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7 habits of highly effective white paper marketers

One of my favorite self-help books is
7 Habits of Highly Effective People
by Stephen Covey.

First published in 1989, it has sold an estimated 25 million copies in 38 languages.

I still try to follow its guidelines in my own life.

With apologies, I’ve applied the 7 habits to the act of marketing with highly effective white papers.

7 Habits of Highly Effective People applied to white papersHabit #1: Be proactive

Don’t do white papers just because your competitors have them.

Or because someone in sales said they really need one.

Instead, start with your #1 marketing problem and work from there.


Do you need to:

  • Generate leads?
  • Nurture leads already in your funnel?
  • Beat out competitors on a cost-benefit analysis? On a technical checklist?
  • Launch a new solution to an old problem?

Then pick the best flavor of white paper to accomplish that purpose. Hint: See my infographic for tips on which flavor works best for what purpose.

Habit #2: Begin with the end in mind

Next, visualize how your published white paper will look and feel when it’s all done.

Use my infographic (You have it, right?) to plan a page-by-page flow of the contents.

Then imagine how you will assemble the right team, gather research, manage reviewers, repurpose into other formats, and promote your finished white paper… all to overcome the marketing challenge you identified in habit #1.

Habit #3: Put first things first

The first step in managing a white paper project is to find the right creative suppliers: a writer, a designer, and perhaps an illustrator. The more B2B projects they’ve done, the better.

Then you need a pile of background for your writer to study. You may need subject matter experts (SMEs) who are willing to be interviewed by your writer; and they’ll need to set aside a few minutes to review drafts.

And you need members of your marketing team who can promote the finished paper through the web, social media, journalists, bloggers, events, and channel partners.

Habit #4: Think win-win

Strive to make the entire process of planning, creating, publishing and promoting your white paper enjoyable for everyone.

Ask for frequent small deliverables: notes on your kickoff call, draft outlines, rough graphics. These can help you head off any avoidable stresses.

Habit #5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood

Sales and marketing people, take the hint: Stop talking, and start listening.

What information can you provide to help your prospects?

Do not jump into describing your solution too soon, or in too much detail. In some white papers, your product only warrants a brief mention at the end.

If your goal is to generate leads, you want readers to be intrigued enough to engage with your company and find out more. That’s it, that’s all.

Habit #6: Synergize

One white paper can be repurposed in many different ways: as blog posts, a slide deck or webinar, a press release, an opinion piece.

The same white paper can sometimes be “cloned” to appeal to several different market segments.

I believe this habit tells us to promote every white paper like a madman. That’s how to squeeze every last drop of value from your investment in such a formidable piece.

Habit #7: Sharpen the saw

Renew and refresh yourself and your team before your next big marketing push.

Be sure to take the time to track your white paper campaign results, build your swipe file, and continue to monitor the key trends and issues in B2B content marketing.

Another best practice is to hold a brief post-mortem to discuss how to improve your process the next time around. Don’t allow finger-pointing; a good way to avoid this is to focus on processes, not personalities.

The path to continuous improvement

If you as a B2B marketer follow these seven habits on every white paper project, I believe you will quickly improve your published content, your project management, and your marketing results.

And your white papers will become even more highly effective at overcoming your marketing challenges.

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About Gordon Graham

Worked on 320+ white papers for clients from Silicon Valley to Switzerland, on everything from choosing enterprise software to designing virtual worlds for kids, for clients from tiny startups to 3M, Google, and Verizon. Wrote White Papers for Dummies which earned 60+ 5-star ratings on Amazon. Won 16 awards from the Society for Technical Communication. Named AWAI 2019 Copywriter of the Year.

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