How to Create an Interesting White Paper
A white paper is a B2B report that can come in one of two flavours: a marketing white paper; and a technical white paper. This How-To talks about writing a marketing white paper (or simply a white paper).
A marketing white paper serves two purposes:
Regardless of who makes up your audience, you need to make sure the white paper engages the reader. To do that, you need to understand the interests of your audience. Then, you need to make what you are writing more "real". For example, use an analogy when appropriate, graphs and diagrams to emphasis the important points you want to make. Also, do the following, which normally meant for classrooms and video training films. Tell your audience what you are going to tell them, tell what you want in the context of your information, and then, tell them what you just told them.
A white paper's target audience is often decision makers who have the ability to approve the purchase of the product or service; or influencers who can recommend the purchase of your product or service.
White Paper Sections
There are at least 5 sections to a white paper:
- Identification of the major concern/opportunity
- Proof the concern/opportunity is real
- Other related concerns/opportunities
- The type of solution needed
- Your solution and why it should be selected
Besides text, use graphics, tables, graphs, or anything else to get your point across and to break the monotony of the text. Also ensure that the writing is as simple as possible, coherent, and logical. Following the section outline above should help.
The major concern
This introductory section should identify the major concern and why the reader should care. Try to keep it short and succinct so the reader will not loose interest
Proof the concern/opportunity is real
Concerning the problem or opportunity, the reader may:
- Know it exists and is important
- Know it exists, but does not recognize its importance; or
- Not know or recognize the concern/opportunity and its ramifications
In all these cases, you need to provide concrete information to prove the importance of the concern or opportunity. You can use realistic scenarios, market research, and/or fact-based stories to support your contention.
An important concern/opportunity seldom exists on its own. There are usually other related issues. A good approach is to list those that are relevant to your solution, which you have not mentioned yet, and to discuss the ramifications of these secondary issues.
Type of solution needed
Here, you describe a general solution to the issue. One that has the attributes needed to provide a solution. For example, one solution to bringing people together when physical meetings are not practical is teleconferencing software having video and white board facilities. This provides the opening you need to show why, in the next section, your specific solution is ideally suited to meeting the reader's concerns and/or opportunities.
This is the only place in the white paper where "selling" is appropriate. After all, you are offering a solution to a recognized concern/opportunity and the reader wants to know where they need to go next. Include what makes your solution unique, better than its competitors, and its benefits to the reader.
The format for a white paper should be simple and consistent. The way the white paper is presented should not detract from its contents. If possible, it should follow your standard for branding all your communications. In the header or footer of each page of the white paper should include your company's name, copyright, and contact information. If your white paper is prepared for a selected group of recipients, also include the word "Confidential" in the header or footer.
Depending on the media, one, two, or more columns may be appropriate. For example, using a normal letter/A4 format may make things difficult to read because the length of the lines may fool your eyes when scanning for the next line. In such a case, two columns with shorter lines may be ideal. By the same token, formating your white paper for a mobile device may lend itself better to a single column format.
Sometimes, white papers are large enough to warrant a table of contents, or an abstract at the start. A title page is another option which is useful to have to display contact information, the abstract, or the address of the recipient. The downside of a title page is that is can waste paper or add unnecessary page flipping.
The length of the white paper is determined by its type and its target audience. Technical white papers may be quite long because of the tables, graphs, specifications, and references. In both the technical and marketing white paper, the body of the white paper should be short and succinct., often in the 5-10 page range.
You can search the Web for many examples of white papers. Look for ones in your area of business. A good starting point is the article at How to write a white paper