish that task or not. In some cases this can dis-incentivize finishing stuff. Now if they don’t finish any tasks, they’ll probably get a ticket to the unemployment line, but it’s so easy for small tasks to get pushed down to the bottom of an FTE’s TODO list while they are handling other priorities.
It’s hard to see it while they’re in the conceptual phase and haven’t been written yet, but those case studies and other sales collatoral have real value. They can fill a sales funnel, or help turn prospects into customers.
We’ve found that a lot of content projects–especially those that have a technical component–tend to languish on the back burner. They get stuck in the “Unfinished Valley” because they are not the primary priority of your technical resources, and the marketing team is often overloaded with high-value strategic tasks.
Partner With a Finisher
What’s the solution to overloaded FTEs who can’t push those small projects up and out of the Unfinished Valley? You need a finisher. You need a company like Word Lions, with incentives (getting paid) that are 100% aligned with getting high quality, finished work into your hands
High quality content leads to sales. Don’t let yours languish in the Unfinished Valley. The summer is a great time to offload back-burner content development tasks to an experienced finisher. Contact us to see how we can help you finish those pieces of content that just don’t seem to be happening with your internal resources.
Written by Philip
Recently Word Lions presented a proposal to a relatively new client. We present proposals all the time, but this one frightened us a little bit.
After our internal review process for this proposal, Joel said, “we’re either going to blow their minds or blow their tops.” He was right. We were in the exciting but uncomfortable position of presenting something new and different to our client.
I think what made me uncomfortable about this is that our client hadn’t really asked for something new and different. They’d asked for a solution to a training challenge, and we’d done what we always do, which is try to look underneath what they were asking for to discover any deeper needs they hadn’t expressed.
In this particular case, our client requested a proposal for some fairly conventional elearning. We delivered that proposal, but we also delivered a proposal for some additional real-world interaction content that used game elements like playing cards and a score sheet. We felt strongly that this interaction content would address a vital need for more effective training than elearning alone could provide.
Ultimately, our client liked the idea, had some great feedback, and our fears about blowing tops were proved baseless. When I think about it, it seems like that uncomfortable excitement about presenting an idea might be a signal that we’re headed in the right direction; that we’ve done a good job of listening to our client and created a solution that delights rather than just satisfies.
Written by Philip
Did you know that most persuasive or educational content is not boring because of the subject matter? Often the development approach used to create that content takes what could be interesting, compelling content and makes it bland and ineffective.
The Lions have wrestled a lot with this issue, and to be honest, we’ve been commissioned to write quite a bit of content that ended up being bland and ineffective. We’ve learned a lot from these engagements, and we’re delighted to present our latest white paper, A Diversity of Specificity. In it we offer our antidote to the curse of bland content, which involves learning to use the ingredient of specificity in your content.
Download it now!
Written by Philip
Have you ever been at a social engagement and found yourself chatting with a new parent? It seems that no matter the topic, all that they can manage to talk about is their child:
“So they changed our garbage service”
“My child got into the garbage the other day. It was so gross and funny.”
“I heard the NBA strike is over”
“My son is in the 95th percentile of length. Even though he is 18 months old, I have a strong suspicion that he will be a baller.”
“I went to have my oil changed…”
“Baxter drools when he smiles for too long.”
Two years after starting Word Lions with Philip, I now empathize with that parent. Talking to me about anything other than content creation, instructional design, or running a small business is akin to trying to have a conversation with that new parent. Their baby always makes its way into the conversation—sometimes without a thread of relevance.
I have become a broken record, and I love it. I am so deeply thankful for my life and my work:
I am thankful that my work is to provide valuable, meaningful content for people who need it.
I am thankful that I can write for a living.
I am forever thankful that I can partner with the inestimable Philip Morgan.
I am thankful that together we are growing a company designed around our authentic selves. That when I am working I am able to be myself.
I am thankful that we prove every day work can integrate with life.
Growing Word Lions is not easy, but it is constantly interesting and meaningful.
When you talk to a new parent, and ask them how they are doing, they seem to always simply say
“I am tired. All the time.”
It seems unbearably difficult. Now, raising a business, I think I understand why new parents are smiling when they say that.
Written by Joel