Companies use white papers to sell products and services. A white paper is a powerful marketing tool. If done correctly, it can position your company as the clear choice to solve customer problems. A white paper can also position your business as a thought leader if it includes useful information and research about your products and services.
As a professional writer, I had the opportunity to write many white papers and other business documents. In this ultimate guide, I want to share with you everything you need to know to write a world-class white paper.
What makes an amazing white paper?
A white paper is a detailed document about a specific topic. It is an in-depth guide or report about an explicit challenge and a solution or a set of solutions. The goal of the white paper is to educate the reader and provide information on a topic. The document should provide a detailed argument to present a problem. It is critical to help the reader understand the details of the issue and how to solve it.
In terms of marketing, a white paper is a long-form business document. It is similar to an ebook, and some white papers can be as long as a book. A white paper is unlike many marketing documents in the sense that it is a technical document. In contrast to many other types of marketing communications, white papers can include a lot of technical details.
The concepts and arguments in white papers are often backed by statistics or original research. And if original research isn’t available, the publisher can aggregate research from various sources. Visual data such as tables, graphs, and charts are common elements of white papers.
When you think of a white paper, you should think of it as a “deep dive” on a specific customer issue. Businesses – especially in technology, financial, consulting, or B2B companies – use white papers to detail a line of argument about a business challenge. They use the paper to communicate their understanding or philosophy on a topic. It is an opportunity to make a case for the superiority of their solution to a specific business problem or to show research findings related to their expertise.
Your white paper should be less editorial and more in-depth research, science, and factual information. Because of its authoritative tone, a white paper is excellent thought leadership content.
How to avoid writing a bad white paper?
Let’s face it; writing a white paper is a time consuming and expensive project. You could spend a lot of time and money on a really awful white paper. Nobody starts out wanting to fail, yet a white paper project can easily turn into a train wreck. Sadly, even some of the largest businesses with huge marketing budgets create terrible papers.
If you want a great white paper, avoid the following mistakes:
- Inward focus – The reader of your white paper doesn’t care about your business. You may have a lot of passion for your company, product or service, but that doesn’t help the reader. If you want to write a great white paper, don’t focus on your business. Instead, focus on the customer’s pain. Offer the best possible solution, and you will have a white paper worth writing.
- Hype – Your customers see through the hype. Nobody wants to read through a ten-page long sales pitch. Avoid any claim without hard evidence. Your arguments should be supported by facts only. That is the only way to maintain the integrity of your white paper.
- Unprofessional writing – Even if you have excellent content, your paper will fail if it is poorly written. Hire a professional white paper writer. If you want a great quality white paper, it makes sense to hire an experienced professional to write it for you.
- Too long – If you value your customers’ time, you don’t write a white paper that is too long. You could have a great white paper that is only five pages long, or you could write one that is 90-pages long. Which one do you think is more likely to be read from beginning to end?
- Too short – I have never seen a one-page white paper that was great. You need to make an argument and present solutions to a business challenge. For a white paper to work, you need depth. You don’t need to write a book, but you have to spend enough time to explain your line of argument and offer a detailed solution.
- Bad title – There are many ways to screw up a title. Some titles are boring. Others can be misleading. A great title is a little bit of art and science. It may take you many attempts to write the best title, but it’s worth the effort.
- Weak design – Ask yourself: Does your white paper look professional? If you create a white paper with great design, it will help the reader. People will more likely read all the way through. With great design, you create a more valuable document for your audience.
- Poor visuals – A white paper that’s all text will be difficult to read. Charts, tables, and graphs will also help to make your point. Visuals look great, but they also help you create a more powerful document. Your business logo isn’t enough.
Types of White Papers
There are several different types of white papers businesses publish. But, the most common type of white paper is the “problem-solution” approach. A problem-solution white paper works because it walks the reader through the challenges and presents solutions. If you understand your target market and understand their pain, you have the beginning of an effective white paper.
Every type of white paper should be factual. Include research, facts, and statistics to prove your points. It is not enough to talk about your solution. You need proof to position you as an expert in your industry. If you fail to establish your company as an authoritative source, they won’t do business with you.
