The Ultimate Guide to White Paper Content Marketing.
Content marketing has been around for decades but it has never been as widespread as it is today, with 57% of businesses employing two or more people dedicated to the endeavour.
Moreover, forward-thinking businesses are now incorporating more than one content type into their strategy with a view to get exposure to wider and more diverse audiences. From blogs and social media content to videos and ebooks, online content is now proliferating in unprecedented quantities, making it increasingly difficult to compete in the content marketing arena. As such, businesses are on the lookout for more innovative and creative strategies that will help them rise above the noise and stand out from competition.
If this sounds like you, have you thought about white paper content marketing? That’s one of those advanced strategies that can help your brand conquer the new heights you are aiming for.
Admittedly, white paper content marketing is not a good fit for every brand. It is hard to imagine a fashion or beauty brand promoting their products through a white paper. But for certain industries, publishing a white paper on a pertinent topic can take the business onto a whole new level in terms of both reputation and ROI.
In this post, you will find out what kind of businesses will benefit from white paper content marketing, the different types of white papers you can publish, and some guidelines for writing one for your business.
What is a white paper?
A white paper is an in-depth authoritative report intended to comprehensively inform the reader on a specific topic, argue for a solution to a certain problem, or describe the features of a product or service. White papers are highly detailed and data-centric business documents. As such, white papers are written in a formal and scholastic tone.
Most businesses publish white papers for commercial reasons such as lead generation, nurturing prospects, and driving conversions. Sometimes, companies also publish white papers to raise awareness about a certain issue, attempt to revolutionise a market space, or establish themselves as a thought leader in their industry.
On a strategic level, white papers can be viewed as a type of credibility-building content marketing. Their creation is underpinned by the assumption that prospects seek vendors that can serve as a trustworthy advisor as opposed to vendors who are solely focused on maximizing their financial bottom line.
What types of white papers are there?
There are numerous types of white papers a business might publish.
One type is the backgrounder, in which the benefits of their product, service, or methodology are explained in depth.
Another is a problem-solution approach, which walks the audience through the solution to a problem that is common in their industry.
Other types of white papers simply present a summary of useful statistics and information about the state of a particular field or industry. An example of this would be the 2018 Content Marketing Benchmarks Budgets and Trends from the Content Marketing Institute.
Whatever type you produce, the contents of your white paper should serve to showcase your expertise in a given area. Your audience is searching for information, and will look for an authoritative source — a business they perceive as having in-depth knowledge of a subject.
Why write a white paper for your business?
A goal for any venture looking to grow their business online is to attract prospects to their website, turn them into leads, and convert them into paying customers. White papers are extremely effective for the second stage of the sales funnel, that is, lead generation.
According to the 2018 Content Preferences Survey Report, 75% of B2B customers said they would share their lead information (name and email address) in exchange for a white paper. To put it into perspective, only 62% are willing to do so in exchange for an infographic, and just 49% for gated video content.
White papers are an advanced form of educational marketing presenting businesses with excellent opportunity to establish themselves as trusted thought leaders in their industry. As such, white paper content marketing is particularly effective in B2B industries characterised by high-value purchases and long-term business relationships.
Statistics from 2016 Content Preferences Survey Report indicate that 51% of enterprises make their buying decisions based on online content. Moreover, 96% prefer content authored by industry experts.
How to brainstorm ideas for a white paper.
If you’ve decided that your startup or business would benefit from a white paper, the first thing you need to do is come up with a sound idea.
The internet is sadly awash with poorly researched and ill-conceived content marketing documents dressed up as white papers. These provide little-to-no benefit to the company that produced it, as they’re not going to build legitimacy or authority, nor act as an effective sales tool. Therefore, don’t be tempted to cut corners to save time or money. You’ll simply see no return on your investment.
So, how do you come up with a sound idea for your white paper? As a content writing service, we are well aware of the challenge! Our ideating process for a white paper write-up starts by asking our clients the following questions:
What value does your product provide? What is your USP? How does your product help people? You’ll no doubt already have a clear idea of this if you’re at the stage where you’re planning on writing a white paper.
What industry problem does this solve? Once again, at this stage, this will probably be something you’re already acutely aware of.
Who does this benefit? Does your product alleviate pain point(s) of just one user group or multiple groups?
What is the target audience of your white paper? This is the answer to the previous question. But if your product benefits multiple user groups, do their benefits correlate?
How can you connect with this target audience? How can you refine your tone to tailor it to your target audience? What is their level of expertise? This will inform how you approach writing it.
