White papers: the ultimate marketing material

Nothing says your company knows its stuff more than a white paper. If your company releases a white paper on a certain topic, you’re basically saying: “When it comes to subject x, no one knows more than me.”

You’re basically likening yourself to a doctor. For example, if you’ve got a toothache and you hear someone nearby say something like “I’m a dentist,” you’ll likely turn around and ask them as many questions about your sore tooth as you can. You’ve found your expert!

In the same way, if your company is thinking about expanding into Asia and you see a law firm has released a white paper titled “Asia Pacific Mega-Trends and Legal Solutions”, not only will you want to read that white paper, but you might even be tempted to call that law firm for some advice.

White papers are the definitive piece of marketing material. But they’re no small exercise. Unlike a blog, whitepapers are a much bigger beast. If you want to dip your toe into the white paper pool, there’s a few things you should know.

What is a whitepaper?

I’m glad you asked. A white paper is probably the closest thing to an academic document that doubles as a piece of marketing material. They’re usually at least 20 -30 pages long (sometimes even double or triple that) and draw upon significant research into a particular subject.

The purpose of a whitepaper is to position a company as the definitive source of expertise on a particular subject or business issue.

How are whitepapers different to blogs?

The difference between a whitepaper and a blog is similar to the difference between eating takeaway and dining at a 5-star restaurant. While a blog can ensure you eat some food it’s probably not going to linger in your memory for a long time, help you feel like you’ve really experienced all that food can offer, and left a massive hole in your savings account (that’s only applicable to restaurants, by the way. Most white papers are free. And now I’m hungry.)

Blogs are usually between 400 – 800 words and are aimed at providing an introduction to a topic rather than acting as a definitive guide. Like this blog! I’m here giving you the basics of what a whitepaper is, what it can do, and how you should think about them. A blog is usually designed as first port of engagement for a customer with a client. The hope is that someone will read a blog and then use that as a launch point for a deeper engagement with the client.

A whitepaper, on the other hand, is a far bigger beast. Rather than being a conversational document (like this), whitepapers are far more formal, and have chapters rather than subheadings.

The reason for this is that people reading whitepapers don’t want a quick fix on a topic – they’re interested in becoming experts. One report suggests 76 percent of white paper readers are hoping for an in-depth education on a subject. You don’t read a whitepaper to get a basic how-to-guide. You read them to try and become an expert.

How do I write a white paper?

  1. The start line for a white paper is to identify the area in which you want to grow your company’s brand and credibility. Writing a white paper isn’t a small task – it’ll take time and resources. So, unless it’s going to help your brand’s credibility in a key reputational area, you’re probably better off sticking to blogs. But if you want to be known as THE company on a particular subject, then a whitepaper might be the right marketing material for you.
  2. Try and find some data. A white paper isn’t just a series of blogs. It has to explore a topic in a highly credible way. What survey data or analytics do you have access to? Or, if you don’t have any usable data, maybe you can create some? For example, what trends do you think are happening and how can you find some data to back up your suspicions?
  3. Write the white paper! Don’t be surprised if this takes a month or two. It’ll need strong editing and also numerous fresh sets of eyes to make sure it’s actually meeting the marketing objectives (see point 1).
  4. The last step is possibly the most important – design. Data can be both boring and interesting. It all depends on how its presented. If you can make the data dance off the page and emphasise some key tips or findings, it’s like switching your TV from SD to 4K. In fact, 24% of consumers reckon the ‘look’ of a white paper influences their purchasing decisions. So don’t skimp on the design!

Should I write a white paper?

The answer, like most things in marketing, is: maybe. It all depends what your company wants to achieve. If you’re exploring a new market or trying to establish yourself in a new industry, blogs and videos are great marketing materials that can get you started.

However, if you’ve been playing in a space for a while and want to supercharge your credibility, then a white paper would be a fantastic next step.

If you’re interested in exploring whether blogs or whitepapers would be best for your company, get in touch for a chat. We’d love to help you on your way.

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