When is a white paper not a white paper?

fishing lure

Answer: When it’s a lure. Or a filter. Or a score.

After years of writing white papers for tech companies, I’ve started looking at them through a different lens. I’ve always thought of white papers as part of the sales cycle – moving prospects toward a successful sales results. Now I have started thinking of their role in lead generation and nurturing.

A recent visit to Qualys really put this in context. Qualys runs a finely-tuned lead generation and nurturing operation – as do many businesses in the valley.  White papers, webinars and other content function as the cogs in the well-oiled machine. And they fit several roles, from lead generation to nurturing to scoring.

With that perspective, a paper can fall into several categories:

•    A white paper offer that offers a reasonable perceived value for a low commitment will attract leads. (That’s when it’s a lure.)

•    A paper that identifies its audience “Important security tips for SMBs…” is a filter – prospects self-identify in selecting the content.

•    And a white paper that is very specific to the vendor’s solution, or that is focused on the purchase and implementation effort, identifies the audience as being far along in the decision cycle. (That’s when it’s a lead score).

I always think of the audience and purpose when writing a paper, but this new perspective gives that exercise new life.

Now when I begin papers or other projects, I think of where they fit in the lead generation cycle, how we might use them within specific campaigns, and even what emails we might use to pitch the paper to the appropriate people.  Titles have a new importance.

Even the fishing lure metaphor is useful – for the big fish, you need a specialized lure. If you don’t care what you catch, go ahead and string up those worms, but you’ll be pulling a lot of perch off the hook.

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