How To
15 min read

Everything You Need To Know About White Papers, Plus How to Write One

Rachel Chaiet

June 2, 2022

A marketing staple, white papers are a powerful marketing tool that can help you take your business to the next level. Check out our comprehensive guide below to learn everything you need to know about white papers and how to write your own.

white printer paper with green leaves

What is a white paper?

Want your potential customers to learn more about what you have to offer? A white paper could be exactly what your business needs. They are an extensive report or guide covering a specific topic written as a sales or marketing document. White papers can help you generate leads, make a sale, position your company as a thought leader, or advocate for a certain position. The paper’s topic can be a new product, service, technology, or policy. The possibilities are endless! 

What should your white paper look like?

An academic writing style is the best choice for a white paper. In most cases, your white paper should be at least 2,500 words long. It should provide factual and persuasive evidence to convince leads that you have the superior solution to their problem. 

Your white paper shouldn’t be too focused on sales; you want it to comprehensively cover your topic.  Include illustrations, charts, and references that support your points and engage the reader. The white paper’s structure should be quite formal, with a title page, table of contents, executive summary, introduction, a breakdown of the problem, solutions, and a conclusion. Don’t underestimate the power of a captivating visual document — you might consider hiring a graphic designer to produce a white paper that professionally represents your brand.

Interactive white papers are a responsive format where your reader can interact directly with the content. Compared to a more traditional, static white paper in a pdf format, interactive white papers are dynamic. They are similar to navigating through a website. By being in control of their experience, the reader stays interested and engaged. Interactive marketing can help you boost conversions and demonstrate your expertise, so it’s definitely a format to consider for your white paper. However, keep in mind that it may take more time, effort, and money to create an interactive white paper.

There are three main types of white papers:

Backgrounder:  A backgrounder white paper details technical features of a product or service. Technical information can be complicated, so a backgrounder allows you to communicate to your potential leads and make your product easy for them to understand. According to white paper specialist Gordon Graham, a backgrounder is the best choice in three specific situations: promoting an undisputed leader, supporting a technical evaluation, or supplementing a new product launch. 

Backgrounder white papers are best for potential customers in the last stage of their purchasing journey. These customers have evaluated the options and are narrowing them down. That’s why a backgrounder is perfect for helping prospects understand how you solve their problem and why they should choose your company. For undisputed leaders, a backgrounder’s purpose is slightly different — the notoriety that these big companies possess means that buyers will already be familiar with what they have to offer. Therefore, they have the privilege of being able to simply present the details of their product, service, or industry.

Problem/solution: If your business solves a particular pain point for your target customer, you can use a problem/solution paper to provide a data-backed argument for how your product or service offers an innovative solution to that problem. Your white paper should cover all existing solutions and highlight why your answer is the best. For example, suppose Uber had created a white paper when they first came to market. In that case, they could have used a problem/solution white paper to explain why their rideshare platform is the best solution in the for-hire vehicle transport industry. 

Problem/solution white papers are great for targeting prospects at the start of their purchasing journey because you can introduce them to a solution early on in their research process.

Numbered lists: In this type of white paper, a numbered list outlines the fundamental takeaways of your product or service. Most numbered list white papers use headings, numbers, or bullet points to simplify complex topics. For example, if you owned a digital marketing agency specializing in LinkedIn marketing, you could create a white paper titled “5 Ways to Revolutionize Your LinkedIn B2B Marketing Strategy”. 

Close-up of pen on empty note paper sheet, white note pad with number listed priority or to do tasks  number list stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

Numbered lists are best for when you have prospects in the middle of their customer journey that are still considering several options for solutions to their problem. Numbered lists bring significant points about your topic to life, so you can use this to your advantage. They’re not often used for highly complicated topics that need a more detailed explanation. But they are great if your goal is to create brand awareness, as numbered lists tend to attract readers

Why do you need a white paper? 

A white paper can serve many different purposes. What you get out of it will be unique to your business and dependent on the topic of your white paper. For commercial purposes, a white paper could help guide the decision-making process of existing and future customers. Generally, a white paper endorses a particular position or argues for a certain solution to a specific problem. For example, a country could use a white paper to outline its foreign policy plans for a period of time. The purpose of this white paper would be to provide a comprehensive framework that guides international engagement over that period. 

While white papers can be highly beneficial, they do require an extensive amount of work. Plus, they’re not an easy read, so you need to ensure that your paper is the right fit for your audience. People usually read white papers when they’re looking to solve a problem, satisfy a need, or seeking more information about a specific product or service. 

