Star Light, Star Bright, How You Shine So Paper White

Star Light, Star Bright, How You Shine So Paper White
Affiliate Marketing


BY Jason Ciment | June 7, 2002

We've covered a lot of ground on building a "system" for affiliate marketing. To review:

  • Launch your Web site using the "Aggressive Affiliate Step-by-Step Guide."
  • Consistently work on your site usability to ensure clicks can easily convert.
  • Be credible. Highlight a phone number, testimonials, and industry awards.
  • Capture email addresses from nonbuyers for follow-up communications.
  • Use the "chocolate chip cookie recipe" and the "secret survey" to build and expand your affiliate list.
  • K.I.S.S. (keep it simple, stupid) your affiliates by making it effortless to link to and market your products and services.
  • Keep affiliates actively engaged with "scheduled" and "seductive" email offers.

As always, there's more territory to cover. So today, I would like to focus on expanding our selling tools — the resources merchants either use themselves or provide to affiliates to increase sales. These tools generally involve:

  • Preformatted links (with the affiliate ID for tracking purposes)
  • Canned copy for placement on Web sites or in email (offers and newsletters)
  • Banners and other icons graphically designed to encourage "clicks" to your site
  • Headlines and other compelling one-liners for text links to your site

I recently rediscovered a tremendously underutilized tool originated in 18th century England that is missing from the above list — something affiliates and merchants could give away "totally free" and will drive traffic that is both qualified and extremely targeted. I'm talking about the "white paper" — a concise report or position paper about a particular topic that is designed to significantly influence a prospective customer.

For example, MagMall (my company) is currently working on a white paper about "how companies can save time and money by using an online subscription service to manage their corporate subscription purchases." The purpose of the report is not only to convince a prospective corporate magazine user to consider the idea of buying magazines in a different way but also to use MagMall because our prices and services are better than the rest of the competition.

When a prospect picks up a white paper, she is, in effect, saying two things:

  • "How will your product or service solve my needs right now?"
  • "Teach me what I need to know to make a good decision."

White papers need to present your company favorably and reinforce why your organization should be selected over your competition. Since the goal is to ultimately influence a prospective customer into becoming an actual customer, you need high-impact white papers that can be easily understood by your audience and clearly demonstrate how your solution can solve the person's critical needs.

Here are four compelling reasons why white papers stimulate sales:

  • They are the first external source of information people consult when considering a purchase.
  • Good white papers are passed around to peers with similar needs.
  • White papers are often read before the company is first contacted.
  • They make the job of a sales representative much easier because the rep's role in the decision-making process is now just to support the claims in the white paper.

Here is a short list of rules for writing and delivering a white paper:

  • Make it lengthy — like 10 to 18 pages. Two pages are good for a teaser only.
  • Write it in HTML or PDF.
  • Use charts, graphs, diagrams, and tables to visually reinforce your solution. When you prepare a white paper with too much text, you tend to bore the reader after about three pages.
  • Start with an introductory summary paragraph, a short one- to two-page overview (that covers all the main points), then continue with the body of your paper.
  • Be specific, not general. Don't "puff your wares."
  • Don't be technical or complex.
  • Be credible. Lay out the assumptions you made when charting your strategy for success. Then review the flaws or limitations you expected to encounter as you planned your strategy. Conclude with how you overcame the flaws (or proved they didn't exist). By acknowledging some strengths of competing approaches, it will make the benefits you claim for your approach that much more credible. Customers prefer to do business with firms they trust, and a credible white paper offers you a chance to build that trust.
  • Use cool acronyms. Just make sure to explain them when you use them.
  • Make it easy to download. Limit the registration requirements.

As a final review, consider this notion. White papers are not the exclusive domain of technology companies. Properly disguised, white papers can be delivered as press releases, submitted to search engines, signed by "third parties" to create the impression of "independent review," or turned into step-by-step guides to understanding your company's products and services.

Just remember this golden rule: A good white paper should leave even a nonexpert convinced that your company's approach is the only one that makes sense. Too many white papers jump right into the details of the subject without providing any background information about why the need for that solution exists in the first place. A good white paper assumes the reader knows nothing about the issue and walks him through a logical progression of information, going from the broadest issues within the industry or business environment to the specific attributes of the solution and how it solves the business challenges.

Here is a list of white paper resources that were instrumental in preparing this review:

Please let me know if you have any war stories on using white papers or suggestions on other resources.


Jason Ciment is CEO of MagMall, which he founded 1997. He designed, programmed, and developed the fully interactive java and perl-based magazine subscription Web site that has more than 10,000 individual and corporate partners. He has also worked with manufacturing companies such as Liz Claiborne and Jones New York to maintain quality standards and prompt order fulfillment.

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