White papers used to primarily be a resource reserved for academia. It was a tool of the trade for scholars, business mega minds, engineers, and other nuts and bolts thinkers. Over the years, I’ve seen white papers trickle down into other industries primarily catering to a business to business demographic. White papers, however, remain a highly under utilized resource for two reasons. First, companies still don’t really understand what a white paper is; second, they don’t know how to go about writing a persuasive one.
The Purpose of White Papers
A white paper is a marketing brief. It’s a collective thought on a subject specific to your industry, one which identifies a problem and offers a solution. In Writing White Papers, author Michael A. Stelzner defines how a white paper functions as a marketing tool and why it’s so effective. Stelzner writes, “white papers help people make decisions,” adding that “often a white paper will work its way across the desks of an organization in a way that no other document could ever hope to achieve. White papers are able to fly under the radar and penetrate most organizations’ anti-marketing defense because they are sought after and brought into the organization by decision-makers. If they are well-written, white papers will not only reach their target, they will influence them.”

How to Write a Persuasive White Paper

What type of white paper you’ll write depends a lot on your audience. The average white paper should between 5-13 pages (an average of 8 is a good figure to go by), and will be paired with side-lined excerpts and graphs/charts where appropriate. As a rule, there are four types of white papers.

  1. Technical White Paper: Targeted at engineers, this white paper describes processes and procedures. It’s also generally introduced during the sales process.
  2. Business: Targeted at decision makers, this type of white paper describes business advantages. Its function is to act as a lead generator.
  3. Hybrid: Targeted at influencers and decision makers, this type of white paper starts with business benefits then delves into technical aspects.
  4. Government: The purpose of this type of white paper is to discuss the implications of policy decisions. There is a very narrow audience for this type of paper, which means it has offer very precise content catered to the mind of a government employee.

A successful white paper will be produced between the top minds in the organization, who should confer with a skilled business journalist that understand the subtle art of marketing copy as well. If your white paper sounds like marketing gimmick, it’s not going to get very far – along with any future efforts by your company to fly under the radar. It’s really important to get it right the first time.

Beyond business benefits, you really want your white paper to offer a new concept or a new way of understanding the same industry. This way, you’re paper is likely to get picked up and quoted by journalists and thought leaders. You want it to be as much a resource to the industry, as a demonstration of your business or product capacity.

Once you’ve completed your white paper, you can use it as a bait tool for acquiring more email subscribers. Your options include having a pop up or a static button on your website that promises a free copy of your compelling white paper in exchange for a newsletter subscription. You can also create a shareable marketing landing page that offers the same exchange. The idea is to harness the power of email marketing and use the white paper as an opportunity to get your idea across their desk, but to also use emails as a chance to start a conversation.