At its core, a white paper is a guide that solves a problem for its reader.
So not unlike a blog post or ebook?
Correct, these content types all work to solve a problem for their audience, but white papers have certain qualities that set them apart. For example, white papers are:
- Longer than blog posts and shorter than ebooks. The length depends on the level of research and detail (anywhere from six to 50 pages)
- Heavily-researched with a list of references
- Designed to show rather than tell (infographics, bold stats, pull quotes)
While these are the basic ingredients of a white paper, let’s see what goes into the whole recipe.
What is a white paper?
A good way to think about white papers is like a spruced up research report: they present a problem, hypothesis and solution backed by sound research.
There shouldn’t be any unsubstantiated claims or branded sales offers in white papers. Their value comes from giving its readers a specialised understanding of a topic so they can confidently take the next step in solving the problem themselves.
Since white papers are thorough by nature and carefully put together, taking anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to create, they tend to be professional in tone and design (read: not boring, just polished).
Plus, their structure and layout tend to follow a similar pattern:
- Title page
- Brief executive summary
- Table of contents
- The problem
- The solution(s)
- Businesses who exemplify the solution
To give you a clearer picture of what these evergreen guides look like, here are some examples worth checking out:
- The Sophisticated Marketers Guide to Content Marketing
- The Complete Guide to Lead Nurturing
- Google Cloud Security and Compliance Whitepaper: How Google protects your data
Why write one?
Just as you might whip up something special to impress your house guests, a business might publish a white paper to demonstrate their expertise in a particular field.
By sharing professional insights and solutions with your community, white papers help:
- Establish authority in your industry
- Build trust with your audience
- Your sales teams identify prospects
- Guide customers along the buyer journey
As a result, they’re a powerful way to engage and grow your ideal audience.
Perhaps the best way to see its value is to put yourself in your readers’ shoes: you come across a free guide to getting listed on the first page of Google; or personalizing your customer experience; or creating a podcast from scratch.
Whether SEO, personalization or podcasts are central to your business, you’ve just stumbled upon a treasure box of specialized knowledge, helping you be better at your job. So you decide to share a stat from the white paper on your social page, bookmark it for future reference and browse the company’s website who published the white paper.
From a reader and business point of view, I’d say that’s a pretty awesome piece of content.
How to make it a star content player?
As we’ve discovered, white papers are robust resources for the people they are written for; but they are also extremely helpful tools for the company who wrote them.
By including the below features in your white paper, your sales and marketing teams will be able to make the most out of these content guides:
- Make stats and infographics shareable so readers can share interesting findings with their own community (Don’t forget to make the white paper itself easy to share)
- If one of your company’s products aligns with a solution in the white paper, you can use it as a call to action at the end (i.e. “Book your free consultation today”)
- Ask for your reader’s contact info (name, job title, etc.) before they download the white paper so you can follow up on leads
- Use the white paper as a starting point for other pieces of content: blog posts, social media, newsletters, podcasts.
As you can see – from the valuable research it brings to light to the bond it forms with your audience – businesses have the ability to strike content marketing gold with white papers.
So long as it puts forward a problem your audience has and solves that problem using research and compelling visuals, your white paper is on track to resonate with your prospects and customers.
Would you like help creating a white paper for your business? Let’s build something awesome together. Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.