If you had to describe writing a white paper with one word, it would be effort. Much like standing at the foot of a mountain or starting a Peter Jackson movie, writing a business white paper can seem daunting.
But while writing a white paper can be time-consuming, when done right they can provide significant benefits to your business.
Here at Publicize we’re fully aware of this, which is why we’ve created this guide to writing a white paper. Our guide will walk you through the following:
First off, let’s be clear. We’re talking about a business white paper, not a government white paper (that’s a whole other thing!).
So what are white papers in business?
‘White papers are often written as sales and marketing documents used to entice or persuade potential customers to learn more about or purchase a particular product, service, technology or methodology.’
That’s a nice and succinct technical definition. But here’s our take on what a white paper is:
It’s a sales document that isn’t overtly salesy.
They’re way more formal and academic in tone, compared to say a typical blog post, brochure or ebook. The narrative also differs from other types of content as a white paper presents a problem to the reader before providing a solution (in the form of a business’s product or service).
Therefore, to build the salesy but not too salesy tone, white papers need to be exhaustive in their research.
The below infographic unpacks the key characteristics of a white paper, compared to Ebooks and blog posts.
As we’ve discussed, writing a white paper is a fair investment in both time and energy. So the obvious question you’re probably asking yourself is “what’s going to be my return on this investment?”
Well, the benefits of a well-written white paper can be numerous and long-lasting, as the below infographic shows.
Here’s a break-down of the purpose of a white paper:
First step of writing a white paper is to come up with a sound idea.
The internet is sadly awash with poorly researched and ill-conceived content marketing documents dressed up as white papers. These provide little-to-no benefit to the company that produced it, as they’re not going to build legitimacy or authority, nor act as an effective sales tool.
Therefore, don’t be tempted to cut corners to save time or money. You’ll simply see no return on your investment.
So, how do you come up with a killer idea for a white paper?
Well first off, think in terms of the standard narrative arc of a white paper:
You need to make sure you can wrap your idea around this narrative. It sounds pretty abstract, right? Well, having worked on many white papers for our clients, we’re very aware of this!
That’s why we always start the process by asking the following questions:
Here’s a quick example.
You’re writing a business white paper for a new mobile app you’ve developed. It connects DJs looking for sets, with nightclubs that are trying to fill cancellations. Following the above process…
You can take this a step further by developing an ideal buyer persona. An ideal buyer persona is essentially a hypothetical avatar of an ideal customer, from within your target market.
They aid marketers in empathizing with prospects and can be very helpful in the development of a white paper. The reason for this is that they can help to create a convincing narrative arc.
You should go into a fair bit of detail when creating your persona. Consider their background, their current situation, their motivations…anything that creates a well-rounded character that the reader will identify with.
This helps you lay out a convincing scenario, featuring a pain point which will affect your persona. You’re then able to resolve this issue, later in the white paper. This adds a human element to the solution you’re selling while keeping the reader intrigued in the narrative you’ve developed.
As we have already established, solving the pain points of your target audience is the key for writing an effective business white paper.
To get your creative engines going, here are some examples of how to come up with a white paper topic idea:
–Use something that already works. Turning your most successful blog into a white paper is a sure way to pick a topic that interests your audience.
–Focus on most common themes and objections coming up on sales calls. Having close ties with the sales team can help you identify exactly what your audience wants to read about and where they need more convincing. This is true especially when writing B2B white papers.
–Stay in the loop of changing industry trends. Monitoring the industry trends and picking up any relevant topics within your area of expertise can help you write an effective thought leadership white paper.
–Target valuable transactional keywords. People searching for keywords with commercial intent are ready to make a purchase. This is why these keywords work as great topics for a white paper (as long as they’re relevant to your product and target audience of course).
Before sitting down to write a white paper, you need to thoroughly research the subject.
Remember – a white paper is a factual and objective document that provides an unbiased analysis of a subject. Therefore, failure to conduct proper research and gather watertight data points and references will really impede your ability to produce a white paper that will hold up to scrutiny.
Research falls into two categories:
A well rounded, authoritative white paper should contain both primary and secondary research.
Relying exclusively on your own data provides too narrow a viewpoint, whereas failing to conduct primary research reduces your authority on the issue at hand. Primary research also provides you with something trustworthy, unique and up-to-date, while showing that you’re willing to get your hands dirty.
So this being the case, here are some of the ways you can research a white paper:
As a business white paper is formal and academic in tone, it needs to follow a set structure. To get it right, follow this white paper template below.
Now that all of your planning is in place, it’s time to start writing the thing. When it comes to writing a white paper, there are some important considerations to bear in mind.
The title is crucial and needs to:
Now that you’ve nailed your title, there’s the small matter of the entire document to contend with! However, by following a logical process, this shouldn’t cause too much panic.
We’ve mentioned in the introduction and we’ll mention it again here, a white paper should be salesy without being too salesy. Therefore, your tone needs to be academic and objective throughout. But this doesn’t mean it should be dry or overcomplicated.
Include plenty of infographics and other visuals in the document.
Reading a white paper can be a bit of a slog, so it’s important to break up dense chunks of text with something a little more visually stimulating. This allows the reader to reset their fatigue before approaching the next section.
It’s also a more effective way of presenting data; summarizing key points, making statistics easier to digest and so on.
There’s a chance you may get a little lost at certain points due to the scope of a white paper. In this event, you should refer to the white paper template. It can help you to regain your focus and segment the white paper appropriately.
When it comes to what format your white paper should be in, there are two options which both have their pros and cons:
Which white paper format works best for you depends on your objectives.
As you can see, PDF gated content has clear benefits in terms of lead generation. But would you prefer to make the content more accessible and reduce ‘friction’ for the user?
To help you with the decision making, here are some successful white paper examples to look at:
As a philosopher may have once said, ‘If a white paper languishes unread, was it ever really written?’ Well, it may as well not have been.
Therefore marketing your white paper is a vital final step.
There are umpteen ways to promote your white paper. The below infographic provides a summary of the main ways you can do this.
You did it! Or you read it, at least. This guide to writing a white paper has walked you through every element of the white paper process; from establishing whether it’s the format for you, to producing that humdinger of a title, all the way to sending your findings out into the world.
If you followed these steps carefully, your business white paper is now ready to go to attract more qualified leads, establish thought leadership and build brand awareness for your company.
That’s quite the triumvirate, and may well have been worth the hard work! Good luck.
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