What is a white paper and how to write one? Read our step-by-step guide, see the examples, and grab a checklist full of expert tips! gethold of experttips!
In this post we cover:
What is a white paper?
White paper examples
When do you need a white paper?
The benefits of having a white paper
Nine white paper tips from experts
Six steps to compile a white paper
Seven tips on how to promote your white paper
New content just keeps pouring in every day. Your voice might simply be lost amidst that endless stream. However, there is a very effective way to stand out and make your story heard. How? Publish your own white paper! whitepaper!
Definition: whatis a whitepaper?
A white paper is a written document companies use to present their expertise and share solutions with their target customers.
Although made popular by government agencies as an informational document, white papers have been widely adopted by businesses. It is especially cherished by tech companies and corporations: industry knowledge and expertise are valuable sales levers for a saturated market or niche solutions.
In this article, we bring you everything you need to create and promote the perfect white paper. And we give you 5 sample white papers we have prepared.
Whenitis a good idea to have a whitepaper?
Producing an engaging white paper involves more resources (time and cost) than other types of B2B content (blog post, video, e-book, webinar, infographic, etc.). When is it worth investing in it? Which companies should see it a must-have and which ones can let it go?
A B2C company may very well compile a white paper to share its knowledge on a topic. However, most probably the added value for their target audience will be low. B2C audiences are more susceptible to the emotions conveyed by strong messages posted on social media: videos, photos and illustrations. They will not interact with longer, more engaging and academic written formats. In contrast, prospects and target customers in B2B markets prefer more detailed content, such as feature articles and white papers.
The highly competitive B2B market sets the bar higher than B2CSimple catalog-type content may disappoint them! However, if you skillfully demonstrate your expertise using an engaging white paper, you increase your chances of winning more points than your direct competitors from a potential customer. This will make a difference when a purchase decision is made.
White paper examples
In brief: the white paper format works perfectly for B2B companies and is a great asset in their content strategy. But what is that format exactly?
- A guide. You can use it to address a problem faced by a large portion of your audience and demonstrate how your services/products can solve it. Focus on advising directly from your experience and best practices.
Sample white paper: Case study by a BPM platform producer, WEBCON.
- A technical paper. As the name suggests, here you focus on the technical aspects of your service or product. With a technical white paper, you address a more mature target audience, winning their hearts in a way that is not possible with regular marketing materials.
- A trend report. It works well in presenting your company’s expertise and knowledge of the market and industry. It has good and bad sides. Once published, it is sought after and extensively quoted, even by general media. On the flip side, it has a short life cycle and quickly becomes obsolete.
Thereareatleast 3 reasons to have a whitepaper
1. You will build trust among your target audience
Your white paper content should demonstrate your experience and proficiency in a particular topic. If you manage to educate and guide a potential customer using your content, you will be remembered. There is a good chance they will come back to you for your product or service when they are ready for it.
2. You will support your sales staff
Social selling times means that building industry authority through publications clearly supports your sales team efforts and shortens the sales path. According to a Guardian article, white papers are typically downloadable from your website in exchange for the reader’s contact details. They’re often used at the start of the sales process. You get a chance to build up a mailing list of prospects who can then be nurtured towards becoming clients.
But that’s not all. White papers also come handy for sales people to send directly to prospects. It helps add weight to their sales pitch and complements other marketing literature such as brochures. Even at the end of the sales process the white paper can still play a crucial role. The arguments and data contained in it can help decision makers come to a conclusion. Last but not least, the white paper plays a significant role in the efficient education of new team members.
3. You will generate high-quality leads
Regardless of its format, a white paper is an ideal tool to support your inbound marketing strategy. A downloaded white paper is a sign that a visitor to your site is interested in the topics you cover and the solutions you provide. If its content is of a high enough quality, it raises the reader’s awareness or skills. This is how you have turned an ‘ordinary’ contact into a qualified lead.
ough quality, it raises the reader’s awareness or skills. This is how you have turned an ‘ordinary’ contact into a qualified lead.
