Writing White Papers requires a BIG Idea

Being a white paper writer takes a different skill set than a lot of other marketing projects.

Good white paper writing requires a big idea. Just like the research papers you wrote back in college.

It also takes good research, boiling down an overwhelm of facts, and making those facts easy-to-read and interesting.

So . . What is a White Paper, Anyway?

Ask 10 different marketing managers the above question and you’ll probably get 10 different answers.
When I’m asked this question, my response is usually,

“A White Paper is a helpful persuasive essay that uses facts to generate leads.”

This short definition opens the door to discussion.

Discussion is important because white papers can be presented in several different formats, depending on your audience.

This definition also helps people who’ve never heard of white papers understand that a white paper is:

  1. Helpful – guides prospects from a focusing on a problem, to imagining a solution.
  2. Persuasive – appeals to reason and understanding. Not salesy.
  3. Essay – not just a paragraph or two. But reminiscent of school where essays were thoughtfully written.
  4. Fact-based – logical progression of information from hypothesis to conclusion.
  5. Generate leads – a document that encourages interest in your product. It isn’t meant to close the sale.

White papers are meaningful documents that help prospects understand issues, solve problems, and make a buying decision.

White Paper Writing Do’s:

  1. Present a solution to an industry-wide problem
  2. Include an executive summary
  3. Be an appropriate length (5-12 pages long)
  4. Focus on your customer’s needs
  5. Include documentation for all facts
  6. Use as a lead-generation tool
  7. Professionally design

White Paper Writing Don’ts:

  1. Don’t sell
  2. Don’t write about how wonderful your company is
  3. Don’t write a book (e-books are wonderful sales tools. They’re just not white papers)
  4. Don’t write a brochure (Brochures are sales tools)
  5. Don’t be all flash, with no substance

White Papers and Graphics:

Graphics are an important part of white papers. Charts, pictures, and other graphics make messages easy to understand. They also make white papers more memorable.

Typeface, font size, and white space all contribute to making a document reader friendly. You can have the most wonderful information, but if your white paper looks bland and boring, readers may choose to read something else.

In this day and age of snackable content, many managers are pulled hither and thither by the next great thing.

A white paper that looks enticing will be read more than one that looks boring. Presentation is as important as content.

White Papers Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow:

As a white paper writer I’ve noticed a change in white paper format and presentation. This is a good thing. They’re no longer 20-page, text-only documents. And I find it fascinating to see where they’ve come from and where they’re going. 

In the Past: White papers started in the 1920’s as government documents – usually over 20 pages long – which presented policies.

In the 1990’s, the term became associated with boring-to-read, very-long B2B technical sales documents.

Currently: White papers are usually 5-10 page pdfs. They include graphs, charts, and pictures that supplement the main message.

In the Future: White papers will incorporate video, moving graphics, infographics, and other formats I can’t even envision. They will still use all the above “Do’s,” with the length being relative to the format and subject matter.

White Papers are used for B2B companies:

It’s easy to see why white papers are an important lead generation tool for B2B companies.  These companies have a long sales process.

Decisions aren’t made on the spur of the moment. Buyers need factual data. And there are multiple people who have to sign off when large purchases are made.

White Papers for B2C are becoming common:

Consumers tend to purchase things on impulse.  If your company sells to consumers, white papers may not be an appropriate lead-generating document. You can however have a Special Report that does pretty much the same thing

A Special Report is a short white paper written for B2C. I’ts usually 2-4 pages long and has lots of  graphics. It gives genuinely helpful information while being gently persuasive.

White Papers and the health & wellness industry:

Most contract manufacturing organizations (CMOs), ingredient suppliers, and equipment manufacturers have white papers on their websites. They also hand them out at industry events.

White papers for ingredient suppliers tend to be on the short side – 4-6 pages long. However, they’re still fact-based and show how their ingredient solves a problem.

Vitamin retailers and health food stores often hand out special reports, or magazines, with helpful information that gently sell.

Now that you have a better understanding of writing white papers, learn more:

Don't want to write a white paper yourself?

Well, as you probably guessed, I’m a white paper writer. I love the entire process.

Give me a call. We’ll discuss your project, timelines, who needs to have buy in, etc.

I make it simple. I take your white paper from initial idea to finished product – including design and printing if needed.