What Is a White Paper?

A white paper is often mistaken as a blank empty sheet of nothingness. Visit Google images, and it will give you an array of paper photos that makes no sense at all when it’s actually the opposite. 

A white paper is a document that centers around a topic, its underlying problems, and the best practices or solutions towards resolving them. It brings together a thorough understanding of the matter and in-depth research to produce the best solutions and recommendations. It presents not only a business’s products but also its intensive knowledge of industry-related problems. It adds to a company’s credibility, and through the paper’s extensive scope, it contributes to a positive impression on the product.

White papers were born in England, the first being called the Churchill White Paper in 1922. It was used to address an issue, present a solution, and serve as a narrative for new policies. While it’s still used for the same purpose nowadays, it grew increasingly popular in the 1990s as it became the means for business to business (B2B) companies to launch their marketing plans. In 2016, the Content Marketing Institute’s B2B marketing survey revealed that 63% of B2B companies consider white papers as the most efficient content. On another statistical data, TechTarget’s B2B Consumption survey found out that a whopping 91% of their 2,430 IT buyer respondents see white papers as the most effective basis of their purchase decision-making process. 

How do White Papers Drive Sales?

According to Gordon Graham, the “That White Paper Guy,” in order for a company to assess whether or not they need to have a white paper published, they need to answer the following:

Is your product new?

Is your product complex?

Is your product expensive?

If you gather two “yes,” then Graham says you should definitely get one. While most marketers layout a product’s benefits in plain view and using an obvious sales pitch, a white paper establishes itself as an authoritative and reliable source of information to gain an audience’s trust. This benefits consumers who take delight in getting the right data. This highlights the importance of educating your audience instead of merely appealing to their senses.

Aside from feeding an educated crowd with rich information, how can one use white papers to be relevant in today’s content marketing setup? A white paper might seem traditional, but it can be the most effective tool that you can use. Because it is instructional and contains abundant and necessary information, it can boost a site’s traffic and gather unique visitors. This opens up opportunities for a potential sell. This also helps in generating leads by helping prospects find the latest solutions to modern-day problems. The face of business changes over time, and with it comes complications that the previously known methods won’t be able to fix. With the data and solutions offered by white papers, potential clients will go to it for answers, which also leads them to your products and services.

Components of White Paper

A white paper’s structure is similar to all other business documents except for a slight difference—it provides the conclusion at the very end. Providing the conclusion at the start allows the reader to directly know its outcome without the hassle of going through the pages. For white papers, the goal is to cater to a gradual and thorough understanding of the topic. Below is the general outline of a white paper:

Title – like any other written marketing content, a title holds significant weight in making it successful. Craft a title that accurately states the problem and the solution that is also catchy at the same time. However, it should not include your product’s name as it makes the piece salesy.Abstract – this provides a short summary of what your topic is all about to give your readers a peek of your work and help them determine whether or not it’s the paper they want to read.Problem Statement – this section gives ample background on what problem your white paper is going to address. This requires a narrative that your audience can easily grasp.Background – this lures your audience through a profound discussion of the topic. This also explains the need to address the issue.Solution – this is the paper’s eureka moment as it presents the much-awaited resolve to the issue. This section should contain the necessary data and statistics to support your proposition.Business Benefits – for white papers that are part of a marketing plan, this section is available for introducing how your product or services can be an efficient addition to the presented solution. This is where you can express your understanding of their needs and explain how your company can alleviate that burden.Conclusion – this provides an overall summary of what has been discussed in the previous sections. It’s your entire white paper in a nutshell. This is because some readers would most likely skip all the other parts and check out the conclusion only. This should provide the basics of the problem, the solution, and your proposed recommendations.

