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How to Write a White Paper: Tips for Success

You might not think of white papers as part of web writing services, but in fact most businesses post their white papers on their website, often as a downloadable PDF. And why not? White papers are a great way to educate prospects and new customers about common industry problems and your company’s solution. They’re also a great way to build credibility, establish trust, and even improve your website’s search engine ranking.

So what is a white paper? As described by white paper guru (oh yes, there is one!) Michael A. Stelzner, a white paper is essentially a cross between a magazine article and a brochure. It takes the objective approach of an article, but includes persuasive marketing messages usually found in brochures.

Paper clipWhite papers tend to fall into two broad, often overlapping groups: technical and business case. Technical white papers, not surprisingly, are more technical. They usually describe a specific technology or how things work. They’re often targeted at engineers. Companies use them to move customers or prospects along the sales cycle.

Business case white papers tend to be more problem/solution based. They describe a specific problem in an industry or sector and show how a specific product or service can resolve the issue. Business case white papers target company decision-makers, such as CIOs or CTOs. Companies commonly use them to generate leads.

White papers have the advantage of being perceived as more credible than sales brochures. The marketing is more subtle, and the problem description is usually detailed and informative. White papers are often the first place prospects turn when they discover a problem and start looking for a solution.

White papers, especially business case white papers, tend to be written by in-house or contract writers, not subject matter experts. (Although writers will rely heavily on subject matter experts for input and feedback.)

So, how do you create a white paper that will generate leads and move the sales process along? Here are some steps:

1. Decide on your topic. What problems are your customers or prospects facing today? What are the hot topics in your industry or segment? What differentiates your product or service from competitors? What problems does your company solve better than anyone else? If you can answer some of these questions, they’ll lead you to a good white paper topic.

2. Determine your audience. Your audience will determine the degree of technical detail required. If your audience is engineers, then technical detail is needed. If your audience is decision-makers, then focus less on technical, more on the business case.

3. Get content. Look for content both internally and externally. Conduct research outside the company to learn more about the problem your product or service solves. Review external media, websites, and industry publications to learn more. Make your problem description as objective and educational as possible.

Conduct internal research to learn more about your solution. Interview subject matter experts, find existing marketing collateral, and review user manuals.

When you’re describing your solution to the problem, go easy on the sales pitch. This is not the place for a hard sell. Readers of white papers expect you to market to them, but the selling needs to be soft. Otherwise, you risk losing your readers and jeopardizing the perceived objectivity of your white paper.

4. Use it. Post the white paper on your website. Allow visitors to download the white paper for free, contingent on them providing contact information. This is a critical part of generating new leads. Tweet about it on Twitter, publicize it on your company’s Facebook page. Encourage your sales force to use it in presentations or as email follow-ups with prospects.

If you agree that white papers are a good thing, but you don’t have time or in-house staff to write it, contact me for a no-obligation quote. Professional white paper writing is just one of my web writing services.

Does your company have white papers? How do you use them?


Posted: April 18, 2012 in: Content Marketing

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