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5 Things to Avoid When Writing a White Paper

By Sean Stapleton

Whoever named it a ‘white paper’ really did the practice no favors. The connotations of this label are irrelevant, ambiguous and, well, boring. But the truth is, white papers can be an extremely effective weapon in your content marketing arsenal.

However, there are some common errors and misconceptions that we often encounter when working on white paper projects with our clients. And if you commit any of these mistakes, you jeopardise a great deal of time and hard work. But not only that, you’ll also be compromising prospective sales opportunities, and nobody wants that!

So here are our five things to avoid when writing a white paper.

1. Being overtly ‘salesy’

Although increasing your sales is probably at the top of your agenda, a white paper is not a sales brochure. 

The overt purpose of a white paper is to educate the reader on an industry issue and eventually provide value, by way of a solution. It also facilitates the reader’s confidence in your problem-solving abilities. This can then lead to you converting your white paper readers into customers.

This also influences the tone, which should be informative and objective rather than promotional. So think of a white paper as a sales document that isn’t overtly salesy.

2. Coming across too dry

An objective and academic tone doesn’t have to mean a dry one. White papers are often long documents, so it’s essential that the reader is kept engaged. Otherwise, they may not reach the final payoff and appreciate the value of your product.

Remember – how you write your white paper is an expression of your brand. The ‘academic’ element should be taken care of by the well researched, data-centric nature of the report; not by impenetrable jargon, tepid language, or a lack of empathy.

Infographics and other images should be included to give the reader time to breathe and break up the dense text. They also help to present data rather than trying to explain it; which makes the statistics easier to digest.

3. Failing to consider your target audience

One of the main problems with a salesy approach to a white paper is that it’s more focused on the business’s boasts than on the needs of consumers. But consumers need to feel that you understand them and their needs.

One way to address this is to utilize an ideal customer persona. These are hypothetical avatars of plausible real life consumers, and can be incorporated into your white paper to create a convincing and engaging narrative arc. It may even make them aware of problems that they haven’t yet encountered.

By fleshing out their back stories, you can really paint a picture of the scenarios that your product helps to rectify. This helps to illustrate pain points before eventually providing a solution. And by creating various iterations of potential customers, you can address the needs of consumers at different stages of the sales cycle.

4. Cutting corners with research

Expansive research is an indispensable element of any white paper. But this shouldn’t be considered a chore, as your research underpins how valid and robust your arguments are. Therefore, it has to be watertight.

In which case, a bunch of Google searches aren’t going to provide any new insights into a topic that you’re the experts on. Not only that, but repurposed content and statistics are often transparent, undermining the credibility and thought leadership you’re striving for.

It’s a good idea to use a combination of primary and secondary research. Secondary research, such as existing industry journals and academic papers, can provide great insight on the subject. Whereas primary research, such as surveys, focus groups and interviews, enable you to gather original and unique data points. 

5. Lack of effective promotion

It’s pointless to create something if you’re going to lock it away, out of sight of your target audience.

Therefore promotion is the name of the game once you’ve written your white paper. You should promote it on all channels where you feel it will pique interest. This could mean hosting webinars on the topic, leveraging influential contacts, or of course utilizing your social media channels. But don’t spread yourself too thin; you don’t want to bombard unqualified prospects with irrelevant information.

Finally, ensure that your landing page is well designed and optimized. This is the final hurdle, where users decide whether or not to hand over their personal information and download it. A sleek page with alluring visuals (and perhaps a client success story) can really help with conversion.

Final Thoughts

So remember – approach a white paper as a sales document that isn’t too salesy or too dry. It’s an expression of your brand, that has to appeal to your target audience, while building trust and offering a solution to a problem. And a well researched white paper that’s objective and balanced goes a long way towards building that trust. The leads it will generate will be pretty good too!