How to Write an Excellent White Paper

Interested in organizing your own white paper? Check out the guidelines below:

Step 1: Establish a Problem

The main idea behind every white paper is to address a problem. Through market research, identify what challenges your audience or potential customers face. Draw your topic from this list and center your paper around it. If your goal is to introduce your product through this content, identify what problem your product is trying to solve and start from there. Introduce the background of the problem, the scope, earlier versions, similar structure, and its consequences. You can also include past attempts at solving it and explain why it works less now and why there’s a need for an upgrade. Delving deeper into the dilemma opens your audience’s eyes on its severity and on why a solution should be made.

Step 2: Outline Your Main Points

To efficiently format your white paper, make an outline of your content’s main ideas. Identify your key points and place them in bullets to come up with a layout. Setting out to encode your paper right away may confuse you, and in the process, subject you to numerous revisions. Identify what things you want to tackle and identify your flow and succession of ideas. Through this, you won’t get stuck in a single area, not knowing what to add next. The outline will also help you set your boundaries on which to include and which should be eliminated.

Step 3: Include Facts and Figures

Now that you know what your main points are, they can’t stand without the support of credible sources. These include related studies, articles from verified websites, books, and statistics. Your tone might appear professional, but without the backing of credible sources, it would all merely be a string of opinions and assumptions. Since you have an outline of the things you need to discuss in your paper, it’s now easier for you to know what information to look up. Remember to be cautious and to source your ideas from sites that have a verified background and noteworthy reputations. You can also use a domain authority checker tool to determine a website’s validity.

Step 4: Work Towards a Recommendation

A white paper’s highlight lies in its proposed solutions. Your piece should work towards giving solutions and giving practical recommendations that your readers can act upon. For businesses, this is a grand opportunity for them to pitch in their products and services. This is why white papers are efficient in presenting heavy-duty and complex products that will most likely cost a hefty price. They tell deeper stories that a mere poster or brochure won’t be able to deliver. By presenting the problem, they communicate a product’s use, efficiency, and overall quality in a comprehensive manner. For example, if a software company proposes a new anti-virus program, a white paper will be able to tie-in its use to the immediate problem. This presents a problem and how the program’s features can help eradicate it through a list of evidence and research-based statements.

Step 5: Avoid A Hard Sell Tone

A white paper is far from a sales pitch. While your underlying agenda might be to sell your product and to pursue your business goals, you shouldn’t push this idea towards your audience’s face, lest they’ll lose their interest in reading more because it would be no different from the usual marketing scheme. A white paper is data-centric. It’s packed with information that you readers will find useful because it provides them with something that can be of help. Focus on that. Direct your attention towards providing them with ideas and actionable steps that are applicable to their operations. Impress them with your expertise in the industry and factual findings. When you’ve built your reputation and have given them something that they’ll find valuable, trusting your services comes easy.

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FAQs

How long should a white paper be?

A typical white paper should be 6 to 10 pages, but on rare occasions, it can extend up to 50 pages when a topic needs longer discussions.

How to differentiate a white paper from a case study?

While a white paper presents a persuasive piece of solutions backed by research and thorough argument regarding a problem, while a case study is a journalistic “testimonial” of a product or service’s benefits that contains quotations and insights from real customers. Therefore, a white paper provides extensive detail about how a product works while a case study offers scenarios on how that product has been of help to other people.

What are the different types of white papers?

A white paper has three varieties: 1. The Backgrounder – an introduction of a product’s technical features and purpose; used in launching a product and can be effectively combined with the other two types 2. The Numbered List – a set of listed answers, guidelines, and points pertaining to an issue; a light read that anyone interested in the topic can easily peruse 3. The Problem or Solution – an argumentative and persuasive piece that aims to present a solution through facts and data; educates and aids in information search and decision making

White papers appeal to audiences who seek to learn and discover innovative methods. This is especially relevant to B2B industries that actively look for quintessential solutions through in-depth research. This also holds true for individuals whose purchasing decisions and interests are not rooted in attention-grabbing materials and influencer testimonies. It promotes with the promise of fresh ideas and knowledge—a rare sight in the marketing scene.