9 tips from experts to help you write a white paper
Here we share with you best practices taken from some of our completed projects.
3 tips for content writers
1. Take time and research the matter
Regardless of how knowledgeable you are about your customers and the problems that your products and services solve, you simply can’t know everything about a topic. Be sure to do your own research and gather the latest knowledge and insights.
2. Talk to experts
Engage at least one industry expert from your company. This person’s knowledge goes beyond your expertise and is backed by hands-on experience. He or she will not only help you prioritize information, but also keep the publication expert as well as engaging.
3. Choose a beta tester
Choose a person not directly involved in drafting the content, but who has a certain degree of field expertise. This may be an independent expert or one of your clients. Let him or her go through the first version of the finished publication, even before it is released to a wider audience. This way you can test the white paper’s assumptions in practice and introduce necessary adjustments.
3 tips for graphic designers
1. Set content priorities
How comprehensible and valuable a white paper is often results directly from the quality of its graphic design. Most often, it features chapters that have headings, subheadings, subsections and guidelines. You need to keep it properly structured and hierarchical. Otherwise, the reader will quickly get tired and probably give up reading.
2. Print or online publication?
If the brief is not clear, find out the purpose of the white paper you are to design. This will affect the layout (bleeds, CMYK color treatment) and the number of pages (in print, the number of pages should be a multiple of 4 for a glued square spine). The issue of printing or publishing also matters for hyperlinks in the text (you don’t need them in print).
3. Create page templates
When going through a white paper, potential customers should see it is visually consistent. Your designing job cannot ignore developing a page template and paragraph styles. You can then easily maintain consistency and save time.
Here’s an example of a guide we made for e-point, a software developer. It had two goals: to enhance the company’s good reputation and to generate leads and convert them into new customers. We worked with experienced graphic designers from 13th Floor Studio. They made sure the entire document was consistent and that important content was properly presented. For details, see the whitepaper on the Digital Experience Platform for e-point.
3 tips for content managers (outsourcing to an agency)
1. Make a clear brief for the white paper
If you opt to outsource your white paper, start with describing your expectations very precisely. In this case, the more the better: the more precise the brief, the better the outcome. The brief sent to the agency should clearly state:
- Who is the target audience for the content?
- What is their level of knowledge about the topic you want to write about?
- What topic do you want to cover?
- What solutions do you offer?
- Who will be the subject matter experts sharing their knowledge in the publication?
2. Assign contact persons
If you decide to outsource the making of your white paper, you may not have the capacity or time to handle the micro-steps of such a project. To make sure the content writer has access to consultations and additional information, give him or her the details of colleagues in the company (if necessary, clients as well) so that the work can proceed smoothly.
3. Take care of details
You want your white paper to make the right impression on the audience. Don’t let minor yet painful goofs spoil the effort of the entire team. Have the drafted content reviewed by subject matter experts. Make sure there are no compromising misrepresentations or mental shortcuts in the text. When the file is ready in terms of content, ensure professional editing and proofreading (especially technical readers are sometimes sensitive to issues of linguistic correctness).
How to write a white paper in 6 steps
Regardless of the form you choose, a white paper has a clear goal: to demonstrate expertise and experience in the industry. It also aims to show your team’s ability to share it. The idea is to reassure potential clients that they made the right choice in contacting you.
The amount of work involved in creating a white paper is significant. Without a proper plan and work schedule, it’s hard to keep the project on course, especially if it involves individuals who are not engaged in writing on a daily basis. Make sure your project is consistent so that everyone involved is comfortable.
Step 1. Define the subject
A reader reaches for your text to satisfy some business need. He or she wants to learn something, not to read a novel. Also, if he or she wanted to read an advertising brochure, a white paper would not be the choice. This is why you need to decide who you are writing to. Who will be the target audience of your white paper? At this stage you should already have a good idea of your target audience and their interests. With a clearly defined person in mind, you will deliver content that will be read, understood and appreciated.
