White Papers For Dummies
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Tomorrow’s white papers will likely incorporate new media beyond text and graphics; they may even move beyond the paradigm of a fixed document into a flexible cluster of information accessed via the web or a mobile app.

No one can predict the exact timetable for this evolution. It will probably occur in fits and starts, with most companies making cautious forays into new territory, while a few plunge ahead to break new ground.

The quality of these efforts will also vary, with production values for each medium ranging from quite amateurish to very professional, just as they do today. Compare the fuzzy images and muffled sound of a teenager’s upload to YouTube with any clip from a big-budget feature film. Whatever the timetable and the standards, B2B marketers should get used to the idea of using animation, audio, video, and interactivity in the future. This chapter provides some ideas on how to gather and develop new media to add to white papers.

Adding interest with animation

An animation is a graphic where something moves to convey information. A common example is when each point of a slide flies in to build the final slide. The ultimate form of animation is a cartoon or full-length animated feature.

Because the human eye is sensitive to motion, adding movement to a static graphic can help make it more engaging. If motion can help tell a story or explain the key point of a graphic, consider using it. For example, in any type of flowchart or process diagram, an animation can convey information or material moving from one point to the next. And many infographics could be improved by a touch of animation to lead the viewer’s eyes through the wealth of information presented.

To see a relevant animation in action, visit VizEdu. This site is devoted to visual primers and provides many animations on different topics. You can see how simple an animation can be, yet how much impact it can add. You can also see that some animations work better than others.

Animation is underrated and underused in B2B marketing, perhaps because few artists are trained how to do it and few marketers visualize how it can improve a presentation. Certainly, few business people have the confidence or expertise to do business-quality animations on their own. Perhaps that will change in the future.

Engaging an audience with audio

The U.S Census Board says the average American spends almost an hour a day commuting to work. During that time, some people listen to music; others just relax and unwind. That time represents a huge potential for using audio with white papers.

For your audience members who drive to work, why not create an audio version of a white paper to download and listen to in the car? You could rewrite the white paper for the ear as a script and then have someone with training in acting, radio, or voiceovers record it. You could have the audio file available for download from the white paper landing page and promote it as a free podcast on iTunes.

For those commuting by train or bus — who can safely use mobile devices — why not add short clips of interviews or speeches as clickable sidebars right in the PDF they view on their screens? You could include audio clips from interviews the writer did with subject matter experts to research the white paper. Many writers record these interviews, so including these audio files would be a simple way to repurpose that content in a new and engaging way.

Capturing attention with video

Video is kind of “the mother of all media” because it can incorporate many other formats including animation, speech, sound, and music. You can use video effectively to complement a white paper in many ways.

The most basic is to add a talking head — some expert talking as a tiny picture-in-a-picture image — that elaborates on a single point. At the other extreme, a vendor can sponsor a documentary-style production that presents all the same material as the white paper does, but in a visually interesting way.

B2B vendors aren’t yet using video routinely in white papers, perhaps because there’s still a big gap in skills, confidence, and budgets. After all, how many marketing people have experience making video? That means hiring a scriptwriter, director, videographer, on-air talent, plus people to do lighting, makeup, costumes, and edit the video into a professional-looking production. Even if they know where to find people in all these specialties, how many marketers can afford a full-blown video production?

Just as the breakthroughs of desktop publishing took some years to percolate through every industry, the use of video in B2B marketing will take time to become common. Still, more companies are gaining experience with video every year, a trend that’s bound to continue, because it’s driven both by technology and demographics.

Following are some of the most likely ways to use video with a white paper:

  • Talking-head interviews

  • B-roll

  • Video executive summary

  • Video sidebars

  • Video conclusions

  • Complete video version of a white paper

Talking-head interviews

The most obvious place to start with video is to plunk down a camera in front of a company executive or subject matter expert, give him a few leading questions to get started, and then zoom in for a “talking-head shot.” If you use this format, choose someone with the discipline to stay on topic and express him thoughts in short, pithy statements.

When filming an interview, keep these pointers in mind:

  • Check the color of the suit, shirt, tie, or scarf worn by your on-air talent to make sure it doesn’t create a moiré (wavy) pattern or halo in your recording.

  • Get your expert talking and relaxed, perhaps by asking him a few generic questions at the start before you get into the meatier content.

  • Don’t use a teleprompter unless you’re dealing with a senior executive who’s used one and can read the text with conviction while looking into the camera naturally.


Although a talking head is easy to record, the results use none of the amazing possibilities of the medium. Video can present moving, color pictures of anything in the whole world, so why limit it to a talking head? One way to get beyond a talking head is to use stock video the same way you use stock photography. For example, alternate talking-head footage with B-roll video with a voice-over, just like in a local news broadcast. Or splice together bits of B-roll with charts, graphs, or slides that tell your story and dispense with the talking head altogether.

To find a useful B-roll source, Google “free video” or “free B-roll” or “B-roll sources” and turn up many sites that distribute free or low-cost video clips. You can pay anywhere from nothing up to several hundred dollars per clip, depending on your budget and the specific imagery you need. And don’t overlook government sites and agencies like NASA, which have a wealth of footage available as well.

