winter / 2015

The magazine of branded content

How to create award winning whitepapers...

...and turn your business into a thought leader
Juliet Stott
Feb 24, 2016

Mike-Winkleman.jpg

Mike Winkleman, president of Leverage Media

Multi-award winning content marketer Mike Winkleman, president of Leverage Media, knows how to create award winning whitepapers. His firm’s work has been recognized for three years running by The Content Council’s prestigious Pearl Awards. Last year The Content Council awarded him Gold for a whitepaper series Leverage Media produced for the payment processing company Vantiv. Over the course of 2014, Vantiv was able to track about $28 million of its revenue to its thought-leadership program, with $7 million of that coming from customers whose first exposure to Vantiv was through its thought leadership content, giving Vantiv a 1000% return on investment. Here Winkleman shares his firm’s strategy on how to create award-winning whitepapers that help to turn their clients into thought leaders—and win them business too.



1. Make it useful and informative: The key to whitepapers is to make sure they’re useful and informative. Like any content marketing, they can’t be sales-oriented. Don’t talk about how great you are, what terrific work you’ve done, what new products you’ve launched, and so forth. That doesn’t make for compelling reading. Successful whitepapers are built around a user’s information needs. Find out about what your clients’ or potential clients’ pain points are, what they are wrestling with. What do they need to know to do their business better? What can you offer to help them?

2. Commission research to create content original: For Vantiv’s whitepapers we worked closely with a market research firm with expertise in Vantiv’s industry. We developed a questionnaire through which we interviewed consumers as well as financial institutions and merchant executives to see if there was a disconnect between what the executives thought and what the consumers believed. This provided us with a lot of new, unique and proprietary information. And not only did it allow us to present that information as findings, it also gave the Vantiv executives and subject matter experts (we quoted in the whitepaper) something to think about and respond to, rather than having to struggle to find new things to talk about that weren’t product and service specific.

3. Be bold, brave and say something new: Thought leadership is something people talk about a lot more than they practice. Lots of companies are more likely to be thought followers than thought leaders; they just recount what’s already happened rather than looking to put things in a forward-looking context. For whitepapers to be effective, to really communicate thought leadership, they need to be bold, brave, and contain information that may actually put a company out on a limb. But that’s less dangerous than it might seem. The truth is, nobody will remember a year from now that you predicted something that didn’t happen; what they’ll remember is that you said something smart, logical, and authoritative that built on your knowledge, experience, and expertise. Customers are grateful when they get this kind of information from companies. They not only think more highly of the brand, but that translates into more loyalty as well.

4. Own key words within your industry: An important reason for producing a whitepaper is to differentiate yourself from your competitors. For Vantiv, we didn’t want to use the whitepaper to say that the company’s payment processing products were better, faster, and more advanced (even if they were). Instead, we wanted to use it to show that they were smarter than their competitors, that they understood the market and consumers better as well as the needs of financial institutions and merchants, which meant, in turn, that they could serve their customers better (with better, faster, more advanced products). We adopted and took ownership of key words such as omni-consumer, omni-integration and omni-sales that we popularized and incorporated into all the whitepapers, webinars, infographics, and blog posts that we created as part of the thought leadership campaign, reinforcing the notion that Vantiv is a thought leader.

5. Let journalists write the content: PR and marketing writers are great at writing PR and marketing copy, but we’ve found that journalists are better at writing whitepapers, partially because they are used to thinking about the reader’s information needs and thereby making the copy reader-driven. Journalists make sure the content is going to answer the questions the readers have, not focus on what the sponsor wants to sell. The natural inquisitiveness that journalists bring to their work can also widen the scope of the brief, allowing them to incorporate a wider range of facts, trends, and opinions, written in a style that is informative and factual, rather than promotional. If you use the same journalists over and over, they will quickly become experts in the subject matter. However—and this is critical—the journalist has to understand that whitepapers, at their heart, are selling something. So while they need to provide valuable information to the reader, at the same time they need to be attentive to the company’s overall goals.

6. Use the whitepaper as the linchpin for all your content: The whitepapers should do two things: first they should be the primary document upon which each phase of your content marketing campaign is developed. The award winning whitepaper, “The Omni-Integration Imperative: Reaching the Omni-Consumer,” was created as the heart of just one of six campaigns that comprised the overall content marketing strategy developed for that year. But everything else we did in that campaign was spawned by the whitepaper—and the whitepaper itself was tied, thematically, to the other five whitepapers produced in the series. Which brings us to the second point: Using the content developed for the whitepaper, we were able to create webinar scripts and decks (which attracted hundreds of attendees) and then follow those up with blogposts, infographics, byliners, one-sheets, and more. Perhaps most importantly, the whitepaper served as a lead-generation device. If someone signed up for a webinar, they were sent the whitepaper. If someone contacted a Vantiv salesperson, they were sent the whitepaper. And, significantly, if a potential customer visited Vantiv’s thought-leadership webpage (which turned out to be the company’s most visited page) they found a promo for the whitepaper—and could only acquire it if they registered and provided an email address.

7. Create a push-pull strategy to distribute: You can’t assume that everyone is going to come to your website, see the whitepaper, and download it. You’ve got to let them know it’s there—by sending emails teasing out the findings, sending links on social media, posting an abridged version on LinkedIn, flagging the findings on your company’s homepage, and creating a dedicated thought leadership page where all thought leadership content is published (with much of it accessed only by registering). And it’s not a bad idea to have some hard copies to send to influencers—such as analysts and industry journalists—too.

Juliet Stott
Feb 24, 2016

Mike-Winkleman.jpg

Mike Winkleman, president of Leverage Media