Once you have identified your target audience for the document, list the issues they face. Can you relate these issues to your products and/or services? Finally, try to identify how these issues and your products and services interact. What challenges are you helping solve?
With the answers to these questions in mind, the challenge is to choose a topic to elaborate. Here are three additional questions to help you make the right decision:
What makes your know-how stand out? If this is your first white paper, we advise you to focus on the topic closest to the core application of your products or services. Then, with a relatively small outlay, you can significantly strengthen your image in the market.
What are the most important customer challenges? Prioritize key challenges that your target audience faces (and that you can help solve).
Do you want to enter a new market segment? If your goal is to support the upcoming launch of new products and/or services, you can focus on related issues.
Step 2. Write a detailed outline
Before going full ahead, take the time to set the framework for the publication. A white paper outline should include:
- Title: it may not be final at this stage, but should give a good idea of what is inside.
- Brief summary: use 200 to 300 words to tell what topic the white paper addresses. It’s a good idea to come up with content for a landing page for your paper – this will help you map out the key issues quickly, with a focus on the benefits to the reader.
- Introduction: should be concise and clear, yet interesting, to encourage further reading.
- Parts: you don’t need to call them ‘chapters’; you can simply list issues or steps, while introducing clear sections will make it easier for the reader to navigate and organize thoughts.
- Examples and studies you provide to support your claims.
- Conclusions: remember these are from the user’s perspective (What’s In It For Me?).
Step 3. Do the research
A white paper is based on in-depth data and research cited straight from their sources. You can quote your own data as long as it is concrete – preferably presented as percentages. Unsupported claims have no place in a white paper.
List the experts (from the market and among your clients) that you could interview to strengthen the tone of the white paper and at the same time give the content writer more material. For example, a 15-page document should in our opinion feature at least 2-3 quotes from experts.
Read your competitors’ content – be inspired by what they do well and avoid repeating their mistakes.
Update yourself on the latest research in your industry – this will make your document more complete and up-to-date.
Browse government or independent agencies and NGO sites related to your industry.
Go to a library – specific academic sources, especially foreign ones, are much appreciated.
If possible, conduct your own research! You can then rely on a proven source of information, but also consolidate your brand image as an opinion leader in the marketplace.
Last year we had the pleasure of working with EIT Food, a non-profit organization that is part of the European Institute of Technology. This white paper covered observations from the research and the working group’s recommendations for the food service industry. Take a look at the final outcome, “Direction: Restaurant of the Future”.
Step 4. Start writing
You think you have enough material to move forward with your writing? Get started. And remember: you don’t necessarily have to have everything. Perfectionism is harmful! What matters is that your document has the final structure. Once you start writing, add nothing new – no matter how good the idea is.
The goal is not to write a long document. On the contrary, the challenge (and difficulty) in writing a white paper is to cover advanced topics in a clear and pragmatic way. The typical volume of a white paper ranges from 5,000 to 7,500 words.
5. Read, correct, check
The first draft is very rarely perfect. That’s perfectly normal. When you’re done with the text, put it aside for a day or two. Start editing and revising with a clear mind.
With a fresh eye you will immediately be able to identify any inconsistencies and any possible lack of connection between points. This reading stage will also give you a good idea of the overall quality of the document. Is it interesting? Is it boring? The best-case scenario is when the text is read by someone else than the author. At Contelia we take just such an approach: ‘the four-eyes principle’.
Once edited, the text should go to a professional proofreader. This is the final call to perfect the language and erase errors. Every substantive change triggers the editing and proofreading process once again. So, if you really need to introduce changes, choose one or two that are most urgent. Schedule the rest for the next revision of the publication.
