Write Better White Papers

A white paper is a supremely powerful marketing strategy, but it can throw down some tricky obstacles. A strong white paper generates leads, positions a company as an industry expert and stands as an effective marketing legacy, but a weak white paper wastes time and money and may ding a company’s reputation. Is your team equipped to write strong white papers?
Effective white papers analyze a problem, offer expert analysis, and give an objective assessment of solutions. When successful, a white paper helps readers identify the authoring company as the solution’s source—not because of a direct pitch but because the paper positions the company as an industry leader with a balanced perspective.

Ineffective white papers usually fail because they don’t grab an audience’s attention or they slip into sales-speak. The title and first sentences must signal that a white paper is interesting, applicable, and offers a significant return on investment. A white paper must also maintain a balanced, informative tone: salesman-like posturing discredits content and alienates readers.

  1. Know the audience. A finance manager has a different set of needs and interests than an operations officer or an engineer. Effective white papers are explicitly pitched to key decision-makers.
  2. Accept that looks matter. Every reader skims and skips before committing to a focused read. Effective white papers deploy graphics to demonstrate key processes, use type and layout to strategically highlight key ideas, and keep branding to a minimum. 
  3. Strike a balance. A balanced tone communicates credibility, but balance must be struck with content. Effective white papers offer detailed information and concise analysis, often with key case studies and explanations of technical terms. 
  4. Give it legs. To reach a customer base, white papers should be sent to prospective customers, partner companies, relevant media outlets; handed out at trade shows or conferences; and used to organize webinars. Think broadly to maximize benefits.
  5. Hire a professional. Subject-matter experts play a crucial role in identifying topics and ensuring technical accuracy, but white papers take time, and their writers must be experienced and able to maintain a clear—and clearly interesting—voice.