Six Essential Elements in a White Paper

A well-crafted white paper can position a company as a subject-matter expert and serve as a digital and print marketing tool. For example, one client had printed a white paper as an 8×10 brochure and used it effectively as a calling card to establish themselves in a new market. Others clients share white papers on their website, or a landing page while their sales and marketing teams share it electronically with customers and prospects.

white paper, sales, marketing, communications, public relationsThe Purdue Online Writing Lab defines a white paper as “a certain type of report that is distinctive in terms of purpose, audience and organization.” A white paper goes deeper, vs. broader. Think about it as an “inch-wide and a mile deep.” It explores a specific topic, offering insight in the form of a potential solution or taking a position on an issue.

Content documents like white papers can also be optimized for search with SEO, and serve as fresh/new content on your organization’s website, also increasing visibility for that site. White papers can easily be shared and are searchable, making them valuable marketing tools as individuals rely more heavily on the Internet for information.

A study by Eccolo Media found:

  • 84% of businesses said white papers were moderately or extremely influential in their purchasing decisions.
  • White papers are the most highly shared form of marketing collateral; 89% of respondents pass them along to others.  In addition, white papers were the most viral marketing collateral with nearly one in three respondents sharing them      with three or more people.
  • Readers prefer white papers between 6 - 10 pages in length.
  • While papers have been shown to be most effective in the presales process; they are the number one form of collateral at all stages of the sales process.
  • The majority of respondents felt high-quality writing is either very important or extremely influential.

Here are my 6 essential white paper components:

  1. Identify your audience – your paper should be tailored for a specific audience and their needs.
  2. Identify the problem/opportunity. (Note: This must be the challenge as viewed through your audience’s eyes, as an effective paper will be built around their interests.)
  3. Present proof that the problem exists. Cite third-party sources, quote industry experts – in this section you validate the challenge.
  4. The basic solution – an overview of how the problem/challenge could be addressed, including how others may be addressing it.
  5. Your solution – the opportunity to talk about your perspective or solution, how it’s different and why it’s compelling.
  6. Conclusion – restatement of the current situation and the need for change.

In a document this length, it’s also important to include a title page, table of contents, and references. White space is always important, as are visuals like charts and graphs and infographics. Infographics (visual representations of data or information) attract a lot of attention, are highly shareable, and convey a large amount of information concisely.

A paper of this length may seem daunting, but as with any research paper, by the time you have a solid outline in place, the rest of the paper will come more easily (again, provided you have done your research). One word of caution: as with all good business writing – keep it tight. If the paper is too long/winding, you’ll lose your reader and it won’t be an effective tool for your organization.

Send me your guidelines for white paper development, and I’ll be sure to share them!

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