3 tips for increasing the reach of your next white paper

Jul 17, 2017

So you’ve put huge amounts of time and effort into a white paper – proprietary research and all – and it’s getting stellar reviews from your management team.

But who can speak cogently to clients about what’s in the paper? More broadly, how many people across your company can effectively communicate and expand on the paper’s content?

If your answer is “the three authors,” then hmmm. But if you say “an army of evangelists,” then props to you. Not only do you have great strategic content but you’ve got what’s needed to distribute it far and wide, and crucially, to help ensure that the content sticks in the minds of those it’s aimed at.

In our experience, marketers work incredibly hard to develop and publish thought leadership but they tend not to put as much muscle into getting clients to engage with the paper or report or article.

I’m not talking about the usual distribution tactics that accommodate all the different ways clients consume content: email, website, social media, and so on. What I am referring to is deeper, more proactive engagement: one-to-one exchanges between curious clients facing tricky business challenges and smart, informed client-facing people – not just your sales pros but many of those who regularly work with your clients and prospects. I mean two-way conversations about the paper’s big ideas that help clients start to imagine solutions to their challenges.

These conversations move thought leadership further down the marketing funnel. Whereas the paper or article itself talks only about your firm’s big idea, now your sales pros and influencers can, if the client is receptive, start steering the conversation toward specific needs and toward your firm’s potential solutions.

We’re not the first to flag this need. A while back, Fiona Czerniawska, head of Source Global Research, blogged that there’s a crucial internal audience for your thought leadership too. She explained that marketers’ colleagues need to know what to do with a report or article, and how it relates to the work they sell and deliver. Relevance is crucial too: “If you give people material they know will be relevant to their clients, they’re much more likely to engage with it,” she noted. Stern Strategy Group puts it in terms of bridging the gap with sales: “As marketers and communicators, it’s up to us to get our sales teams to buy in – and spread the word,” says one of their team.

Marketers need a new approach to ensure that thought leadership initiatives generate bigger pay-offs. So here are three quick thoughts on how to start doing that:

  • Expand the feedback on content themes. Seek early input on proposed content ideas from those who interact most often with your clients – yes, your top salespeople but other key influencers too, including selected affiliates and partner companies. (I’m not urging “decisions by committee” – just getting the perspectives of a wider group of influencers.)
  • Enlist your firm’s “big idea champions.” Identify and reach out to your sales teams and other influencers – executives, affiliates, partners, and other client-facing types – and let them know you’re going to enlist them in promoting the ideas in the thought leadership content to come.
  • Communicate the ideas internally. In parallel, create a crisp curriculum to help those evangelists so they can convey the white paper’s big ideas as powerfully as possible. (The short sessions might include role-playing scenarios to give them practice with the “yes but” questions they will inevitably get from clients and prospects.) Consider a 30-minute webinar, hosted by one of the lead authors, to help your evangelists understand the content and tailor it to clients’ needs. (Most sales people are looking for touch points with clients and prospects; if you can arm them to have a conversation instead of sending an email, that’s a win for everyone.)

Of course, these internal efforts add complexity – another process to manage. And, yes, it’s a challenge to win over busy individuals who may balk at this imposition on their time.

This process probably doesn’t need to happen with every short blog or media-placement article. But it should happen with your firm’s big flagship reports and white papers. As with everything, it’s up to you and your team to determine if the benefits will outweigh the burdens.