November 11, 2004
Case Study

How to Invent & Promote White Papers that Fortune 500 Prospects Find Irresistible

SUMMARY: Did you know that 67% of prospects who like your white paper will pass a copy to colleagues? The viral marketing power of a good white paper can be astonishing, especially when you're trying to educate and influence committees in big companies. The problem is, most white papers suck. The topics are uninteresting, titles blah, and content far too salesy or just plain dull. How can your white paper be the one every prospect leaps to download and pass on? We interviewed the marketer behind a white paper so popular that it's been one of the top 20 Bitpipe downloads for 14 months straight. Get his secrets of success here:

"Our bread and butter is the Fortune 500," explains ServiceWare's Director of Marketing Andy McNutt.

Which means his sales reps run up against the committee-factor. "We usually have to talk to so many people in a company before we make a sale -- the call center director, CIOs, IT titles, director of customer care -- so many titles."

To make matters more difficult, many prospects haven't heard of the company or the knowledge management field it serves.

Although ServiceWare is a public company (OTC BB:SVCW), McNutt's marketing budget is fairly lean and his time limited. How do you penetrate the Fortune 500, educate a broad array of decision makers, and gather plenty of leads for a hungry sales force, on a tight budget?

Research shows that 69% prospects who download and like your white paper PDF will actively pass it on to their colleagues. In fact 36% of total downloads will be passed on to a direct supervisor.

In other words, if your white paper is good enough, it can go viral.

The more people it reaches, the more chances you have of closing the deal. One 2004 study showed 57% of IT purchase decision makers said a white paper influenced at least one buying decision in the past 12 months.

So, McNutt decided to center his lead acquisition campaigns around offering the most enticing white papers possible...


Fact is, most white papers suck. The topics are uninteresting, titles blah, and content far too salesy or just plain dull.

Since white papers were the lion's share of McNutt's acquisition strategy, his couldn't be average. He had to invent white papers that would be get loads of downloads and go viral. Instead of coming up with a title and slapping a paper together, he crafted each paper in three steps:

Step #1. Research topics

McNutt gathered ideas from sales, business development, and customer service. He also reviewed all the white papers and trade press on the topic as well. The goal was to find topics with "mass appeal" that weren't already discussed to death elsewhere.

Then he called key evangelists on the customer-front and pitched the best ideas to them. An informal focus group is better than guessing in the dark.

Step #2. Write and rewrite based on customer input

Generally ServiceWare's in-house experts would write the first draft. Then McNutt, again bearing in mind the tone and tech level of content already being written by trade press and competitors, edited the paper into a distinctive and readable ServiceWare voice.

The related industry trade press was dominated by academic-style articles, so McNutt went in the other direction, sounding more businesslike. He tried to keep length between six-eight pages, which is as long as he figured a Fortune 500 executive's initial attention on his topic would be.

Again, he always floated rough drafts past a few current customers to see if anything could be clarified or improved.

Step #3. Handcraft a catchy title

Just as a subject line can make or break an email campaign, cover titles profoundly affect white paper success. "The title has to grab attention. Sexy is the key term," says McNutt.

One afternoon a couple of years ago he surfed the Web scanning hundreds of white paper titles. "I still have a torn-off piece of paper from that day. I scribbled all the words that appealed or jumped out at me on it."

These included "secrets of," "insider's guide," "top 10" etc. Now when he needs to name a new paper, he reviews the list first. "It's very non-scientific," he admits.

Naturally, his very next step is to ask customers what they think of the suggested title. Often their suggestions make the difference between pretty good and really great.

Next, McNutt launches a marketing campaign to garner as many targeted downloads as possible. He doesn't have the budget for two campaigns -- one for to spread viral white papers and one for lead generation.

This is tough because obviously you need to get as many papers out there as possible for viral spread in the corporation. If you put a registration barrier in front of your paper download page, you're limiting circulation dramatically. (Study data shows only 6%-11% of prospects who arrive at your lead gen form to get a white paper actually fill it out on average.)

McNutt did his best to improve downloads by tweaking the landing pages so:

o The headline referred to the place the prospect clicked from (i.e. Welcome ZDNet Readers!).

o There's a graphic of the 'cover' of the paper on the page so people knew they were at the right place for the information they wanted.

o The brief description of the paper on the landing page did not include any distracting sales copy about ServiceWare. The focus was 100% on how useful and informative the white paper was.

o The copy ended in an explicit privacy statement to reassure visitors their contact info is safe.

o Required fields and questions were held to the bare minimum McNutt needed to get useful info to sort leads for his sales team.

