The New White Paper Strategy: Challenge Your Audience

By: Joe Braue –

For centuries (okay, it only seems that long) the major function of white papers was to drive thought leadership. Boiled down, white papers followed this framework:

  • Describe a business challenge.
  • Focus on what it means for your target audience.
  • Summarize the pros and cons of various possible solutions available to solve the challenge.
  • Describe your solution.

But the folks at the Corporate Executive Board (CEB), have done some impressive research of marketing and sales organizations and are suggesting a different solution (Check out their book, “The Challenger Sale”).

Instead of teaching something that customers could be doing with their business, the white paper should “unteach” something the customers are currently doing. Where traditional white papers focus on the benefits of the vendor’s solution, “challenger” white papers focus on the costs of current behavior.

You should watch this Xerox K-12 video case study that CEB posted on its website. In it, the Xerox K-12 education marketing team frets about low-priced printer competitors when its solution is 15 to 20 percent higher. Xerox’s strategy is to do research that shows how color printing advances learning. Then, they change the way they sell and market, leading not with a feature-benefit sell, but with discussion of how printers can improve learning.

Vertical Marketing Applications:

For you K-12 marketing practitioners, linking the benefits of your technology solutions to learning improvement  is a major objective and it needs to be part of all of your content marketing. You must first explain the learning benefit, then talk about the economic case and go on to talk about solutions.

While attendees at our Tech & Learning events constantly ask their vendors to provide specific data about how individual technologies improve learning, doing so can be a challenge. There are places to go for help: We here at NewBay can do research over our K-12 and higher ed audiences to find this data. And I believe that customer research plus clear anecdotes from your sales support engineers who are working with clients can do the trick.

There are three issues that I can see in implementing “challenger” white papers.

  • Can you and your customers handle the truth, to paraphrase Jack Nicholson “challenging” Tom Cruise in “A Few Good Men.” You run the risk of antagonizing potential customers or seeming unduly alarmist if you adopt too strong a tone. So some sort of “positive” challenge has got to be the goal.
  • How do you write a “Challenger” white paper? Well, you pretty much follow the thought-leadership framework described above, with one major difference. You need to keep in mind throughout the research process that you must find a crucial commercial insight, backed up by research or anecdotes from sales engineers that support the challenge. You may need to do special research to capture the data points. You definitely have to interview your best sales engineers to understand customer pain points and the price of not implementing your solution.
  • Finally, a “Challenger” white paper should be part of a bigger sales and marketing strategy at your company. Check out the CEB book for more info on that.

Got an example of a “Challenger” white paper? Please share with us jbraue@nbmedia.com.