Here are some examples of when you should use a white paper:

Generate leads and sell a product or service

A white paper can demonstrate to your audience why your product or service is necessary. You’ll want to highlight the problem and how you provide the best solution. Some effective tools that you can use to support your claims are research, case studies, and testimonials. Especially if your product or service is expensive, a white paper can help you justify the price with an extensive explanation. Plus, 76% of buyers said they would share their personal information in exchange for a white paper. So, featuring a white paper on your site is a great way to capture lead information, and you can convert them from there.

Establish authority in your industry 

One of the most valuable things in the eye of the consumer is trust. To establish trust, you’ll want to demonstrate authority and thought leadership in your field. A white paper helps you do precisely that because you can incorporate research and references that back up all of your claims. It’s also a highly professional document compared to other marketing materials such as blogs or brochures. 

Nurture prospects

When a potential customer or client is progressing through the stages of the buyer’s journey, a white paper can be a powerful tool to nurture them and ideally turn them into a paying customer. 

Attract investors 

White papers are a massive help when it comes to marketing to investors. When you’re creating a white paper in hopes of persuading investors to give up some cash, you need to illustrate your understanding of the market and how your product relieves potential customers’ pain points. 

 

Educate your audience

Take the opportunity to use a white paper to educate your audience on something related to your industry as a whole. When your audience understands your purpose and why it is significant to them, you can reap the rewards through lead generation. 

Promote brand awareness

When you start a new business and your brand is virtually nonexistent, a white paper can introduce your business to the world. Your topic can focus on the primary goal of your company or the product or service you’ll be launching first. 

Improve SEO ranking

A good white paper will generate traffic to your website and help you appear higher on search engine results pages. It’s also a great piece of content to include on your website because it offers valuable, high-quality information, which is important to search engine algorithms. 

How to write a white paper

Writing a white paper can be a daunting undertaking. Follow these steps to help you successfully navigate the entire process. You’ll end up with a thorough and professional white paper!

Step 1: Define your audience

The most important part of the white paper process might be understanding your audience. It will guide how you format your paper, what information you include, and how you promote it. 

Here are some of the questions you’ll want to ask about your audience: 

  • Why will they be interested in the topic?
  • How do they usually engage with information?
  • Do they prefer short, to the point content? Are they online? 
  • How will this white paper help them? What will the result be?
  • What is their existing knowledge on the topic? 
  • What are the pain points that you are going to solve? 
  • Where are they in the marketing funnel?

Creating buyer personas is an excellent idea for your business’s marketing efforts in general, and it’s also instrumental when writing a white paper. A buyer persona is a detailed description of an individual representing your target audience. It’s fictional, but based on extensive research and should include information such as age, location, language, salary, education, interests, and challenges. You should incorporate their spending habits and social media preferences as well to give you an even deeper understanding.

In a survey of IT managers that asked why they read white papers, these were the reasons:

  • 76% - keep up with trends 
  • 69% - information on products and vendors
  • 50% - compare products
  • 42% - help them make a buying decision 
  • 33% - create a shortlist of qualified vendors 

Let’s say you are creating a new and innovative service that targets IT managers. This survey data would be invaluable to your white paper approach. Since 76% said they read white papers to keep up with trends, your topic could focus on how your company is setting a new trend in the industry.

Once you understand your audience, you’ll be equipped to create a white paper relevant to them. 

Step 2: Research your white paper topic 

You know your topic. You know your audience. Now you’ve got to conduct the research that will back up the arguments your white paper introduces. Research can be time-consuming, so make sure you allow plenty of time for this part of your project. A necessary, but sometimes frustrating task, research will be the key to an effective and comprehensive white paper.

Start by gathering information from relevant internal and external sources. Here are some great sources that you can use: 

  • Scholarly journals 
  • Blog posts 
  • News articles 
  • Research studies 
  • Interviews of industry experts
  • Company research and case studies 

Determine which sources will help your white paper stand out. When going through your sources, take detailed notes so you can coherently synthesize the information. And remember to always cite the research when writing your white paper! White papers often include a reference sheet at the end of the document.

Step 3: Outline your white paper

Your white paper will have an introduction, an explanation of the problem, your solution, and a call to action. 

Your introduction is where you will set the scene for your reader. Provide an overview of the problem and solution in an interesting way that captivates your audience and compels them to read on.

Follow your introduction with a deeper, detailed explanation of the problem. Be creative and utilize storytelling techniques to help your reader connect emotionally to the issue and its impact. 

Your solution is what will persuade your readers to become customers or clients. So, you want to make it extremely clear how and why it works. Your air-tight explanation should also highlight why your solution is better than the existing alternatives. 

