3 Keys to Writing Great White Papers

There’s a lot of talk about white papers, and with white papers, there’s a lot to talk about

What we know today, based on research, is that white papers are by far the most requested piece of collateral either through standard channels or through social media sites. We also know that white papers, more than any other form of marketing communications in the technology world, communicate the fullness of a product’s capabilities, business specifics, or solution options. This is true because white papers are the most flexible of all marketing communications forms. They are like baskets that can hold all kinds of ideas, facts, specifications, and illustrations, both written and visual. And they are elastic: length is much more dependent on the material that needs to be covered and the readers’ interest spans. A paper that shows technical implementations will have lots of details, and will be much longer than one that highlights certain business needs that can be met by a turn-key solution.

A white paper can be anything you need it to be

It can be a billboard for your mystery product (so many of our technology products look like rack-mounted stacking boxes, but with such miraculous and differing capabilities!). It can be a way to deliver an argument that points people to the conclusion you or your company would like them to draw. It can report research results or propose a new way of doing things. It can be almost anything, but to be successful, it must be persuasive. To frame a persuasive white paper, you need to frame its functions and content.

  1. Who will read this white paper?

    The issue of audience is paramount. If you don’t know who will read it, you cannot write it. Are you writing for decision makers? Recommenders? Influencers? People down in the weeds, looking at technical questions and interested in technical answers? People concerned with the business fit of your product or services? Who? If you know who will read it, the paper, no matter what length, is as good as a third written. If you don’t know, you can’t write effectively. Period. End of story (and of white paper!!)

  2. Once your target reader finishes the paper, what do you want him or her to do?

    Do you want them to buy? Do you want them to think about certain trends that point in your direction? Do you want them to imagine how to design your product into their company’s computing infrastructure? Do you want them to recommend this product to decision makers, or just generally talk it up? Once you know what behavior you want to influence, you’ve got another third of the paper done.

  3. How can you tell your reader the story that elicits the behavior you want?

    Once you know who’s reading and what you want them to do, the shortest distance between those two points is the story your white paper tells.
    So, gather your information, marketing messages, the business case, technical specifications, or the technical case. In addition, third-party references, customer case studies, successes, or quotes, even competitive data are also helpful.
    There are many ways to structure your white paper, but for the moment, think about story structure.
    In marketing, we talk about pain points. Build your white paper very simply, to let your reader know that your product or service can meet their challenge:

    • Environment: what is your reader’s world like? Infrastructure, business activities, what?
    • What’s his or her pain point? What’s the problem that only your product or service can fix?
      Are there other answers? How do they fall short?
    • What is your company’s solution? How does it meet, and exceed expectations?

If you understand these three keys, and apply them wisely to your white paper, you’ll have a persuasive piece that sells when your sales force isn’t even in the room.
Happy writing!
By Connie Howard, ETMG VP & Founding Writer