6. Choose the design for your white paper
If your content has the looks – in other words is arranged in blocks of text – the reader will not feel overwhelmed. Your knowledge must fit into adequate space to present diagrams or figures. To avoid endless revisions and rounds of comments, write a project brief. Ideally, it should include (at least):
- Your vision for the document. If you have no corporate template for this type of publication, show the graphic designer some examples so he or she knows what you expect. If you have a template, make sure it is updated, modern and reflects your brand spirit.
- Full title and the concept for the white paper
- Table of contents format: do you want it to show only chapters or all document titles?
- Hierarchy of headings and subheadings
- Size of images and graphics
- All external links and references to sources
7 tips for promoting your white paper
There was blood, sweat and tears, but here it is! Your lovely new white paper waiting for readers. However, there will be no readers if you don’t promote it. The success of your promotional efforts depends on one key factor: making your white paper available on the channels your target audience uses. Here are some of the most popular (and effective) ways to promote your publication:
1. Put up a convincing landing page
Before you start promoting your white paper, you need to build an optimized site that will encourage visitors to download the content. If your site traffic allows it (several thousand visitors), we strongly recommend A/B testing to identify elements that drive more visitors to convert and maximize landing page performance.
However, if your traffic is not enough to run an A/B test with convincing results, don’t hesitate to ask for help from conversion experts.
2. Make it available on social media
Share your white paper on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Instagram. Create interesting, catchy posts featuring the cover of your document. Prepare a separate post for each channel: tailored in tone and content to your audience. The professional community on LinkedIn will appreciate a more businesslike tone, while Facebook or Instagram users will appreciate a more casual one.
3. Split your white paper into several blog posts
You don’t want to release the content as a series of articles, because that can damage lead acquisition. The point is to attract blog readers by sharing certain findings. The tricky part is to share enough information to engage the reader, but not so much that it discourages them from downloading the entire document.
4. Use your database
Email is alive and kicking. It’s still one of marketers’ preferred communication channels: secure, effective and, above all, inexpensive. If your audience is interested in what you have to say, they will be delighted to have your white paper delivered to their mailbox.
When mailing your existing recipients, you should adopt a tone as formal as that of the document. This will give your work more credibility. Additionally, ‘your’ recipients can receive an email with the publication even before the official launch on social media channels. They will feel special.
5. Share your white paper wherever possible
If what you have to say is interesting, users of discussion forums and review sites are sure to be interested. If you come across users ‘in need’ of information on topics related to your white paper, offer to share it with them.
Also, if you plan to hold conferences and breakfasts, print out your white paper and distribute it. Yes, we know it’s the digital age, but your clients and prospects will appreciate a high-quality printed reference material.
6. Consider paid promotion
If you want your white paper to reach as many people as possible, don’t ignore paid media. Many industry publishers offer to promote this type of content to qualified audiences at attractive prices.
7. Approach an influencer
Promotional cooperation with recognized experts in your field will bring you additional leads, but also increase awareness of your brand among your target audience.
How much does it cost to work with a B2B influencer? As usual – it depends. A simple tweet could cost from a dozen or so euro, while publishing an article promoting your white paper could cost hundreds of euros. If you are looking for premium support, check out Reachablogger, a platform that connects brands and influencers.
Ready to create your first white paper?
If you’ve read the entire post (well done!), you now have what it takes to compile a high-quality white paper. You also know that it takes time, energy and experience to think about, produce and promote this type of publication. If you are struggling alone – as is the case in many organizations – consider hiring a professional team.
We work with many clients from a variety of industries on publications. So, if you’re looking for a partner to manage your content marketing strategy or prepare your white papers, our Contelia team is waiting for your brief! And if you have any questions, we will be happy to answer them in a quick, 15-minute call, no strings attached.
Gallup's Strategic Maximizer and professional optimist. She is responsible for sales and customer service. Marta develops creative processes and procedures, specializing in creating teamwork flow. Previously, a freelance writer and Account Manager in PR agencies.
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