How and When to Write a White Paper

by Travis Heermann on January 14, 2010

A white paper is an effective marketing tool most often used for B2B communication, especially in the IT industry, although their use has spread to nearly all business sectors. How effective are they? According to TechTarget 2009 Media Consumption Report, 90% of survey respondents stated that white papers were effective tools in buyers’ decision-making processes.

A white paper provides detailed analysis of a complex topic, such as a new technology or process, market trends, industry news, regional information, anything that requires space shorter than a book but longer than a letter, typically 5-15 pages.

Businesses use white papers when they want to:

  • Establish expertise, authority, and credibility in their business field or marketplace.
  • Educate potential customers or raise awareness about complex topics.

White papers are usually multi-sectional reports written in straightforward, factual prose. They are not sales letters or brochures. A news-oriented style is far more effective.

The aim is to convey the key messages to the prospect as easily as possible, so a white paper needs an executive summary and possibly a table of contents outlining the interior sections. The executive summary is critical, as many of your prospect’s top decision makers will read only that. The executive summary should outline the paper’s topic, state your business’s understanding of the topic, and recommend a solution or approach.

The rest of the paper should then go into the details, section by section, in a thorough, informative way. White papers should not be coy with information. Their aim is to build trust and credibility; vague language and pie-in-the-sky solutions impede that aim. The strength of white papers is that by being informative, your prospects will use them as part of their research and decision-making process, thus building the trust you want your prospect to feel.

Keep in mind that a white paper is only one step among many in what can be complicated sales processes, but it is an effective step.

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