We are big fans of white papers, but when we recommend them to a lot of our clients, they have a so many questions. Mainly because they don't know what white papers are.
What are White Papers?
To clear the air, I want to start off by saying your white papers aren't actually white. You could make them white, but that would be kind of boring. An attractive layout with some interesting graphic design is probably a better option. Now that I've gotten that out of the way...
When it comes to marketing and business, a white paper is a guide or report to inform readers, giving them details and insights on a topic. These are normally put out by a business to help customers understand an issue, solve a problem, gain in-depth information, get further education, or make a decision. White papers are almost academic documents to help those who do business with you (or may possibly do business with you) while promoting your business, brand, products, or philosophy.
White papers are supposed to be high value for the folks who read them. These aren't long advertorials. You and what you offer shouldn't be the focus of the document, but if you namedrop it (when absolutely necessary and appropriate), that's okay. I normally discourage any attempt at advertising in a white paper, but tacking on a subtle call-to-action after the meat and potatoes is out of the way isn't too heavy handed. Generally I recommend subtle logos and branding and austere contact information listed on the back page or rear cover.
Creating a White Paper
These are high level pieces of content, so when you develop your white paper, don't whip through it. Expect your white paper to take a few days to do, and anticipate having a few other folks involved, even if just for proof reading.
According to Lindsay Kolowich at the Hubspot blog, your white paper should be at least six pages long, and it can go up to 50, if needed. Frankly, I think 50 is pushing it well into e-book territory, and I'd suggest swinging for 25 pages or less. However, if the subject matter is very complex or your paper is packed with graphics and illustrations to further understanding, you may want to go long.
When you write your white paper, be prepared to be in some serious, professional territory. But depending on your subject matter and your brand, something on the lighter side in terms of tone and style is equally appropriate. The document itself needs to be professional and polished, which means that top-tier proof reading and editing along with skillful design and layout are necessary. No one is going to bother reading (or believing) an amateurishly prepared, typo-ridden white paper, so if you lack certain skills on your team, you may want to turn to an outsourcer.
Be sure to make your white paper easily followed, particularly in terms of layout. Your white paper should have a title page, a table of contents, and maybe a short executive summary before your introduction. The white paper should then lay out a problem or issue, possible solutions (in detail), maybe a few case studies, and a conclusion. Think of the white paper as a booklet, and as you plot it out, keep in mind how it would come out if you'd print it out.
Why White Papers?
White papers are pretty dense documents that aren't super easy to produce, so you don't want to be whipping these up for fun. You generally want to make them for a good purpose.
For most businesses, white papers are one type of "lead magnet." Lead magnets attract leads by giving them very valuable information in exchange for some basic information. If someone wants your white paper, they probably should have to fill out a form and provide details like their email address and job title, and if they are potential opportunities, you can follow up with them to see if they want to do business with you.
You create and release a white paper to drum up some business, but that isn't all there is to it. You should be able to promote the white paper to your target audience through channels like blogs, email, and social media. And you should have the ability to follow up on the leads you attract with your white paper. If you don't follow up, or don't do so in a timely manner, there is a good chance your lead will already have fallen our of your funnel and given their business to a competitor. Even if they haven't bought yet, they may have found the information they were looking for from a different source, and they've now moved into that sources' funnel.
Want to Know More?
Don't we all!?
Seriously, though, if you want to know more about white papers, I could keep going. I could write a whole white paper on white papers, and because that sounds so fun and meta, keep an eye out for that in the future.
For now, if you are wondering if you are putting out the caliber of content necessary for a wonderful white paper, hit us up! We're presently doing free content evaluations, and the team would love to check out your work and let you know if it's indeed up to snuff.