October 12, 2015

How to Write Amazing White Papers

How to Write Amazing White Papers

I’m dreaming of a white paper

Just like the ones I used to know

Where the words all glisten

And audiences listen

To hear what they need to know


Did that put you in a holiday mood? No? OK, OK. It’s only October. It’s not even Halloween yet; I get it. But regardless of your feelings on holiday season creep, keep reading for some white paper knowledge throw-down.

White papers are a great way to provide relevant content for your audiences and segments while building your inbound marketing strategy. But you may be wondering, what exactly are they, and how do you make sure that your prospects and customers will love them? Here's all the info you need about how to write a white paper that will have your audience singing with cheer.

White Paper Basics

The definition of a white paper varies by industry, but here’s how our pals at Hubspot define them:

A whitepaper is a persuasive, authoritative, in-depth report on a specific topic that presents a problem and provides a solution.

Did you notice that there’s no mention of product pitches or company history and bios? Those are the types of things you want to avoid; your readers don’t want to be sold to, they want to learn. Learning is fun (Just like the holidays — when they are celebrated in a seasonally appropriate timeframe).

A good white paper will give facts and evidence that educate people about how to solve a particular problem. To be effective, you don’t want to be too obscure or too broad with your topic; you want to reach the right people (your inbound marketing program depends on that to generate leads, after all) but still have enough to say about the topic to write an informative paper.

Say, for example, you’re a manufacturer of pet food products, and you market to retailers and consumers alike (I love animals; I’ll use them as an example anytime I can. Sue me.). An example of a good white paper topic might be one like this one, which discusses dog food manufacturing and the benefits of certain ingredients, as well as how to choose a dog food brand. The information presented in this paper will help consumers and retailers choose brands of food that meet certain standards. It's great information that doesn’t overtly sell (but it's not a great paper title; more on that later).

Using stats and research, your white paper should make mention of trends and information that relate to your company’s products, but shouldn't actually opine on your particular product's virtues. You’re selling the trend and information, not the product. Make sense?

Now that you know what white papers are, here are some tips for producing ones that will add to your sales funnel and bring your organization positive attention.

Tips for Writing a White Paper

Don’t sell. Please, just don’t. There’s no better way to get your paper ignored. Write about a topic that is useful and educational. If you do this correctly, you will interest people in your company in a more organic way. And everyone loves organic, right?

Write about the right stuff. OK, so we’ve established that you aren’t going to sell. What are you going to talk about? Talk to people on your team — particularly those in sales — and discover what mainly attracts your customers to you. What problem of theirs do you solve? What are their concerns during the sales process? Try to write about something relating to that, and you’ve done half the work of attracting interest.

Catch readers’ eyes. Pick a good title! Read the title you come up with and look at it objectively. If you didn’t know your company, would you want to read this white paper? Make sure the title is informative and engaging, not dry. Remember that when you promote the paper via social media, you won’t have the paper’s content to help show its value. Make the title count.

Plan first. Go into the writing process with a clear objective of what you’re going to talk about and how. Collaborate with a few people on your team to come up with a killer outline so you’ll be sure to get all your points across — remembering to think like your customers, keeping their interests in mind.

Keep it fun-sized. The most successful whitepapers tend to be somewhere around six to 12 pages in length range; too much shorter and you risk not providing enough information, and too much longer and you risk boring your audience. Don’t do that.

Go light on the jargon. You may have a lot of really great scientific and/or engineering information that you’d like to weave into your paper. But, in most industries, resist the temptation. Think of the audience you’re trying to reach. Will they be able to understand what you’re writing? Try writing for a more general audience to reach the most people. But, again, let your industry be your guide on this. If you're selling widgets to aerospace engineers, you go on with your engineer-y bad selves.

Be illustrative. Be sure to get your white paper designed by a professional web designer or web design agency, using eye-catching graphics, photos and illustrations to enhance your messages. Charts, graphs and infographics are great additions to most white papers.

Be stylish. The right tone and style are needed. White papers are among the more serious pieces of content you’ll write. While you don’t want to be jargony, don’t go too unserious with them.

Use bullet points to break up content, and keep those sentences tight and punchy. If you have a sentence that’s really long, people might forget what you were talking about by the end of the sentence (and you might even veer from your point too), and that would be terrible because then you lose your audience when that’s the last thing you want to do while conducting inbound marketing and training circus ponies. What, what just happened? (See what I mean? It’s bad.)

Be sure to have a few people edit and proofread as well.

Promoting Your White Paper

Now that you have your awesome little white paper, it’s time to promote the heck out of it. After all, what use is a white paper if no one can find it?

First up is to create a landing page. Hubspot (which we use for our inbound marketing clients) is great for this. Landing pages are specifically designed to convert visitors to customers. Sounds good, right? Your white paper will be the offer here, inviting visitors to download it. But don’t just give the download away! Ask for some basic contact information first, and bingo — there’s your prospect information. And you didn’t even have to sell to them; you educated them instead.

To attract people to your landing page, you can use a variety of promotional activities, such as:

  • Social media posts
  • Hosting a Twitter chat
  • Posting on LinkedIn groups
  • Sending e-newsletters to customers and prospects, including to tradeshow attendees
  • Writing blog posts
  • Creating a video teaser
  • Producing a podcast or host a webinar
  • Using links in email signatures
  • Educating your sales team on the paper and empower them to use it in the sales process

When done right, your one white paper can help drive a full editorial calendar of content marketing activities for a few weeks or months. So, get cracking!

(And maybe don’t put those holiday decorations up just yet.)Free Checklist: How to Run an Inbound Marketing Campaign

Wendy Angel

Wendy is a creative specialist with madison/miles media and has done a little bit of everything communications-related during her career: marketing, public relations, and writing and editing for magazines. She recently relocated to the DFW area from Atlanta with her husband and enjoys riding her horse Oliver, whose head is entirely too big for his body.