When people think of content marketing, they automatically jump to blogging. Sure, articles make up the lion’s share of content produced today, but there is much more to content marketing than blog posts.
In-depth, premium resources such as eBooks, white papers, case studies and presentations can help organizations demonstrate a deeper level of expertise on a subject matter.
While these types of resources often require considerable investment, the level of value they provide to your audience and the amount of sales traction they provide more than justify the expense.
Why Produce White Papers + eBooks?
Content marketing, like any other kind of marketing effort, is typically attempting to grab and redirect attention in order to guide a user towards a certain action. Depending on the type of content, the user could be located anywhere along the marketing funnel.
Most blog content is generally great at picking out users towards the top of the funnel. This by no means a bad thing, lighter content may lead to social media success, but will typically attract less interested customers. They might have the potential to convert down the road, but it may be a long road.
Premium, specific, in-depth content on the other hand, is tailored to customers much farther down the funnel. These are customers who are already researching their purchase and are much closer to converting, thus these need a more detailed resource to better educate themselves on your offerings and expertise.
A well-timed, positive interaction with your premium content further down the funnel can eventually help drive sales. Beyond directly driving leads, producing high-quality content can also help position your brand as an industry thought-leader and can put your company on the radar of those who matter most in your industry.
White papers and eBooks can also be something you point to when attempting to make a sale. Having a resource you can direct a potential client to after a meeting can be a fantastic way to keep your brand fresh in their mind and really sell them on your competence.
One more beneficial aspect of white papers and eBooks is that, if done right (see next section), they can have real staying power. Whereas a blog post might get traction and die down, then crawl along; a high-quality premium resource can keep driving engagement, interest and business long after it’s been published.
What Should I Write About?
Hopefully I’ve convinced you that white papers and eBooks are worth investing in. Now, I feel obligated to tell you that all of the benefits I just listed (and all the tactics I will go on to highlight) are contingent on one thing: choosing the right topic.
Of course the “right” topic depends a lot on your company’s unique offerings and the audience you’re trying to reach. However, there are a few considerations that apply to white papers and eBooks that are the same for any industry and have more to do with where they fall within a broader marketing strategy.
As the previous section mentioned, premium resources are often more effective for customers farther down the funnel (they simply require more time and attention). Therefore, one key consideration when choosing a topic is to ask yourself what kinds of questions or concerns a customer might have farther along the funnel and how would our content best address these issues.
Taking the time and energy to consider what your customer’s needs across the funnel can be an instructive project in it’s own right, but it can help you create quality content that will serve your customers, build trust with them and eventually help drive sales.
Another key consideration when deciding on a topic is making sure the topic you choose is evergreen. Since white papers and eBooks have the potential to provide value for the long-term, you would not want to clip your content’s wings by choosing a topic with too fleeting of a footprint.
To put it in broader context, choosing the right topic is really finding a happy medium between identifying something specific enough to address a customer’s needs along the funnel, while making sure it isn’t an overly time sensitive subject. This typically leaves a pretty wide range of topics to choose from, meaning there should not be a shortage of potential topics to write about.
Once you have a short-list of potential topics to write about you can start putting them together in order of priority. However, the most crucial step is deciding how you incorporate these valuable pieces of content into your overall content marketing strategy. The following are a few tactics that you can mix and match to best suit your business goals and better synch with your editorial calendar.
Tactic 1: Lead Generation
Using your premium content as a pure lead generation tool is a rather popular option for companies putting out eBooks and white papers and the strategy is widely used for a reason. You’ve likely invested heavily in creating unique, compelling, high-quality content and you want a direct return on investment.
Joe Pulizzi, the founder of Content Marketing Institute and author of Epic Content Marketing, agrees that leads are a key determinant of success:
If there is a “holy grail” metric to content marketing, it’s subscription. Once an organization builds an audience of loyal subscribers, then we can work to see what differentiates those who subscribe to our content and those that don’t. Well, what is the best way to gain subscribers? By offering premium, pillar-type content in the form of white papers or ebooks. Frankly, it’s almost always a staple of every successful content marketing program.
Requiring some sort of customer data (typically an email address) in exchange for an eBook or a white paper is one of the many ways HubSpot built its brand and became an industry thought leader. They coined the term inbound marketing and this non-monetary exchange is part of how they put that concept into practice.
Using this “honeypot” method certainly has its advantages. First of all, there is a direct value exchange and easily identifiable metrics to show your content’s success. The direct connection between content and lead also makes it easy to segment and track.
However straightforward and beneficial this strategy may seem, there are some drawbacks. One obvious downside being that a barrier to entry will dissuade a lot of potential viewers of your content from ever experiencing it.
