Whitepapers are some of the most valuable types of content you can produce. Chock full of details, exceeding in length, and born from original research, they’re custom-made to appeal to serious potential clients, attract ample links, and boost your authority. With the right information and the right writer, it’s a simple matter to create an appropriately long, detailed, well-written whitepaper. The problem usually comes from that third distinguishing characteristic: the original research part.
Original research means you’re doing all the work yourself, which makes it both a strength and a weakness of the strategy. It’s a strength because no other companies or individuals have sought to engage in this research before, but it’s a weakness because it takes significant time (or money, or both) to conduct this research. Some research ventures take months of careful planning and execution and hours of compiling to generate meaningful statistics.
Fortunately, you don’t have to commit to that level in order to create a solid, well-researched whitepaper. There are alternative strategies you can use to conduct the research necessary for a reasonable whitepaper without spending all your marketing budget or wasting countless hours of time:
Surveys are one of the most practical and available means of gathering data, and because they’re so open-ended, they can be used for almost any purpose. Let’s say you’re a B2B company looking for some insights about your demographics’ needs—for example, if you’re in human resources, you could investigate the hiring needs of businesses in your target vertical. In this case, you could put together a survey and send it to decision makers in those relevant companies.
Creating a survey is easy—free tools like SurveyMonkey exist as intuitive interfaces that can be used by anybody to create surveys of any length or complexity. Distributing it to the relevant parties is usually the hard part. You can do this by tapping your existing network of clients, partners and other professionals, or by branching out on social media. If you continue to have problems, you can compensate people for their time—which costs a bit more, but is still less expensive than most other original research methods.
AB tests are similarly inexpensive, but there are two limiting factors that may prevent you from using it as practically as surveys. First, they are far more limited in scope—you can conduct a survey about anything in the world, but you can only run an AB test with tangible items, such as products, websites, or designs. Second, they necessitate a limited input of information. Whereas a survey may aggregate data from thousands of people, your AB test only covers one trial.
Still, if you have a question or hypothesis that an AB test can serve, it’s a viable and efficient system. Plus, if your AB test serves your business in some direct way (such as AB testing ads in a live environment), you won’t have to dedicate any additional spend to it.
The word “observable” is the key to understanding this method. Rather than probing various people or environments for certain pieces of information, you’ll only be perusing what already exists. Don’t just look for new facts and statistics—that would quality as secondary research, and would render your attempts for originality useless. Instead, look for data you can ascertain on your own. For example, if you’re writing a whitepaper about how many manufacturing businesses currently have websites with social integrations, you can look up all the manufacturing businesses in your area, determine which ones have websites, and look to see which of those have social integrations. It’s a more manual, more time-intensive process, but it’s also completely free.
Case studies are individual stories about clients, customers, or instances that your audience may not already be familiar with. The most common application here is taking a client and examining its growth from before they got involved with your business to after that involvement, but there are also variables you can experiment with. Case studies do offer valuable insights, and they’re relatively easy to secure (as long as you have clients in good standing), but they suffer a sometimes-debilitating weakness; they only examine one or a handful of instances. While the average reader may not think much of this distinction, you’ll forfeit any ability to make general conclusions or global insights based on the data you acquire, and you may earn fewer links as a result.
Last but not least, depending on the size of your company, you can search the depths of your records to come up with some aggregated metrics. For example, you may have a handful of clients using one particular strategy (strategy A), and a handful of clients using another (strategy B). If you notice that strategy A tends to work really well in the short-term, but strategy B works better in the long-term, you can publish a whitepaper documenting those results and collecting general information from your clients across the board. Unfortunately, businesses large enough to have access to this type of client information generally have a big enough budget to fund more intensive original research projects, rendering this strategy inaccessible to many small business owners.
Try using one of these research possibilities as the foundation for your next whitepaper. It will still demand your full attention, lots of time, and lots of effort, but the burden of research will be far more manageable overall. Consider adopting the same method for future whitepapers; upon repetition, you’ll be able to develop a skillset and familiarity for that specific method, and in time, you’ll become even more efficient at using it. The more efficiently you can produce whitepapers, the greater ROI you’ll be able to earn from them.
Want more information on content marketing? Head over to our comprehensive guide on content marketing here: The All-in-One Guide to Planning and Launching a Content Marketing Strategy.