Aside from letting the house list know about each new paper, McNutt promoted it in two distinctly different ways:

Promotion Type A: Highly targeted

Like many tight-budgeted marketers, McNutt currently eschews most print ads in trade magazines in favor of ads in their sibling email newsletters. (Link to samples below.) He preferred text-only newsletters where "I can look like content." Even for HTML editions, his ad looked as much as possible like a regular story summary with a hotlink.

Again his copy focused on promoting the paper, not the company. "I don't put our tagline, or start with our company name. We easily look like content if you are browsing."

Many of these newsletters are sold out for up to a year in advance these days. So McNutt often contracted media buys far in advance of when he actually had a new paper to promote.

Once an initial test ad did well, he settled down into a steady year-after-year once-a-quarter or once-a-month buy (less frequently for the less frequent pubs). "Slow and steady wins the race, that's what we're hoping. I need a steady stream of sales leads."

He also hoped this would extend white paper lifetime. His schedule was to publish a new paper every 3-4 months. He would continue promoting the old papers until responses dropped precipitously or there was a high percent of duplicate leads coming in from folks who forgot they already downloaded that paper.

Promotion Type B: Broad net

You can't assume you reached everyone with your newsletter ads, so McNutt also cast a back-up net by placing each new paper with a syndication service feeding the title into dozens of top tech-related Web news sites such as CMP TechWeb for one flat fee.

McNutt's advice to others using the system?

#1. Make your abstract as informative and non-salesy as possible. (Link to a sample abstract below.) Again. there's no marketing copy about ServiceWare. This focus is on the value the paper will provide to anyone who downloads it.

#2. Ask to be spotlighted on the most available sites. Syndication services offer marketers a chance to pick a few sites they'd like their paper to be actively promoted on. But not every site you want is available at the same time.

McNutt says you absolutely should try to orchestrate the dates so you're promoted on as many sites as possible at the same time (even if it means not being on all the exact sites you wanted). Why? The more downloads you can get at once, the greater likelihood your title will make the top 50 list for that week.

"Once you're in the top 50, it kinda snowballs," says McNutt. "Other partner sites notice you because you're so high, and you can sustain your ranking. If you can get high enough up, it sustains itself."

#3. Consider promoting your downloads outside the system. Getting in the top 50 can have such a big impact on your downloads that McNutt says he's considered having some of his outside ads link to the system rather than to his standard landing page.


ServiceWare's year over year revenue growth has been steady and strong. Clients include HP, Dow Jones, and Staples. McNutt's white paper promotions have been equally successful. Here's sample data from a few recent email campaigns:

Help Desk Institute Insider newsletter .64% of sent emails got ad clicks 29.6% of clicks filled out the form to get a paper

HDI's Muns Report newsletter 1.01% of sent emails got ad clicks 42.0% of clicks filled out the form to get a paper ZDNet list dedicated promo blast 1.51% of sent emails got clicks 30.0% of clicks filled out the form to get a paper TechRepublic list dedicated promo blast 1.07% of sent emails got clicks 37.0% of clicks filled out the form to get a paper

In addition, McNutt's syndicated papers are also getting higher-than-average results. For example, his paper entitled "Ten Principles for Knowledge Management Success" has been ranked in the system's 20-most popular downloads for more than a year now. (As of today it was #15.)

Another perennial ServiceWare winner is "The Insider's Guide to Knowledge Management ROI."

On average, roughly 40% of clicks from the broad syndicated system are converting at the landing page. Although the broad system's overall click volume is higher than volume from targeted ads, the leads are also of lower quality.

McNutt carefully scrubs each name as it comes in, removing obvious academics, students, consultants, and names from countries ServiceWare doesn't sell to currently. This way he keeps sales rep enthusiasm high for the leads.

He also reviews his ongoing media buys on a cost-per-quality-lead basis rather than an overall media cost, or a cost-per-general-lead. This means the more expensive media buys continue to be attractive, and the broad net is well worth doing.

Useful links related to this story:

Samples of ServiceWare's ads and landing pages:

Bitpipe - the broad net white paper syndication service ServiceWare uses


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