How to use white papers effectively

White papers used correctly
are powerful marketing tools
White papers have emerged as a powerful marketing tool in recent years. Existing somewhere between sales literature and article, a well-done white paper provides useful background information on vital topics in an objective voice, creating an air of expertise, while allowing you to control the conversation and increase web traffic through viral distribution; packaging the information in pdf form, instead of incorporating it into your website, makes it easier to share and distribute.

I recently received a very effective white paper from ASI Sign Systems; their email caught my eye as I was cleaning out my inbox, itself no mean feat. The subject line was: "White Paper: The Benefits of Campus-Wide Wayfinding". Short, eye-catching, and effective for reaching people interested in wayfinding or educational design. The email was attractive and well-crafted:

ASI then took the most important step in white paper marketing - gathering contact information:

In addition to getting my name and email address they request company name and title, incorporating a level of prospect pre-qualification. Leads that do not match their profile can be ignored or de-prioritized. I have personal dislike for any use of Captcha, but this was at least easy to use and non-intrusive. Beyond that, my only concern is that there is not a box to opt-in to their e-newsletter, which means they either missed the opportunity to subscribe me, or they will auto-subscribe everyone. That course of action could alienate potential prospects, and get them in trouble.

The white paper itself was simple and attractive. At 6 pages, and most of that graphics, it was a quick read. The information was very top-level, making it useful for people just getting into the field. It defined key terms and issues in wayfinding. Reading between the lines, I am sure every topic relates directly to an ASI product offering. Despite that, it is presented in an objective, non-proprietary manner so I did not feel I was reading sales literature. The tone could be slightly more informational, but is within the correct range for this target audience.

The layout and graphic design reinforced the company's branding. It is clear this is an ASI document. And, crucially, at the end is an invitation to contact a representative for more in-depth training and information. 

All in all, very nicely done. A good model for effectively creating and using white papers to market your products.