White papers have become a staple tactic in B2B content marketing. They can be excellent tools for attracting potential customers and demonstrating your expertise and command over a subject. How to write a white paper that accomplishes these goals is possible if you stick to a few common principles.
1. You have to decide if a white paper is the right vehicle for you.
White papers are not meant to be overt product/solution pitches. White papers serve a specific function in the content marketing toolbox and that is to sell prospects on the “idea” of your solution. The white paper should position your solution as the ideal choice above other potential solutions by depicting the optimal end state that can be achieved through the type of product or service you offer. The trick is doing this without necessarily mentioning your solution directly. The white paper should not be a thinly veiled brochure.
2. Follow a proven format
Your white paper should present your argument in a crisp and informative way. There is nothing worse than a white paper that meanders without going anywhere or tries to do too much by crossing over into case study land. The easiest way to format your paper is to think of it in three distinct sections:
SECTION 1 – The Market Challenge
Examine the problem that your prospects are facing. This is a good section to review trends and cite data that will support your argument later. Tell a story that lets your prospects know that you understand their pain points.
SECTION 2 – Current approaches
Discuss what your prospects are currently doing to solve (or try to solve) their problem. This could include home-brewed solutions, third party solutions or even nothing at all. You don’t have to name products or services specifically, it’s OK to generalize. Just stick to the pluses and minuses of each approach.
SECTION 3 – How the issue can be addressed
This is your knock out punch. Here is where you explain what the ideal solution looks like and what it can attain. Again, your aim is not to be self-serving or promotional. You’re giving your prospects a view into the what the best solution provides, how to distinguish it from other solutions, and how to go about implementing it.
3. Don’t close out with a hard pitch
Your white paper has been a smashing success to this point. You’ve demonstrated that you understand your customers’ problems. You’ve made a great argument for the type of solution you offer, because it’s clearly the best option to resolve their concerns. But, you can still spoil the paper if you include a hard pitch at the end. It’s very tempting and I’ve seen it done many times. Don’t do it. Your prospects are smart enough to connect the dots. And you’ll be smart enough to follow up with them in an appropriate manner with more detailed information. If you must say something about your solution specifically, include a very basic page with a description of it at the end of the paper apart from the main content or drop in a subtle print ad.
4. The length of the paper is secondary to the quality of the content
There are many opinions about how long white papers should be. I’ve seen studies that state the best length is four pages. Others say fifteen to twenty or longer. My suggestion is to tell the best story you can without focusing on the number of pages. That said, make sure that you stay on point and keep your story flowing so your readers stay engaged.
Now, it’s time to get started writing your white paper! Remember, your readers are people too. Tell a story that resonates with them and your white paper will become the first valuable solution that they derive from you.