As mentioned before, there are many intangible benefits to exposing your premium content to a wide audience, and in certain cases these benefits might outweigh the email addresses you may get from locking that content.
This is especially true when you first start putting out content. Nobody wants to give away their information for an eBook or white paper they’re not even certain they’ll like.
If you simply start lead collection from eBook number one, then you’ll likely get little traction. Start requiring a reader sign-up for your content once you’ve established yourself as a regular content creator.
In order to make this strategy work, focus your first few premium content efforts on giving away that content for free to prove to your audience that you will provide high-quality resources. Once you’ve established that trust, then you can start locking your content to acquire leads.
Tactic 2: Collect Data with a Soft Sell
Another, subtler way to leverage your premium content to gain leads is what I like to call the soft sell. As opposed to pure lead generation, which puts a tangible barrier in the way of your eBook or white paper, the soft sell instead allows users to view your content and then nudges them towards providing more information.
A stellar example of this technique is the manner in which help desk software company Help Scout presents what they call resources.
Their resources are essentially online versions of a white paper. They do not require any information to access, but as you scroll down you are presented with an unobtrusive pop-up inviting you to subscribe to their email newsletter.
One obvious downside of this tactic, as compared to pure lead gen, is that you miss out on a lot of potential leads. However, a different way of looking at it is that this tactic simply gives you more qualified leads. Think about it, the only people who are entering their email are those who are truly interested in what you have to say.
You might miss out on some who could have potentially been interested had they been forced to enter information, but the leads you do get are eminently qualified.
As mentioned, white papers and eBooks tend to be better at influencing decisions farther down the funnel, so the qualification of the lead tends to be more important than sheer volume.
Another upside to the soft sell is that it helps expose your content to more potential viewers. This can help amplify the reputation-enhancing effects of premium content, and also expose more people to your soft sell. Employing this technique is particularly useful when you are just beginning to put out white papers and eBooks.
When first starting with premium content, it will be hard to convince people to give information to see your content, but putting out a few unblocked pieces can help establish your reputation for quality content. Meanwhile, employing the soft sell ensures that you will at least get a few leads in the long run.
Tactic 3: Support Top of the Funnel Content
While premium content has many benefits, it is typically not advisable to start producing white papers and eBooks until you have a solid foundation of other content suited to the top of the funnel.
By building up an audience via writing articles, guest blogging and/or content syndication you ensure that the higher-stakes investment you place in premium content does not go to waste through the support of a healthy content ecosystem.
That being said, premium content works well alongside other forms of content. A very straightforward synergy is featuring your eBook or white paper alongside your blog content to help drive people down the funnel. A great example of this is how KISSmetric’s blog showcases their premium content at the bottom of their blog posts.
What is very smart about KISSmetric’s strategy is that they not only use their eBooks and white papers to drive leads on their own, but they position them alongside their less involved content to take advantage of their ability to lure customer’s down the funnel.
“Not only does this strategy create a cohesive, organized content calendar, but it makes life easier because you’re reusing and recycling existing content in lots of interesting ways,” according to Amanda Nelson, the Director of Marketing at RingLead.
“Even more, this strategy respects the notion that our audience digests content in different formats, and therefore, an eBook as an infographic may be more effective than the long-form version in some cases,” Nelson added.
Tactic 4: Enhance Your Reputation
The last tactic differs from the previous mentions because it removes direct leads from the equation entirely. Relying on high-quality, premium content for reputation-enhancement alone might seem like a daring strategy, but it works for some of the world’s most premier organizations.
Global consulting giant Deloitte gives away their white papers free of charge. Not only do they have the brand name to ask for pretty much anything they want in return, but also the content they offer is ludicrously in-depth.
Right now, you can go to Deloitte’s website and download an expertly researched and written overview of the Swiss manufacturing industry – at no cost.
This might seem ridiculous, but Deloitte understands that any value they might acquire from charging a fee or requiring email and contact information is far outweighed by the value that comes from disseminating their ideas and having their opinions on marketing matters circulate throughout the industry.
Deloitte uses their premium content to cement their position as a thought-leader in their industry and is willing to go to great expense to do so. However, even if you don’t have the same kind of budget or clout as a firm like Deloitte, you can still replicate their strategy if you narrow your focus and choose a niche to specialize in.
The great thing about choosing to invest in premium content like eBooks or white papers is that once you do (if you choose the right topic and invest properly) you can experiment with all of these strategies.
Your content will stay relevant and compelling for quite some time, which will allow you to mix and match tactics, and try and find the combination that works best for you and the customer base you’re trying to reach.
What have been your experiences with premium content? Have you had success employing any of these tactics? Any strategies I might have missed? Share your thoughts in the comments below; and, as always, thanks for reading!