Video executive summary

Another way to use video is to create a one- or two-minute video clip that covers the executive summary of a white paper and invites people to read it. This clip can be used as a promotional tool on YouTube to build downloads of the white paper and placed on the landing page to give visitors a quick preview of what the white paper content is all about. If desired, the video version of the executive summary can be included in the PDF as well. Then people who download the white paper can get started by watching a short video that “tells them what you’re going to tell them.”

Video sidebars

Another likely way to use videos in white papers is for brief sidebars that drill down to provide more detail on a particular point. These sidebars can be inserted on a page as a clickable frame, like the well-known YouTube screen. Some likely uses for these sidebars include

  • Analyst comments

  • Documentaries on identified problems or solutions

  • Product demos for software

  • Sample uses for hardware

  • Slides or animations to explain methodologies

  • Customer case studies or testimonials

Video conclusions

At the end of a white paper, the same person who provided the executive summary or welcome can offer a wrap-up and call to action. He can offer a more compelling conclusion and personally invite people to take the next step to engage with the vendor. You could show the company website or toll-free phone number during the call to action, but make sure to do so tastefully — not like in a blaring infomercial.

Complete video version

Another way to use video is to convert the white paper into a video presentation, like a documentary that runs 10 or 20 minutes. Doing so will probably require the kind of seasoned skills found only in experienced TV producers, directors, and crews. Some obvious questions about this approach concern the ideal length, budget — perhaps $25,000 or more — time frame required, and whether this kind of video production would generate sufficient ROI to be justified.

Early video versions of white papers haven’t been encouraging because they haven’t broken out of the document mold. To be successful, a video version of a white paper must truly use the strengths of the format as a way to tell stories and present arguments with moving pictures.

Don’t call some mash-up of text and video clips a video white paper. That term is a total oxymoron, right up there with jumbo shrimp. How can any one piece of marketing be both video and paper? Clearly, it can’t. Anyone who uses this term is just trying to apply the gravitas of the white paper format onto whatever mishmash he produces. But it won’t stick, so please don’t try.

Incorporating interactivity

Interactivity means clicking an area of the screen or page to do something, go somewhere, or engage with the content or the sponsor in some way. The most common forms of interactivity include links to websites, online widgets, social media, or QR codes. All these interactions are possible in today’s PDF white papers. Not all these interactions are routinely used by many B2B marketers, likely because they require extra resources for web programming and design. But their time will come, if the effectiveness of these tactics is proven out.

Any of these interactions can serve as an excellent call to action, bringing prospects back to your website to engage more with your company. If your privacy policy allows, you can even capture the information a prospect enters in a widget or survey form and use it to help personalize any further content you deliver to each prospect in the future.

Links to websites

A link to the sponsor’s website is the most likely form of interaction in a white paper. Some vendors also create links to the sources footnoted. If you work with a complex supply chain, consider linking to the largest or friendliest of your distributors or resellers.

The same caveat applies to links from your website: You worked hard to get someone there. Try to keep them as long as you can. You don’t want to give them too many opportunities to click away to somewhere else.

Links to online widgets

A link to an online widget can be a powerful interaction. One form is an ROI calculator where a prospect fills in his numbers and sees how much his company could earn or save with the vendor’s offering. Another is a table where the B2B buyer fills in some numbers on some aspect of their operation to compare their company to the top-, middle-, and lowest-rated companies in their industry. Or a survey can ask a handful of questions and then derive a score on some aspect of their operation. Some vendors may be able to create games or simulations that provide interaction while delivering insights about a certain market space or offering.

Links to social media

You’ve seen those common icons linking to various social media channels. This tactic doesn’t need to wait; you can implement it today. In the contact section of your white paper, make sure to include an icon for all the social media channels you use, especially LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+. Then an engaged reader viewing your white paper as a PDF on-screen can click to comment, visit your company page, or retweet your white paper.

Only include links that actually make sense. For example, does your company really have any interest in linking to Digg, Facebook, Pinterest, or Tumblr? Just because you can find the icon, you don’t have to use it.

QR codes

The jury is still out on whether those QR codes you can scan with a smartphone app deliver any useful results to marketers. Sure, the codes work when people scan them. The question is, do enough people scan them? If you’re sure a significant portion of your audience is young people with a smartphone, implementing QR codes may well be worth the minimal cost.

As a best practice, don’t just stick in a mystery code; give your B2B buyers a strong hint about what they’ll see if they bother to scan the code in your white paper. You want to show them some further information or take them to the web page that supports the next step in the sales cycle, not just bring them to your home page.

About This Article

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About the book author:

Gordon Graham — also known as That White Paper Guy — is an award-winning writer who has created more than 200 B2B white papers for clients from New York to Australia. Gordon has written white papers on everything from choosing enterprise software to designing virtual worlds for kids, and for everyone from tiny start-ups to Google.

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