When you hear the word “whitepaper” what do you think of?
In politics, a whitepaper refers to a document that presents policy preferences before any official legislation is introduced.
In the tech world, a whitepaper is often an authoritative report that explains the benefits of new technology.
So, what are whitepapers in marketing and business? What do they do? Why are they important?
That’s what we’ll cover in this article.
What is a Whitepaper?
At its core, a whitepaper is an informational document that advocates for a certain situation, plan, or strategy in a specific situation.
They are well-researched guides that are often problem-solution oriented. These whitepapers introduce common issues and then explain the best solution.
Whitepapers should also provide persuasive yet fact-supported evidence that the chosen solution is superior. Statistics and research from reputable sources should back these facts.
A whitepaper should convince while being authoritative and in-depth.
What a whitepaper is not, is sales-y.
Your whitepaper must be educational. Focus on the facts and leave opinions behind. Your tone should be informational and authoritative, but not aggressive or artificial.
3 Benefits of Creating a Whitepaper
- Build Trustworthiness: Whitepapers are a great way to build trust with your audience. By providing clear facts, you can establish credibility as a brand in your industry and help prospects make informed buying decisions.
- Grow Mailing List: By giving your whitepaper away for free in exchange for an email address, you can start growing your email list. Start collecting valuable contact information and insights for finding new leads.
- Establish Yourself as a Thought Leader: Build brand awareness by positioning yourself as a thought leader, bringing solutions to industry problems. Show your personal experience and industry expertise by presenting information in a clear, accurate way.
Key Elements for a Whitepaper
HubSpot notes there is no minimum length requirement for whitepapers. However, you want to make sure your whitepaper stands out on your website.
A higher word count will give you the space to take a deep dive into your topic, help you build authority, and rank in Google. When thinking about the length of your whitepaper, also remember that you’ll want to add clear graphics, charts, and references.
So setting a target length is a great idea, but don’t get too caught up in the number of pages your whitepaper is.
Traditionally, whitepapers have been formatted like traditional research papers you would write in school. They often include a title page, a table of contents, an executive summary, an introduction, and a conclusion.
Even though whitepapers have been around for many years, they don’t have to follow this traditional format. They are rooted in research but that doesn’t mean you have to present the research in a traditional way. As long as you cite your sources, and those sources are trustworthy and reputable, you’ll have some more freedom with the structure.
Ultimately, make sure your white paper is interesting; it should draw your audience in, just like any other piece of content you create.
Get creative with it! Think about what your audience would like to read. Here are some questions to ask yourself to get started:
- What format can you present this information in?
- Are you using long paragraphs?
- Are you using short descriptions?
- Are you breaking up your text with headings?
- Are you using images and graphs where appropriate?
- Can your audience easily follow your thought process?
- Is there a clear beginning, middle and end?
Speaking of getting creative, your whitepaper does not need to be dense, it needs to be throughout.
As you’re writing your whitepaper, be sure to cover important facts, statistics, and insights on your topic. Your authority will speak for itself. This allows you to eliminate jargon and make your piece more readable, leaving it accessible to a wider audience.
Format of a Whitepaper
In their final form, whitepapers should be in a PDF in portrait orientation (8.5” by 11”).
The style of a whitepaper should be professional. Make sure the content that appears in your whitepaper is well-written and well-edited. The tone of your writing should match the tone of your brand.
For example, if your brand is friendly, you’ll want to convey that tone in your writing. As you being to add creative style, don’t stray too far from your brand. Stick with the same fonts, colors, and similar graphics. At a glance, it should be clear the whitepaper is associated with your company.
Different Whitepaper Types (& When & How to Use Them)
- What: An educational whitepaper is an authoritative report that informs your audience about a particular topic.
- When: Use an educational whitepaper as part of your lead generation strategy. Use them at the top of your marketing funnel to drive brand awareness and educate your reader on the topic.
- How: Educational whitepapers can cover industry insights or trends that are important to stakeholders. They can cover how to do something, the right way to do something or an in-depth analysis of something.
Numbered List Whitepapers
- What: A numbered list whitepaper can help reframe information in a numbered set of tips, questions, answers or points about a specific topic.
- When: Use a numbered list whitepaper as a top of funnel marketing tactic. Your audience can include anyone interested in the issue. Drive brand awareness by creating light and lively content.
- How: Numbered lists can bring a new perspective to your audience. A best practice is to include an introduction, anywhere from three to nine points, and a conclusion or call to action.
- What: Technical whitepapers outline how things work. They are typically product-focused, laying out a business problem and providing a tech-based solution.
- When: Use a technical whitepaper to encourage customers to believe that your product solves their biggest pain points. By introducing technical whitepapers to prospects farther down the marketing funnel, you can share practical, action-driven tips.
- How: Technical whitepapers will go into detail to describe the product, how to use it, and explain why the reader needs the product. Be sure to include data and statistics that support the effectiveness of the product.
6 Steps to Create Your Own Whitepaper
1. Identify Your Audience
First, you need to identify your audience. Helping you understand who your audience is can help you build content your audience is actually interested in consuming.
Answering these questions might help you get started:
- Who will you be creating this whitepaper for?
- Where are they active online?
- What do you know about them?
- What are some demographics that define your target audience?
- What are some psychographics that define your target audience?
- What are their biggest pain points?
- Where are they in their customer journey?
- Top of funnel: strategies aimed to build brand awareness about a brand or product
- Middle of funnel: strategies aimed to bridge the gap between brand awareness and decision
- Bottom of funnel: strategies aimed to reach a narrow, highly qualified audience to persuade them to a buying decision
2. Research, research, research
Now that you know your audience, It’s time to pick a topic. So what comes next?
Research. Your whitepaper should be rooted in research, pulling together customer insights, industry trends, and competitor research.
Answer these questions to help you get started:
- What data is missing from your industry?
- What current news is worrying your industry?
- What ideas do you have about your industry that have not been covered?
- What are your customers confused about?
- What are your competitors creating content about?
3. Create an Outline for your Whitepaper
Start with an outline. Organizing your ideas before you write will help you cover everything you want. Talk through your process, bounce ideas off others, or create a list.
Add subheadings to help break up any large sections of your text to improve readability. Within your outline, indicate what images or graphics you’re hoping to use, and map them into your outline directly.
4. Write, write, write
Good writing takes time, effort and patience. Focus on writing first and editing second.
Include an introduction with a great hook. Grab your audience’s attention right off the bat before your readers can click away. Be sure to flush out your content, covering as much as you can, keeping your audience in mind.
Once you’ve completed your draft, go back and edit. Make sure to get other people’s opinions, another set of eyes may catch any mistakes.
5. Find or Create Images
Once you’re satisfied with your copy, it’s time to move on to design. If you work with a designer, be sure to provide them with image examples and branding guidelines. Take the time to create graphs to visually describe statistics and keep everything consistent with your brand colors and typography.
6. Promote, promote, promote
Once your white paper is ready to go, you’ll need to decide how to promote it. One of the most common promotion strategies is to build a landing page. This page should have a lead generation form that captures your customers’ names and email addresses.
Additionally, think of ways you can promote your whitepaper through social media. You can create custom graphics for Instagram or Facebook, highlighting unique facts based on your whitepaper. Another idea is to create buzz for your whitepaper by doing blog outreach.
Wrapping It Up
A whitepaper can be a great supplement to your marketing strategy, as long as you use it correctly.
Be sure you’ve chosen a topic your audience will be interested in, and you’ve done your research to create engaging and valuable content.