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Feb 27, 2001
How To

Best Practices in White Paper Marketing Online

SUMMARY: "The biggest mistake people make [with click through landing pages] is when they adopt the same template they use for every other page on their Web site -- a menu of links across the top or down the left. There's just no need for it. The goal of a landing page is to get them to take the next step. If you give them other options, the greater the chance you'll lose them. " Howard Sewell, President Connect Direct Inc. interviewed on "Best Practices in White Paper Marketing Online."
Business marketers have been using white papers for years to educate, impress and gather qualified leads in their marketplaces. Everyone knows the Internet makes it easier than ever before to distribute white papers -- but that also means everyone is doing it. How can you make your white paper stand out amidst the noise online?

We contacted Howard Sewell, President Connect Direct Inc., who specializes in direct marketing for high tech companies to find out what the "Best Practices" of online white paper marketing are:

Q: There are so many white paper offers online these days, how can marketers make theirs stand out?

Sewell: First of all, the term "White Paper" is starting to be a little overused, so we're having to come up with creative synonyms such as Executive Briefing, Management Report and things like that.

The best way to sell a white paper is NOT to describe it in terms of your product (which is what most people end up doing); but, rather in terms of what people will learn from it, what benefit your paper delivers. So, you don't say "Click here for a free white paper and learn how our product does A, B and C." Rather, it's, "Click here for a free white paper and learn how you can do A, B and C." Save money, cut development time... the same things your product does.

Q: What are the best practices for doing an email campaign for a white paper offer?

Sewell: What you want in an email campaign is to get someone who's feeling the pain you can solve. You just have to get them to click through -- you don't have to convince them to buy the product!

People try to do too much in their campaigns. It's almost as if they think prospects will read the email and say, "Ok where do I send the money?" Instead, the goal is to find the people with the right kind of pain that you can help, and just get them to respond, get them into a dialog with your company. If you tell how you'll solve problem X, you'll attract those kinds of people. Then use subsequent communications -- sales rep calls, Web casts, email newsletters -- to move them down the sales path.

Q: Where do you find opt-in email lists of these prospects who are in the right sort of "pain" to respond well to your white paper offer?

Sewell: The lists we're consistently finding are performing the best are those from reputable publishers. Typically they'll be the online equivalent of print publications -- files like The Industry Standard, CIO Magazine. We have more success with those, generally speaking, than we do with some of the big email databases out there. That's actually a rule that extends over from the direct mail world.

Unlike direct mail though, there's a wider variance in the quality of lists out there. We've had broadcast campaigns where one list will do 1% and the other will do 10%. It's not an uncommon occurrence.

Like travel agents, all email list brokers have access to the same stuff. There's nothing proprietary about lists. So picking a broker comes down to online industry experience and service level. Your local direct mail list broker can probably gain access to the same lists, but he's gonna have no idea which lists have performed well for other clients. That's critical for email because there's such disparity in results. We happen to use NameFinders in San Francisco; they're very good, but they're not the only firm out there.

You also need to dig down and ask the right questions about opt-in. You'll get five datacards on lists that say they are opt-in. But they're not evenly-sourced. Some signed up for newsletters, some entered sweepstakes, it's all different.

Q: Email newsletter sponsorships are becoming a very popular way to market white papers. What are the best practices in that arena?

Sewell: With the 50 words or so you have in a newsletter, it's hard to communicate the benefits of the white paper in too much detail. So, the same rules apply for newsletter ads - don't sell the product. A lot of times we'll write ads that don't even mention the product! They might mention the company name; but, you're focusing on communicating the benefits in terms of what they'll learn when they get the white paper.

A lot of newsletters have top, middle and bottom positions. Pretty much consistently we've only had success with top positions. It may be that some newsletters are in high demand so you may just have to settle for the middle position and work your way up the queue. Sometimes middle and lower positions are priced accordingly, and if it all comes out in the wash and your cost per lead is attractive, then go with it!

I would encourage people to do multiple insertions - 2-3 times minimum in any given publication. There's too many variables at play, same as in print. You don't just advertise once in CIO magazine and hope for the best! You've got to be there over time. Multiple insertions in email newsletters really seem to be making a difference. I would suggest the same ad or a variation thereof. If your creative changes 100% then you're not leveraging the fact that they'll be seeing it in every issue.

Q: Once people click through on the ad or email campaign for a white paper, what should the landing page look like?

Sewell: A lot of success is going to come down to your landing page or to the campaign microsite. Don't send click throughs to your home page! The only conclusion I can draw when it goes to someone's home page is they must have gotten the ad for free, otherwise they're sure throwing money out the window!

There should be nothing on a landing page that's not intimately connected with the campaign, that's not reinforcing their decision to respond and getting them to fill out the form or take the next step.

The biggest mistake people make is when they adopt the same template they use for every other page on their Web site -- a menu of links across the top or down the left. There's just no need for it. The goal of a landing page is to get them to take the next step. If you give them other options, the greater the chance you'll lose them. They'll go explore your site and you'll never get their information.

We've had landing pages that were little more than a JPEG of the offer, a response form and a submit button. They may not be glamorous to look at, but they're effective. You don't lose people.

However, the poor overworked Webmaster on the client side just wants to take the same template for every other page and insert a form. That's where we battle with clients!
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