Does Your White Paper Have a Call to Action? (My Guess: No)

Does Your White Paper Have a Call to Action? (My Guess: No)
Michele Linn - Mon Jun 29, 2009 @ 04:17PM
Comments: 67

Next stepOne tenant of marketing is that all content should have a call to action. Seems basic enough, but is this really common practice with white papers? I did some very unscientific research, and the results may surprise you.

Jonathan Kantor provides a list of white papers each Friday in his blog, The White Paper Pundit. This is a somewhat random sampling of white papers; Jonathan describes the list as a list of white papers posted on Twitter that week that do not require registration.

The papers posted for the week of June 22 are quite diverse: they come from various industries (including the government), are different lengths, and range from recent to a couple of years old. They are not B2B white papers, but it's still an interesting exercise.

So what did I find? Out of the 40 paper included in the list, only 12 included a call to action.

Let me pause for a quick explanation of what I'm defining as a call to action: I included anything in the white paper text where you are directed to go for more information. Nine papers had an "About Us" section that included at least a website, but this did not qualify as these sections are boilerplate and not specific to the paper.

The calls to action were all over the board. As you might expect, there were a lot of phone numbers, email addresses and links to home pages of websites. There were also some other things that I thought worked well:

  • Microsites
  • Blogs
  • Twitter IDs (only included in one white paper)
  • Facebook website URL
  • Specific web pages / resource pages
  • Books

Is a call to action really important?

Is really that bad that only 30% of the white papers had a call to action? Yes! A recent study from InformationWeek found that most white paper readers (75.8%) go to a search engine to look for more information once finishing a white paper. By including a call to action, you increase the chance your reader will look at information that will help them learn more about your company instead of having them go to Google and stumbling across your competition.

Not only is it a good practice, but consider these two scenarios:

  • If you are using a more sophisticated marketing automation system to track white paper leads, you want to be able to see which readers raise their hand for more info from you so you know who to prioritize.
  • If you do not require registration for your white paper, you need to make you call to action very explicit so your reader knows what step to take because you won't be able to contact them to continue the conversation (becasue you won't know who they are).

What makes a good call to action?

As mentioned, a lot of calls to action that I saw were links to the home page, emails and phone numbers, none of which I consider to be especially effective. To be more relevant, consider two things: who your white paper is targeting and where it is meant to be used in the buying cycle.

Targets a specific reader

I like the generic buying roles that Steve Woods outlines in his blog, Digital Body Language: Economic buyer/decision maker, technical evaluator, user buyer and influencer/coach.

It's imperative to understand which of these individuals your white paper is targeting as your call to action will be different for each. Think about it:

  • Economic buyers: This group needs to be able to justify the expense. Calls to action for this group may be things like viewing an ROI calculator or reading a case study of how someone saved money with your solution.
  • Technical evaluators: This group aims to understand the technical feasibility of your solution. They want things like product specs and technical case studies.
  • User buyer: This is the group that will be using the product, so they respond well to things such as demos and trials.
  • Influencer/coach: These individuals are internal champions for your solution. They often forward your information, an implicit call to action should be for them to forward this white paper; make your white papers easy to share. Appropriate calls to action for this group will vary based on who they are trying to influence.

Moves reader through the buying cycle

If a reader is earlier in the buying cycle, you want to provide additional content that educates them on the general solution, perhaps another white paper, webcast or case study written to move them along the path. I love the idea of microsites and resource pages as well.

Prospects who are more advanced want to be able to dig into your product or service, so it makes sense to offer things like demos, free trials and ROI calculators. Of course, white papers, webcasts and case studies can also be used later in the buying process, but the content needs to address the concerns your prospects have at that stage.

Skimming the white papers on The White Paper Pundit proved to be interesting indeed. While I was initially looking for an understanding of how common the call to action is in the white paper, a lot of other things jumped out at me as well. In the coming weeks, I'll be sharing some of my findings and some tips on how you can make your white papers stronger.

Related posts:

More Savvy B2B posts from Michele.

Comments: 67

Comments

1. Jonathan Kranz  |  my website   |   Tue Jun 30, 2009 @ 02:55AM

Agreed Michele. In fact, I always tell my clients that they need to set up a NEXT STEP as an integral part of the conclusion. My recommendation? A checklist at the end that restates all the key points in the paper as "Are you....?" or "Do you...?" kinds of questions. By doing so, you accomplish three things: 1) You remind readers of all the value you've delivered; 2) you're encouraging readers to personalize the info by moving from the abstract to their own circumstances; 3) most importantly, you're setting up a call to action -- to contact an expert who provides answers to these precise questions.

2. Michele Linn   |   Tue Jun 30, 2009 @ 08:51AM

Jonathan,
What a great idea to include a checklist at the end of the white paper; this really helps the reader internalize what they read and incites them to take action - becasue they have a personal need. Thanks for the suggestion!

3. Greg Donahue  |  my website   |   Thu Jul 02, 2009 @ 08:25AM

Agreed Michele and Jonathan. I'm amazed at the number of whitepapers still out their with no real call to action. Just putting your general url at the end is not a call to action - or at best, a really weak one. You need to a path thought out in advance for your lead based on the content. For example, if your whitepaper is a high level piece that educates a prospect on a problem they may have and introduces your solution (without mentioning products!), the next logical step may be a webinar or a landing page with multiple links (a case study, the webinar, podcast, etc.). I wrote a blog entry on content at http://gregdonahue.wordpress.com/2009/06/05/content-its-what-people-want/ if you're interested in more thoughts.

4. b2b marketing automation  |  my website   |   Mon Feb 07, 2011 @ 02:23PM

I really loved reading this post as it puts the call to action front and center. It's keen to think about linking your call to action to the type of reader. You made a comment about using marketing automation software to track readers. As a suggestion, it would be nice to see technology that would adapt the call to action to the role of the reader. For example, you might have an economic buyer, user, and technical evaluator all wanting to read the same white paper. Using technology to dynamically change the call to action on a landing page would be great. This would personalize the experience and increase action rates considerably.

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