White papers are a favorite among businesses who use content to generate leads.

But how do they actually work?

Far too often businesses spend time and money on developing white papers that get no results. They fail to realize that just creating a white paper is the easy part. Implementing an effective white paper lead generation process is where things get difficult.

One of the biggest reasons businesses struggle with white papers is they don’t understand a white paper’s role in the marketing funnel. Businesses often create white papers with the vague goal of “creating content” without having a systemic white paper strategy in place.

So, we’ll break down white paper content marketing and how it fits into the traditional marketing funnel. We’ll also explain how you’d implement a white paper at each stage to move prospects to the next stage.

The White Paper Content Marketing Funnel

All marketing funnels can be broken up into just three phases:

  • Top of the Funnel (ToFu)
  • Middle of the Funnel (MoFu)
  • Botom of the Funnel (BoFu)

White papers are unique because they can be used effectively at any stage in the marketing funnel. For a full breakdown, see our article about the different types of white papers and how each fits into a typical marketing funnel.

For now, we’ll look at how white papers in general function in the three major phases of the marketing funnel:

ToFu White Paper Strategy

ToFu is the broadest phase made up of the most diverse group of people. People in this phase may be just beginning to research a product or service or may not even be aware they have a problem at all.

The strategy for white papers in this phase revolves around two goals:

  1. Make people aware your business exists.
  2. Convert the most suitable people into leads.

At this point, your white papers will have little to do with your product/service. Instead, they will be about the things that most interest your audience. Your only concern should be attracting the attention of your audience and demonstrating to them that your business provides value.

By doing so, you build credibility with your target audience and earn the opportunity to drive them further into your funnel.

ToFu white paper lead generation is really a test of how well you know your audience. For example:

  • what are their biggest pain points?
  • what is their ideal end result?
  • what are the common obstacles that prevent the from reaching the end result?

The typical strategy used in this phase is to create a white paper with broad appeal to your target audience and require them to submit their email address and/or phone number to access the white paper.

Here is an example from Hubspot:

Hubspot White Paper

Once you’ve acquired a lead’s contact information, you’ve successfully moved them to the MoFu phase.

MoFu White Paper Strategy

Businesses focus nearly all of their efforts on either the top of the funnel (where awareness happens) or the bottom of the funnel (where sales happen).

But, today more than ever, white paper content marketing is perfect for the MoFu phase.

In the past, the concept of the “funnel” was a lot more straightforward: people entered the top via broad advertisements like TV commercials or magazine ads. Some leads then continued to the middle where a sales representative could educate and qualify them. Eventually, some leads would become paying customers.

But things are different today.

Thanks to the information-on-demand era ushered in by the internet, prospects are usually half-way through the funnel before a sales representative gets involved.

In other words, today’s buyers are more aware and research saavy than ever before. So, you need MoFu content that can help these self-sufficient leads convert into customers.

The typical MoFu white paper takes the form of a comparison buyer guide, case study, or common problems/risks guide. Here is a case study from Pardot:

Pardot White Paper

Since people in this phase are already captured leads, the MoFu white paper is often delivered as part of an email or retargeting campaign.

Regardless of the type of white paper or method of delivery, it must be backed by sufficient research and hard data to establish the problem and business case. It should position your product/service as the obvious choice when it comes time to make a decision in the BoFu stage.

BoFu White Paper Strategy

Conventional strategy for white papers suggests to avoid blatantly advertising and hard selling your product/service.

But leads in this phase are invested and seriously considering your offering. So, they want to hear about it. They want to see how if fits their use case. They want to feel like they’ve done their research.

At this point, white paper content marketing becomes all about inspiring confidence in the purchase decision.

There are three types of white papers that can be really strong here:

Testimonial-Style Case Study: these help leads place themselves in the shoes of your successful customers. They are able to imagine what life will be like using your product.

Technical Tutorials: this treats leads as if they are already customers by showing them how to implement your solution. The goal is to show them how easy and effective your product/service is to use. Tutorials are especially useful when you need buy-in from several members of an organization.

Frequently Asked Questions: FAQs address all the common problems and questions leads and customers have. They help overcome objections and any final sticking points.

Here is an example of a tutorial white paper from Linkedin:

Linkedin white paper

White Paper Lead Generation & Sales

Businesses often envision white papers only as ToFu lead generators or BoFu deal closers. Usually, they fail to achieve either.

To be effective, white papers must be seen as a part of a whole—one cog in the marketing funnel machine.

Different types have different roles at different stages. Knowing (and implementing) these concepts is the difference between powerful white paper content marketing and mediocre results.

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