A compelling call to action is invaluable. As a critical driver of lead generation, your white paper cannot go without one. It should be short, clear, and correspond to where your audience is in the marketing funnel. For example, let’s say you’re creating a marketing white paper, and your goal is to generate leads. Your target audience is B2B marketers who work for mid-sized companies. They’re in the consideration phase, and their pain point is client management. If you want them to try out your product, your call to action could be prompting them to start a free trial.

man wearing gray polo shirt beside dry-erase board

Step 4: Write the main text

The main text is the body of the white paper. Here is where you will outline the problem, solution, and benefits your product or service offers. When you’re writing, you want to remember that a white paper shouldn’t be too focused on sales, but should be primarily factual and persuasive. 

A well-organized main text and logical flow from one point to another will make your white paper easy to follow. Your research should support your claims throughout the piece. Incorporate multiple reputable sources to add depth and persuasiveness to your text. Because it is an educational document, your white paper should be objective. Include general facts while avoiding making it sound like a sales pitch. 

A white paper isn’t meant to be an easy read because they are intentionally lengthy and dense. Make it more engaging for your audience and hold their attention longer by using clear and concise language. 

Step 5: Create a title and cover page 

Your title page will set the tone for your white paper, so don’t miss out on this opportunity to hook your readers. 

A compelling image that is relevant and aesthetically pleasing will go a long way with your reader. Ensure that the image contrasts nicely with the font, size, and color you choose for the title. It should be simple and stand out to your audience right away. 

Step 6: Add images, charts, and graphs

No one wants to read through a wall of text. Boring! 

person using macbook air on brown wooden table

Add images, charts, and graphs to support your arguments and give your white paper some flair. Of course, you don’t want to add images only for the sake of breaking up content; they should always have a purpose and offer value to your reader. Don’t use low-quality stock photo images that are meaningless to your topic. Always choose images that are high quality and copyright free. 

Charts and graphs can take your white paper to the next level. Key to simplifying complex topics, your reader will appreciate their inclusion. You can create your own charts and graphs that summarize your findings. Alternatively, you can use charts and graphs gathered from your research that apply to your topic. Whatever helps you effectively and easily communicate your message is a win! 

If you don’t have the budget to hire a graphic designer, there are a variety of awesome templates online that can help you create your white paper and, more importantly, ensure it looks professional and sophisticated. Check out some great examples here

Step 7: Edit, edit, edit! 

Want to know how to immediately discredit your authority in a white paper? 

Spelling errors! Grammar mistakes! Text that doesn’t flow!

Poor writing will scream to your reader that you aren’t professional and immediately makes them question your message. 

You will want to meticulously edit your work to make sure that the writing is flawless. Here are some tips to help you edit your white paper: 

  • Use a tool like Grammarly to easily find any spelling errors or grammar mistakes. 
  • Read your white paper out loud to help you process the text and its flow.
  • Word choice matters. You don’t have to go overboard with synonyms, but you should vary your words to make your text more interesting.
  • Your white paper should be clear and concise, so look through your paper to ensure you are not repeating your ideas. 
  • Ask yourself whether the information in each section is necessary and supports your thesis. If it isn’t necessary, remove it. 
  • Ask multiple people to look over the document.Fresh perspectives can provide insight and catch errors you might have missed.

Step 8: Summarize the key points at the end of the paper 

To really drive home what your white paper is saying, you want to summarize the key points at the end of the document. Doing so will help your reader remember what your white paper is all about. You can summarize the key points with a bulleted list, short sentences, or a numbered list. 

Don’t rehash everything that is already in your white paper. You only want to reiterate the critical points that outline your product or service, the key problem, and your innovative solution. You can complete this page with a call to action that will resonate with your reader and drive them to respond to your content. 

Step 9: Promote your white paper

You’ve spent hours of hard work on your white paper. Now you’ve got to get it to your target audience. But, how? 

Getting the word out about your white paper will depend on a few things — consider your goal for the white paper, your target audience, and the topic. These will factor into how you approach your promotion strategy. 

Here are five fantastic ways that you can promote your white paper:

1. Create a landing page for your paper

Offer your white paper in exchange for a visitor’s details to collect leads interested in your business’s products or services. The landing page should be compelling and professional to attract the right audience. Make sure that your white paper is easily downloadable, accessible from all devices, and visually appealing. 

2. Social media

Social media is a cost-effective, efficient, and simple way to promote your white paper. Platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram help you reach a broad audience in your niche. Plus, the shareability of these platforms makes it easier to acquire new leads from your existing customer network. If you have an advertising budget to spend, you could run social media ads to promote your white paper and generate leads. 

