How to Generate Massive Volumes of Leads with White Papers & Email Marketing

16 Aug
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This is a guest post by Daniel Waas of White Paper Depot.

Whitepapers are one of the most effective lead generation tools available in B2B Marketing (Marketers named it #2 in the recent B2B Barometer Report). But even the most well-crafted whitepaper will fail to meet your expectations if your distribution strategy is putting the content on your website, waiting and hoping for the best.

To make the time you have invested into creating a compelling whitepaper pay off, you’ll need to get the word out.

Listening to the buzz you might think social media is your best bet, but from my own experience traditional, boring email will outperform social media in most cases.

The only downside: while social promotion is predominantly a time investment, successful email campaigns will require a sizeable budget.

Building your email list

The reason you’ll need that budget is your target email list. Unless you own a large subscriber base you will have to rent contacts. The options available are:

1. Newsletter ads – a banner or text ad in a third-party newsletter

2. List rental – a partner sends your creative to their own subscriber base for a CPM

(Stay away from purchasing lists unless you want to end up on a blacklist)

3. Cost-per-lead partnerships – a partner sends your copy in their design for a cost-per-lead

No matter what option you chose to go with, the deciding factor is always list quality. Make sure you know who your target audience is, then identify a matching list. A very good source for researching lists is I’d recommend department, industry and job title as the primary criteria to use to find a match.

Make sure you rent a true subscriber list, where the opt-ins are from a single source. Stay away from compiled lists, where the names have been collected from directories.

Instead of buying one larger list, try to hedge your bets by going with three different lists at smaller recipient numbers. Instead of renting one list with 30,000 subscribers, go with three lists of 10,000 recipients each. That way it’ll be more likely that you find a list that works well for you.

The Email List Price Index will give you a good idea of the budget involved to get your email campaign off the ground.

If you want to learn more, check out the various ClickZ articles by Jeanne Jennings. Jeanne is a great resource on all things email marketing and I wholeheartedly recommend her. She’s also a speaker, so if you get the chance it’ll be well worth your time.

Crafting the email and subject line

With choosing your list(s) you have already made the critical decision and laid the foundation for your success. The next important factors are your offer, your subject line and the email itself. I assume you’ll be marketing a whitepaper, so let’s go straight to the subject line.

Anatomy of a killer email subject line

• Use lower-case letters as that feels less like blatant advertising

• Avoid spam words like Free, cheap, $$$, etc.

• Use active, actionable language (i.e. verbs)

• State clearly what is in it for them

• Get to the point quickly

• Test, test, test

Here are two good articles on the subject (no pun intended) from Copyblogger and Todd Bates.

Create Emails that sell

Now that you have the attention of the reader you need to create an email that sells the whitepaper. Here are the tips to apply:

• Keep it short

Avoid paragraphs longer than three lines. Promotional emails are scanned, not read.

• Get to the point

Make sure your intro paragraph gets to the point immediately. Tell the readers what’s in it for them.

• Use bullet lists

The eye loves bullets. They get read. Put juicy benefits in the bullets. Bullet 1 should be the juiciest, bullet 5 the second most juiciest

• Include a hero image

An appealing hero image of the whitepaper will get more clicks. Read this post on ‘How to create stunning whitepaper hero images.

• Use image captions

Image captions are one of the most-read parts of emails & websites. Make use of them

• Make everything clickable

Readers click on a whim. Make sure there’s a link behind where they click

• Focus on one call-to-action

“Download now” or “Download the Whitepaper” should do nicely

• Make the call-to-action a button

There should be no doubt that this is where the reader is supposed to click

• Use a PS line

Everyone reads the PS. Use it wisely

Maximizing conversion with a compelling landing page

Now that your email marketing prowess has driven boatloads of potential customers to your website you are now faced with converting them. Here’s how:

• Have a dedicated landingpage

Your landingpage should be clutter-free and promote only the whitepaper

• Reduce navigation

Avoid users getting distracted by reducing the navigation elements to just a logo taking them back to your main site

• Have a prominent headline

A bold headline that reiterates parts of the subject line tells users they’ve come to the right place and reduces bounce rates

• Repeat the hero image

Serves the same purpose: A visual clue that this is what they came for

• Restate the benefits

Use the copy and another bullet lists to restate the benefits in slightly different terms

• Offer a preview

Allowing users to preview a shortened version of your whitepaper helps get them sold. Think Amazon’s ‘Look inside’

• Have a big call-to-action

Another ‘Download now’ on a big button

• Keep the form short

You will likely want to collect lead information. Make sure you only ask for data you absolutely can’t do without!

• Give the form some love

The form is the critical piece of the landingpage. Make sure form field validation rules are reasonable, error messages are easy to understand and that the overall form looks nice.

Watch the leads roll in

Alright, you’ve done your bit. Provided your whitepaper is any good you will now see the leads roll in. See the table to the right for a (conservative) calculation of likely outcomes of a $4,000 investment.

In summary:

1. Rent the right list

2. Create a killer subject line and matching creative

3. Build a high-converting landingpage

What is you experience with promoting whitepapers? Is email the most effective channel for you as well? How is lead generation through social channels working for you?

I’d love to discuss in the comments below. Feel invited 🙂

About the Author

Daniel Waas is a B2B marketer with a passion for online marketing and a special interest in content strategy and creation. He heads up the Demand Generation team of Citrix’ Online Services Division in Europe, but this blog post is based on his personal experience and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of the company. Daniel also owns and runs, a brand new download portal for whitepapers, eBooks and PDF guides. Currently he spends a lot of time watching the Google Analytics flatline that is his website visitor graph. Consequently if you like this post he’d be super-excited if you would share it, follow him on Twitter (@WhitepaperDepot), check out the Whitepaper Depot Website or post a comment below.


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  • This is the first time I have heard of renting a list. I have always been taught that you should build your list, on your own, and that of course it would take YEARS to create a good list. Also, if a list of people who opted-in can be rented, then I would imagine the members of the list would be angry when they get correspondence from someone other than the list owner.

    However, I’m interested in learning more. I think I’m revealing my ignorance on the types of lists out there. I’d like to know about your experiences in this area. Feel free to contact me by email.

    Regarding offering a preview, I tried a trick I learned from Clay Collins once and it really works. When you display an image of the eBook or white paper, make some of the text blurry enough to be unreadable. This makes people curious. I think it creates a type of psychological tension that can only be resolved by getting the book.

    • Hey David, great question! A list of that you’ve built yourself will be very responsive and the time & effort involved in building one is definitely well-spent. As you’ve already mentioned it can take very long to build a list from scratch. List rental is a great way to boost response while your house list is small, or to add even more volume to an already substantial house list. The caveat is the price. To make it work you’ll want your offer to be low risk to the subscriber (which is why whitepapers work well), so that the number of conversions you get justify the budget spent.

      When you look for a list to rent I would recommend you go with a small publication that is a close match to your target audience. The list owners make it clear to their subscribers that they are sending a sponsored message. Usually you’ll find a header that says something along the lines of “A sponsored message sent to you by [LIST OWNER] on behalf of [ADVERTISER]”. The response rates will be lower than what you’ll be seeing from your house file, but if you’ve chosen the list well you’ll still see a significantly positive ROI. Hope that helps.

      Thanks also for the tip with the blurry preview copy. I’ll give that a try 🙂

  • After writing your great whitepaper, you can then use a service like SlideShare Pro or to promote it. Simply writing the whitepaper doesn’t necessarily generate leads unfortunately…

  • Is the Twitter the best business ever made? Yes, though that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Twitter took a good product and made it better through their policy upgrades.