Whitepapers, and other free B-to-B information-based offerings, identify prospects’ problems and offer data and suggestions to help them decide on a solution. “When people can read in a paper about a problem that they’re having, it builds an affinity between the business and the prospect,” says Michael Stelzner, executive editor of WhitePaperSource.com and author of the book “Writing White Papers: How to Capture Readers and Keep Them Engaged.”
In a down economy, more and more companies are offering free content to gain mindshare. “If you are lagging, and your competition is out there providing lots of rich content to the customer base, you’ll probably suffer over time,” says Terry Flynn, president and founder of Amherst, N.H.-based BtoBPodcast.com. To compete in using free B-to-B content to generate leads and convert sales, apply the following expert tactics:
1. Select a Value-Added Title
How you refer to your free-content offering can affect its perceived value. “In the world of B-to-B, ‘whitepaper’ has a very high value, as a matter of fact, higher than case studies, or any of the other types of labels,” Stelzner recommends. But, he warns, that if you are targeting an industry that is not accustomed to the terminology, you may want to use a more generic name like “report” instead. The title of the paper itself is also crucial; it should be short and include a promise, but not the name of your company or product, Stelzner advises. He also recommends selecting a title which adheres to B-to-B copywriting specialist Bob Bly’s four “U” formula of urgent, unique, ultra-specific and useful.
2. Look to Your Audience for Content
The best place to look for content is within your audience. In order to understand your audience, Stelzner suggests surveying them using a tool like SurveyMonkey.com. “Ask them what topics are particularly hot right now, or challenging, and they have to be topics that, of course, your company can solve,” he explains. Google AdWords Keyword Tool can also further refine your survey results. “You can see how many advertisers and how many hits certain keywords get, which will allow you to determine whether or not, maybe topically, you should go down path A or path B,” Stelzner says.
3. Build a Podcast Library
Podcasts offer convenience for busy executives and also lend tech-savvy caché to your company. “You’re making their lives a little bit easier … and people who do podcasts and new media are seen as a bit more leading edge,” Flynn says. “You can mine … old reports [and whitepapers] and instantly come up with a library of content that you can re-purpose pretty quickly,” he advises. To generate new content, Flynn says he’ll record interviews with experts, then edit the content down to a six- or eight-minute segment. “It takes a half an hour to an hour of a client’s time, and then it takes us three to four hours’ worth of time for editing,” he describes. Tacking a podcast onto a webinar program can also increase response. “Tailored to a webinar or a whitepaper, [podcasts generate] anywhere from a 15 [percent] to 30 [percent] or even 40 percent higher lead capture—which is a big measure. And that’s both by offering it [all] immediately and by offering executive highlights or summaries of five [minutes] to seven minutes,” Flynn notes.
4. Use Reader-Friendly Registration
One of the principle functions of a free-content offering is to generate new leads. “You’ve got to ask for the name, phone number and e-mail address,” Stelzner states. He finds that a “long-copy” registration, where you embed the registration after the first page or two of content, will greatly increase the likelihood of a qualified lead. “You can literally give the first couple pages of the piece as a sample. It’s a great filter. It qualifies people; if they can’t relate to the content, they’re not going to fill out the registration form,” Stelzner says. Technologies are becoming available that offer embedded registration pages in PDFs and embedded links in podcasts, allowing users to register when they want to or skip right to the sales contact to get more information.
5. Convert with a Call to Action
Convert more leads by using an enticing call to action within your free content. “The most basic offer is simply contact email@example.com or visit this URL for more examples or a case study, but a more compelling offer might be a free assessment,” Stelzner says. One of his clients, a B-to-B printer, offered 500 free business cards as a premium tied to a whitepaper. “That was really compelling because they were targeting the ultra-small business owner, and that business owner was looking to improve their marketing. The whole paper was about marketing your business on a shoe-string budget,” Stelzner says. Within 60 days, 5,000 leads registered to read the paper, and because of the free business cards, 10 percent of those became paying clients.
6. Work in Widgets
“For B-to-B, news is king … It’ll be interesting to see how people start pushing information widgets as another way to get content in front of customers on a constant basis,” Flynn remarks. Widgets that distribute industry news and free-content offerings will be valuable platforms to tie in with whitepapers and studies. Flynn explains that for one of his clients, a metals pricing company, a widget that broadcasts updates on metals trading news would be highly desirable for that company’s audience. “Companies are trying to use this new media to build deeper relationships, in a sense that they’re providing a lot of value, that they’re helping people absorb all of this information flying at them,” he concludes.