From the perspective of the marketer, a critical early task in the life science buying journey is education. It may even come before your audience of scientists recognizes they have a problem which needs a product or service to solve it. Once you have piqued their interest and seeded an idea in their minds, you need a lot more to get them across the finish line. Sometimes, a longer-form method of communication is merited, and that’s where the white paper comes in.
The Life Science Buying Journey
For those who are relatively new to this website, it should be expressed that I’m largely an adherent to Hamid Ghanadan’s viewpoint of the scientific buying journey, which views scientists as inherently both curious and skeptical. It’s illustrated in detail in his excellent book Persuading Scientists which is well-deserving of the long-overdue shout out. I’ve captured some of the concepts in a previous post: “The Four Key Types of Content.” To give the oversimplified TL;DR version of both:
- The default state of scientists is curious. They readily take in information.
- As they take in new information, they form ideas about it and transition from being curious to being skeptical.
- If they cannot validate the information, they generally reject it.
You can see how a buying journey fits into this mindset:
- The scientist is presented with a new idea.
- As they learn more about this idea, they realize that they may need a product or service.
- The critically evaluate the product(s) / service(s) presented to them.
- A decision is made.
The goal of the marketer is to seed the scientist’s curiosity, continuing to provide them with information which will shape their viewpoint in your favor without engaging skepticism too early. That is how you maximize your chances of a positive purchasing decision.
Understanding What a White Paper Is … and Isn’t
A white paper is intended to provide either educational content (helpful, customer-centric information) or validation content (information which verifies a belief that the customers hold or a claim that the brand is making which may be customer-centric or product-centric). In either situation, the primary purpose is to inform your audience. Novice marketers may consider the format (usually pdf) and conflate a white paper with a brochure but they are two very different things.
All marketing documents exist on a rhetorical sliding scale between being fully informational and fully promotional. A brochure would be far onto the promotional side of that scale; it is extremely product-centric and its purpose is largely to encourage a purchase. A white paper would be most of the way towards the informational side of that scale. Creating a white paper which is overly promotional risks engaging the scientists’ skepticism before they have adopted your viewpoint, creating a situation where their inclination is to disbelieve you. This situation generally results in them rejecting your offering.
Writing Copy for an Effective White Paper
Your white paper should be about:
- a single topic
- which is of interest to your audience
- of which you know substantially more than your audience
This may seem simple, but framing it can be difficult.
Presumably, your company is in the business of solving some type of problems for life scientists. They might not know what their problem is, but you do. Why should they care? Why is what you are doing compelling? You almost certainly have answers to these questions, but you likely have them framed in the context of your product. How can you take those answers and communicate them in a manner which is customer-centric instead of product-centric? Start by talking about your scientist-customers’ problem rather than your solution and you’ll be headed in the right direction.
There are times when a more product-focused white paper can be appropriate, however. For instance, you may have a new technology which is unfamiliar to your audience and you need to educate them about it. In this case, you have to talk about your solution to some extent. When that is the case, be sure to focus on providing information about the technology, not promotion for the product. You need to take care to ensure the information is objective, communicated in a unbiased manner, is well-referenced with independent sources, and uses independent voices (e.g. voice of the customer) wherever an opinion is necessary.
Formatting a White Paper Effectively
There is no particular length restriction on a life science white paper, but if you are calling it a white paper, your audience is likely expecting it to be somewhat in depth. A two-page minimum for a white paper is a good guideline to adhere to. For much longer white papers, you should consider yourselves constrained by your ability to maintain your audience’s attention. Demonstrating your expertise does not mean writing more than you need to. As is almost always the case, less is more. Be as concise as you can while fully communicating your point.
Avoid walls of text. Too many words and not enough visuals will make your audience less likely to get through your content. Use illustrations where possible, and don’t feel bad using relevant stock imagery to break things up. Ensure the document isn’t boring to the eyes by using brand-relevant colors, shapes, iconography, and other visuals. Ideally, you should have a generalized white paper format which you maintain throughout all of your documents to provide consistency. You want people who read your white paper to know it is your brand’s white paper, even if they didn’t see a logo.
Circling back on what a white paper is and isn’t, you’ll recall that we need a primarily informational document. However, you might not want an entirely informational document. Your job is to sell things, and purely informational things are generally not great at selling. You want to sprinkle some promotion in there. But how? Through creative use of formatting! You don’t want people to become skeptical of the information you are providing them in the body of the white paper, so don’t put promotional content in the body of the white paper! Use clearly-delineated sections to cordon off your promotional content. Help prevent skepticism of your promotional messages by using voice-of-customer (testimonials, etc.) whenever possible. You can also leave your promotional messages to when customers will most expect it – the end of the document. Like almost all effective marketing documents, you don’t want to leave out the call-to-action!
Deploy Your White Paper Effectively
Far too often, life science companies will write a really good white paper then tuck them off in some remote corner of their website. You have it, use it! Post about it on social media (more than once!), put it somewhere on your website which is relevant but readily findable by anyone looking for that kind of information, and blast it out in an email to a well-segmented section of your audience. If appropriate, use it as the hook for a well-targeted paid advertising campaign. The worst thing you can do after spending the time and resources to create a white paper is to only have a few dozen people ever read it.
Presumably you’ll be using your white paper to generate leads and will therefore have it gated with a download form (although you certainly don’t have to). If it is gated, create a compelling download page for your white paper which previews just enough of the content to make the audience want more but without giving up its most important lessons.
Recap on Effective Life Science White Papers
To write an effective white paper:
- Understand where your white paper fits within the customer journey.
- Maintain its primarily informational purpose.
- Keep to one topic which will be of interest to your audience.
- Focus on information which most of your audience likely will not know.
- Allow what you have to communicate to dictate the length.
- Don’t skimp on the visuals.
- Clearly separate any promotional messages to avoid creating skepticism about the core topic.
- Shout it from the rooftops to get attention to it!
White papers are centerpieces of many life science demand generation campaigns. By understanding and implementing these guidelines, they can help drive successful lead generation for your life science company as well.