What is the purpose of a white paper?
One of the main reasons to write a white paper is to build trust. You need to establish your brand as a reliable and trustworthy source of information. If you have a great white paper, it could be the first document potential customers read online. It will help them understand the problem and show them a solution they can use. When they read your white paper, you have immediate credibility. You could pay a salesperson to reach out and explain your product or service’s benefits, but it wouldn’t be as effective as a white paper. Nothing will close the sale faster than a perception of authority. If you want to boost your sales, use white papers to position you as an expert.
A white paper is a powerful lead gen tool, and you can use it in the following ways:
- Offer the white paper to grow your email list.
- Publish it on your website to drive organic traffic to your website.
- Repurpose it and publish it as a video or a podcast episode.
- Take snippets from it and use it on social media.
- Email decision-makers and invite them to read your white paper.
- Create multiple blog posts on your website and link back to the paper.
- Share it with industry influencers and partners.
- Drive paid ads to it.
If your white paper solves a real problem, and you get it in front of the right audience, it can be an effective marketing tool for your business.
How to write a white paper?
Behind every great white paper, there is a system. If you start without a system, writing a white paper can feel like a daunting task. To create a valuable document, you need research, data, facts, and statistics. Putting it all together in a way that keeps the reader interested is a complex task.
You need the right process in place to create something worth reading. Following a few important guidelines will help you write something truly great.
What a White Paper Should Contain
If you want to write a white paper that results in sales, make sure it contains the following:
- Title – A powerful white paper title will grab the attention of the reader.
- Subtitle – Provide the most important one sentence as the subtitle of your paper. If you could only share one sentence with your target customer, what would that sentence be? Make that the subtitle.
- Executive summary or Introduction – Give a summary of the customer’s pain point and your solution. You need to write a powerful introduction, one that keeps the reader engaged with the document.
- Introduce the customer’s pain. It’s a mistake to talk about your solution at the beginning. First, you need to spend time on the problems your customers are facing. Provide details, numbers, facts, data, and statistics. If you can, do your own research and share your findings with the reader. For example, a survey is one of the easiest and least expensive research methods.
- Present the ideal solution. What makes the ideal solution? Provide proof, facts, statistics, data to make your argument. Don’t talk about your product yet. You are talking about the ideal solution, in general.
- Offer your product or service. This is your chance to make the case. What makes your solution the ideal solution? Provide the benefits of your product. By the time the reader is through this part of the document, they are ready to know more.
- After you have made your case and offered your solution, it is time for a CTA (call to action). Don’t assume that people will know what to do. Tell the reader what to do. Do you want the reader to call? If so, tell them to call now, and include your phone number. Do you want the reader to complete a form? Tell them to complete the form and include a link. Whatever you want the reader to do after reading your white paper, spell it out.
- Close your white paper with a short company summary. This is your chance to provide details about your company. Show your credentials. Tell the story about your business.
- In the header, include your logo. And in the footer, include your address, phone number, and email address.
How to write a great white paper headline?
The headline of your white paper is critical. Your white paper will fail if you have a low-quality headline. The headline is what readers see first, and if it doesn’t grab the reader’s attention, you failed. Look at news headlines to get an idea.
To write an outstanding headline is not a simple process. You need to take time. Understand that you might not have a great headline until after you have completed the paper.
The following steps will help you write the ultimate white paper headline:
- Understand the target customer. The headline must touch the customer’s pain. A great headline will trigger the emotions of the reader.
- If you can, include a hint of the solution. This may not be possible. Including the solution is not as important as the customer’s pain.
- Don’t write the headline first. It is best to start with an outline, even a rough draft, before you attempt to write the headline. Keep multiple versions, and test each headline. You can buy ads on social media channels to test your best headline. The one that gets the most clicks wins.
- Resist the urge to get everyone to agree on the headline. Just because your coworkers like the headline, it doesn’t mean that the headline works. Again, test your headline.
Here are some examples to begin a headline:
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