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3. Video

The ever-rising popularity of video content means that promoting your white paper in this format is a great idea. You can use the video to summarize some of your key points; just make sure to leave the audience wanting more. One way to achieve this is by introducing your product or service, providing an overview of the problem, and asking them to download the white paper to discover the solution. Upload the video to Youtube or Vimeo, and you can cross-promote it on your website, social media accounts, and through email. 

4. Email

A very cost-effective, easy way to promote your white paper is by emailing it out to your database. You could highlight the key points in the body of the email and prompt subscribers to download the white paper. You could also include a summary of your paper in your regular email newsletter. 

5. White paper sites 

Many sites function as white paper libraries. You can submit your white paper to these sites to help people find your relevant information. A few of the most popular white paper sites are Find White Papers, Technology Evaluation Centers, and TechRepublic. Most sites offer paid and free options, so you can determine what works for you. 

Examples of effective white papers 

Check out these effective white paper examples for some inspiration. 

  1. Marketing white paper by Digivate 

Title: How to Develop Buyer Personas that are Actually Useful

Topic: A step-by-step guide to creating buyer personas that get results.

Problem: Traditional buyer persona creation focuses on self-reported consumer data and is impersonal. This leads to targeting and messaging that doesn’t meet your ideal customer’s needs. 

Solution: This white paper delivers the company’s unique approach to fine-tune your buyer persona development. It will help you identify where your audience is active online and cultivate messaging that speaks to their needs and motivations.

Why you should check it out: This marketing white paper is well-written, using practical examples to highlight its key points. It uses numbered lists to break down the topics, making it easy for the reader to consume the content.

  1. Technical white paper by Cisco 

Title: Networking and Your Competitive Edge

Topic: The benefits of investing in a secure digital network for your business. 

Problem: Without a secure digital network, your business will suffer in numerous ways. Without a secure digital network, the customer experience, business insights, security, automation, agility, innovation, and cost will all be negatively affected.

Solution: Invest in a digital network and your business will benefit. You will stay ahead of the competition and retain your customers.  

Why you should check it out: This white paper effectively includes visually captivating elements. The topic is not simple. But Cisco harnesses the power of formatting and images to create a document that stands out and makes it easy to understand the complicated information presented. 

  1. Interactive white paper by Zendesk

Title: Startups CX Benchmark Report

Topic: How investing in customer experience can help your startup grow.

Problem: Startups who are not investing in digital products that improve the customer experience suffer. 

Solution: Zendesk’s product offering “Zendesk for Startups” makes providing an excellent customer experience easier for new and quickly growing businesses. Through a better customer experience, startups see even more rapid and significant growth. 

Why you should check it out: By showing the relationship between their product offering and growth for start-ups, Zendesk establishes itself as an authoritative leader. Plus, Zendesk employs an interactive, visually pleasing format to make the white paper more of a dialogue. It’s functional and engaging for the reader. 

  1. Service white paper by Uber

Title: Fast-Forwarding to a Future of On-Demand Urban Air Transportation

Topic: The need for urban air transportation in cities.

Problem: As traffic becomes heavier in urban cities, commutes are growing longer and unmanageable. 

Solution: The future of transportation is on-demand aviation. It will improve urban mobility and give people more time back in their day. 

Why you should check it out: Uber’s white paper covers problems that are beginning now and will exacerbate in the future. They’re talking about future trends and the innovations required to tackle the issues. Apply this to your industry, and you can establish yourself as a thought leader.

  1. Report white paper by Fost Plus

Title: The Circular Packaging Economy In Action

Topic: Fost Plus is aiming to tackle the recycling issue in Belgium.

Problem: An efficient and effective packaging solution is needed with a localized solution.

Solution: By creating a circular economy for household packaging, Fost Plus has recycled 94.9% of the plastic received. They are on the way to becoming a European recycling hub.

Why you should check it out: Full of engaging visuals and statistics that make the information easy to digest, use this white paper to gain inspiration for how you can illustrate your topic in an interactive way that resonates with readers. 

Takeaway 

Take your business marketing efforts to the next level with white papers. Used to persuade and educate, white papers give your audience the information they need. Your white paper can guide your target audience to make important decisions that affect the longevity of your business. White papers can help you achieve lead generation, increase brand awareness, establish authority, attract investors, and more. 

While white papers are a wonderful asset to many businesses, their execution must be immaculate. Research is key to the effectiveness of your white paper, so before you undertake a project like this, you want to make sure that you have the resources to do so. With our guide, you’ll have everything you need to know about white papers and how to successfully write your own.

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