If you've experimented at all with content marketing, chances are you've heard the term "white paper” tossed around here and there. But what is a white paper exactly? Broadly speaking, a white paper is a document that provides useful information or solves a problem for its intended audience. From a marketing perspective, they are a way to establish both credibility and value to your targeted market and promote your brand in a more positive, and less obtrusive, way than traditional marketing.
Rather than making all kinds of claims about how you can help a customer or solve whatever woes they might have, a white paper helps the customer immediately with great information. When done right, a good white paper makes a great first impression and can position your business as the name to call when the customer needs something. When done poorly, the pitch is lame and comes off as typical, stale bread marketing patter.
What separates the two? Preparation and thought.
Who is your audience?
A white paper can't generate leads for your business if its goals are muddled. Whenever you write a white paper, you need to know exactly who you're writing it for and why.
Start with your usual target demographics. Who is your product or service intended for? Who are your best customers? Are there any specific needs or issues those customers face that you can address? The more you can narrow down the focus of who your white paper is for, the more effective it will be.
Try to avoid writing white papers for a general or vague audience. It will water down your message too severely and make the overall impact of the paper weaker. It's better to speak to a small group of people very directly than to bounce your message off an uncaring crowd.
What is their problem (and how can you help)?
Once you have an specific audience in mind, it's time to dig into what they need. Think about the kinds of issues, concerns, and interests your core customers have. Of these problems, which of them are you in a position to help them with?
Think about your expertise and what your business specializes in. Be honest about what you can help with and focus on that. Don't try chasing a different market by trying to provide answers you don't really know, customers can spot empty posturing a mile off.
A good white paper needs to directly help your audience, but it should also subtly tilt their decision-making process to be a little more favorable to you. It's a fine line – you don't want your white paper to read like a press release for your products, but if you're able to weave in a small mention or present your solution in a way that favors your brand, so much the better. Finding a way to both solve a problem for your customer while tying it back to what you do is a win-win for everyone.
Scoping your white paper
The very best white papers provide original information. Studies, market research, stats, and so on. This is the info people want but can't generally find on their own. If you really want to make your white paper a hit, nothing will every top original research.
However, not every business is going to be in a position to put in that kind of effort. Original research is time consuming, difficult, and part of a long-term strategy. That doesn't mean there aren't other options though! Compiling useful information that is publicly available, sharing your own insights, and choosing topics that don't rely on as much research can still allow you to create fantastic white papers.
For many businesses just experimenting with the idea, a good place to start is often with guides or tutorials. Helping customers with specific how-to's that directly assist them with a problem is a great way to prove your business' authority and generate goodwill at the same time. Before you start writing, think about the resources at your disposal and plan accordingly.
Don't forget about style
White papers are more formal than other types of content writing such as blogs, but that doesn't mean they have to be boring technical documents either. The same rules of writing apply to white papers as any other sort, you want to grab your audiences attention, make your paper easy to understand, and leave readers with a favorable impression that has them hungry for more.
Find an enticing title for your paper. Again, focusing on the problem your addressing is a good way to reach customers dealing with that exact issue. Find a tone that works for your business. White papers should be professional, but you can still inject a little humor and personality in there. If you think about your white paper as an introduction or first impression of your business, you'll want to make sure potential customers get to know your business a little through its writing.
Get your white paper out there
Once you've gone to all the bother of writing your white paper, make sure you put it where people can find it! Promote your piece every way you can. Write a blog about the release of the white paper, and then another on the process behind creating it. If you can, create a separate landing page to host the document to give it an elevated status. Promote it on your social media channels. A good white paper is evergreen content, so you can promote it on your various profiles again and again, months down the line. If you have a newsletter or email list, send a link to your white paper out!
White papers take a bit of effort to make, but they pay off in the long run. When you want a way to make a great first impression with prospective customers, and a piece of promotional material that will last for months or years after its released, you need a white paper.