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dominoesLike many marketers, I find myself repeatedly drawn to Robert C. Cialdini’s touchstone classic –Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. It’s not hard to see why. As marketers, we need to understand what makes buyers tick. And Cialdini spells it all out for us.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the book, here are the key “triggers for compliance” according to Cialdini:

  • Reciprocity. We feel compelled to give back once we’ve been on the receiving end.
  • Authority – We’re more easily influenced by those we perceive to be authorities.
  • Likability – The more likeable someone is, the more easily we are persuaded by him or her.
  • Scarcity. Things are more desirable when they are less accessible or available.
  • Social Proof – As herd animals, humans feel safer following the pack.
  • Commitment and Consistency – We want to be consistent with our commitments.

As a marketing writer, I’m always thinking about how to apply these principles to the project at hand. Based on my experience, here are suggestions for how marketers can tap into these elements to deliver white papers that become weapons of influence.

Reciprocity – Want prospects to be more inclined to provide you with their contact information or agree to a demo of your solution? Then generously share your knowledge and insights with them.

Determine what information prospects need at each stage of the buying cycle. Is your paper targeted at those in the awareness stage? Include valuable information and suggestions, such as industry best practices and a checklist of what to look for in a solution. Are you targeting those in the consideration and decision phases? Embed a chart so the reader can see how you compare to the competition (whether another vendor or an in-house option).

Authority – B2B buyers want to know that you’re well versed in their issues. Positioning your company as a thought leader is a sure-fire way to establish authority. At the start of your paper, demonstrate your deep understanding of the prospect’s pain and outline relevant industry trends. Include references from respected third-party sources, such as analyst firms or a recognized industry expert.

Likability – We’re more inclined to like someone who has been helpful. Prove yourself as a trusted resource by delivering valuable information that the prospect can put to use (such as a checklist for what to look for or a wrap-up of industry statistics). At the same time, write your papers so that you come across as approachable. Many papers are written in an authoritative tone, using the third-person voice (for example, “Many companies are bogged down by issues such as…”). While that can help to establish authority, it can also feel cold and distant. Consider writing in the second person, directly engaging the reader with statements such as “Your organization is likely struggling with…” and “You can solve this pressing issue by…”.

Scarcity – The obvious way to tap into responses to scarcity is through a limited offer. Why not include exclusive information in your white paper? Perhaps your company can sponsor or conduct a survey or research project. Then when you promote the paper, make sure you emphasize that the information can’t be found anywhere else.

Social Proof – Assure prospects that others in their position – whether in the same role and/or at a company in the same industry – have solved similar challenges by using your solution. Include case study excerpts and highlights in your white paper to illustrate customer success. This social evidence can reinforce the prospect’s inclination to choose your offering.

Note: this tactic should be reserved for white papers targeted at prospects who are further along in the buying process, such as in the consideration phase. When prospects are just beginning to explore their challenges and options, they are seeking general information (i.e., they don’t want to be bogged down by details about your offering).

Commitment and Consistency – Once people indicate that they are committed to an idea or goal, they are more likely to honor that commitment. When it comes to getting prospects to commit to your company or solution, the idea is to get them to make a series of small commitments that move them through the buying cycle.

So how do you accomplish that with a white paper? In the call-to-action, encourage the reader to take the next step. Perhaps that is registering for a related webinar or signing up to see a demo of your solution. Whatever you offer, make sure it satisfies the prospect’s need at that stage in the buying cycle.