One of the most valuable reasons for creating new content -- be it a white paper, case study, presentation or some mix -- is to crystallize your position on a key issue.
Some people make the mistake of treating this marketing content as an end in itself. They just want a white paper to help produce leads during an upcoming product marketing campaign, for instance. They don't realize they are going through an exercise that can deliver dividends on many levels.
So, instead of investing your effort and attention in a "white paper project," perhaps you should think of it as a "positioning project." Not only does this reflect the wider array of benefits that the project can generate, it's a more accurate and descriptive term.
Why is that? Consider the payoffs associated with a content-driven, positioning project. You can:
- Sharpen your message. By identifying and articulating the key market trends, problems, solutions, points of value and data points that are relevant to your audience, you engage them. You gain an opportunity to develop and strengthen the language you will use thereafter to persuade, communicate and educate. The sharper, clearer and more relevant your message, the more persuasive you become.
- See from the customer's perspective. One of the hardest challenges facing a company that has been gearing up for a new product initiative is to accurately speak the customer's language. In the run up to the product launch, you've been looking at the market from the inside-out. In some ways, this is inevitable. You are just trying to get to market. But now the focus has to shift. It's a difficult transition, but one that needs to be handled in a disciplined way.
- Drive consensus among the team and build momentum. By involving multiple team members in the project, you create more "buy-in" for the subsequent campaigns. They feel invested in the outcome if they helped create the positioning and messaging for it. Of course, they may feel far less invested if they aren't engaged in the process. That's why I encourage my clients to involve not only senior executives, marketers and product managers, but sales and other customer-facing professionals in the project.
- Differentiate your company in a crowded marketplace. I refer to this content as "thought leadership" because it's an opportunity to stake out a forward-looking position in the marketplace -- hopefully one that is unique and insightful. This differentiates you and helps you establish a premium for the value of your brand.
- Generate and nurture leads. Demand generation, of course, is a powerful motivator for engaging in these projects in the first place. Prospective customers have difficult and demanding decisions to make. They need content that will guide them through these decisions. By providing relevant and actionable content, you move them down their decision path -- turning suspects into qualified prospects and from there, into customers.
- Provision the sales force. When the sales team engages your prospects, they will need a clear sense of the scope and magnitude of the problems that your firm hopes to solve. They'll need to ask clarifying and diagnostic questions that determine the level of concern the prospect is experiencing -- or might experience in the absence of a solution. Finally, they'll need to understand the value proposition you can bring and how to articulate it. Much of this business case will be articulated in the initial positioning project -- setting the stage for credible and compelling sales conversations.
- Establish your company as a trusted authority. Yet another payoff associated with a positioning project is that it generates the relevant content -- the thought leadership -- necessary to establish your firm as a resource the prospect can trust. As they seek guidance in today's markets, they will increasingly value those who can provide it. By becoming a trusted authority, you reduce risk and build confidence. These are powerful assets in today's edgy and often shaken markets.
There's clearly a great deal of value to be generated by producing a white paper or an executive presentation -- value that exceeds the actual content itself. So why not acknowledge it in the way we think of and discuss these types of projects?
Companies that treat such projects as mere content creation are liable to under-invest in them and position themselves poorly. However, firms that recognize these projects as opportunities to strengthen their positioning and create thought leadership are positioned to thrive.