Here’s a quick example. Say you’re writing a white paper for a new mobile app you’ve developed. It connects DJs looking for sets, with nightclubs that are trying to fill cancellations. Following the above process…
Value: You provide value by quickly filling gaps caused by late cancellations and by setting DJs up with more work.
Problem solved: You solve the issue of club promoters not being able to fill a canceled slot at short notice.
Beneficiaries: This benefits both club promoters and DJs.
Target Audience: The target audience of your white paper would be both club promoters and DJs. Their benefits correlate as the service is connecting buyers with sellers.
How to connect: You can connect with DJs and promoters by making your tone a little less formal, presenting your value, and thoroughly researching the technicalities of the issue (opportunity potential, equipment, compatibility, etc).
How to research a white paper.
Before sitting down to write a white paper, you need to thoroughly research the subject. Remember – a white paper is a factual and objective document that provides an unbiased analysis of a subject. Therefore, failure to conduct proper research and gather watertight data points and references will really impede your ability to produce a white paper that will hold up to scrutiny.
Research falls into two categories:
Primary research: data you’re collected first hand, including surveys, interviews and focus groups.
Secondary research: a review of existing primary research, including articles, reports and academic papers.
A well rounded, authoritative white paper should contain both primary and secondary research. Relying exclusively on your own data provides too narrow a viewpoint, whereas failing to conduct primary research reduces your authority on the issue at hand. Primary research also provides you with something trustworthy, unique and up-to-date, while showing that you’re willing to get your hands dirty.
So this being the case, here are some of the ways you can research a white paper:
Conduct a literature review of industry journals. Referencing this literature in your white paper when developing arguments and analysis will provide the factual and objective underpinning that’s required.
Interview all relevant internal stakeholders. The knowledge and experience within your business will provide enormous value in terms of developing the angle and arguments presented in your white paper.
Reach out to industry experts in your professional network. This is a great way to gain original insights from authoritative sources. Offering to provide quotes and backlinks to their websites can be an effective incentive for them to contribute.
Use focus groups to gain further insight. Curate a guided group discussion on the merits of your product/existing industry problems. The group dynamic can bring out aspects of the topic that you may not have considered
Conduct an email survey. Send a questionnaire to your existing mailing list. This can be an effective way to gather original data with relatively low cost and effort.
How to structure a white paper.
The organizational structure of a white paper depends on several factors, most notably its purpose and the type of information to be presented within it. As such, there is no definitive way to structure a white paper. However, a standard problem-solution white paper will typically contain the following sections:
Title: A concise yet informative headline that is appropriate for the target audience of the white paper.
The abstract/Executive Summary: A short and succinct summary of the whole white paper. The abstract typically includes 1-2 sentences about the background (how the problem came to be), a concise problem definition and a brief explanation of the proposed solution.
Introduction/Background: A big-picture discussion of the issues that are the focal point of the whitepaper. This typically culminates in a brief explanation of the problems to be solved by the proposed solution.
Problem statement: A detailed and data-centric description of the problems and challenges to be solved by the proposed solution.
The Solution: A comprehensive delineation of the proposed solution technologies, methodologies, and logistics.
White Paper Examples.
‘Google Cloud Security and Compliance White Paper’.
Google Cloud Security and Compliance Whitepaper: How Google Protects your Data is 27-page document aimed at explaining how Google Apps for Work safeguard their users’ data. The great thing about this white paper is the way Google cleverly repurposed it into several content assets to reach different audiences. For example, they created a brochure summarizing the main points of the white paper for busy business owners who do not have the time to read the whole report.
Since a white paper is both an expensive and time-intensive content asset to produce, you should consider how you can repurpose it into other content types for different channels and audiences to make the most out of your investment.
‘Seizing the digitalization opportunity’ by Siemens.
Seizing the digitalization opportunity is an excellent example of the ‘backgrounder’ type of white paper which aims to explain how organizations are using innovative financing approaches to harness the benefits of technology in industry, healthcare and infrastructure. The authors have summarized all the key findings upfront and substantiated the financing methodologies with real-world examples.
White paper content marketing is a great way to generate high-quality leads and establish credibility in expertise-reliant business industries where customers seek trustworthy solutions from industry leaders.
Therefore, they should be written with consideration of the nature of the target audience – high-profile decision makers who are competent enough to understand the intricacies of the industry challenges in question.
In order to build trust with this type of audience, white papers must be thoroughly researched, well-organized, succinctly written, evidence-based, and error-free.
Darya is a professional content writer, blogger, and content strategist. Her specialties include all things digital marketing such as SEO, content marketing, and social media strategy. When she is not keeping up to speed with the latest digital marketing trends, you can find her perusing Thesaurus to explore new avenues of verbal expression.