White paper marketing has been a staple of many businesses in their content marketing strategies. Its in-depth, research-heavy content makes it desirable for people or businesses searching for reliable sources of information, and people are more likely to buy products or services from a business who have proved themselves knowledgeable and credible.
So in 2021, how can businesses write effective industry white papers that can get leads and promote their brand as an authority in what they do?
An overview of white papers
White papers are quite different from a blog post, e-book or similar types of written marketing content. The industry white paper is meant as an informative guide or report about a particular topic or issue, and oftentimes it adopts a more professional and formal tone than a blog or e-book which can be written informally. They also take much longer to produce, as they require a substantial amount of research to support their bases and points.
There are many types of white papers one could write. Some examples include:
• giving an overview of a particular topic/policy/situation/etc.
• relaying and analyzing data/information and their implications
• breaking down technical concepts into easy-to-understand explanations
• proposing solutions to a certain problem
• providing a comprehensive guide to a business’s products or services
• advice/recommendations on what or what not to do for certain situations
Similar to a technical report or academic study, white paper writing is split into portions–an introduction, background of the topic or issue, the body, and the conclusion. Most white papers have a call-to-action (CTA) at the end that links back to their business, and a list or directory of their products and services that relate to the topic/issue at hand. Since these papers are quite extensive, they end up being longer than a typical blog post, with a standard industry white paper having around 10-12 pages and 3,000 words as a general minimum.
As with all content marketing strategies, white paper marketing is made to attract potential customers or clients. Some white papers require an email before they can be accessed or downloaded, which generates potential leads for the business to work with. Unlike blog posts, white papers are not SEO-optimized, so those that end up reading them are usually those who had actively searched for them, such as experts, business leaders and anyone in need of technical, in-depth knowledge. This provides opportunities for B2B marketing and possible collaborations or partnerships.
A registration page for one of Bynder’s white papers
Capturing the audience
What is most important to white paper writing is planning. Even before typing your first word, you should have a clear idea on who you are targeting with your content, and what content they want you to target. Content marketing in 2021 places importance on personalized content; that is, content that caters to a certain audience rather than trying to appeal to all demographics. With too much content and too little time, what allows your white paper to actually reach an audience is for them to need it.
Firstly, it will require a very good understanding of your business and what drives customers to your products and services. Details like what kind of demographic your business reaches to, how people know about your products/services, what problems or issues they may have–all of these are key to determining the topic you’d want to write, and a buyer persona is a neat way to compile all of these into a format that is easy to refer to. HubSpot offers tips and templates on how to create buyer personas here.
A buyer persona sample, from MyCustomer.com
The next step is to figure out how to angle your content. If you wish to advertise your expertise, you can adopt a more informational/educational approach. When you need to generate leads, you can tackle problems that affect your target audience, and then segue into solutions that align with the products or services you wish to promote later at the end. If you want your audience to know more about your product or service, you can write a technical guide showing all the FAQs and how-to’s that come with using/subscribing to them. Think of how to maximize the benefit your target audience gets from the content you wish to publish..
Enhance reader experience
The term “white paper” brings into mind a bland document with blocks of text, full of complicated concepts and data. However, businesses today strive to make their white papers as neat and visually pleasing as possible. Visuals such as icons, fonts and illustrations decrease the monotony of reading text, and pictures and screenshots help readers visualize your products/services. Charts, graphs and infographics are all helpful in condensing content into easy-to-digest info. Content marketing strategies in 2021 now move toward a more visual direction, and so industry white papers should follow suit if they do not want to be left behind.
Screenshot from a white paper by Deutsche Bank, “The road to real-time treasury.” An example of good visuals, color coordination and text layout/formatting.
Apart from visuals, how your writing is structured can also contribute to a better reading experience. Most white papers have a table of contents to make it easier to jump to a specific page. Introductions usually already have summaries of the paper itself to immediately give an idea on what the paper is about, much like a newspaper article lead or an abstract of a study. Concepts and technical jargon are also explained in this section so that the reader won’t be lost later on. While white paper writing is indeed technical and formal, it doesn’t mean that it should be boring and difficult to read.
Another thing to note is that while white papers are intended to promote your business, it isn’t meant as a sales pitch or ad. At the very least, promotions should only be at the very end of the document when your entire white paper has already been read. Don’t forget that the value of white paper marketing lies in its research and info. On the other hand, simply dumping all your data and analyses into your paper isn’t the way to go. Make sure to frame your findings into the bigger picture, and link them to real-world contexts as well as your audience’s experiences and troubles. This way, you can build a connection with them and get them more engaged with your content and brand.
When done right, white paper writing is a powerful marketing tool that can direct considerable traffic to your business. While much harder and longer to write and publish, it delivers a kind of authoritative, supportive brand advertising that other marketing strategies may not be able to accomplish. In an age where content is overflowing and misinformation is rampant, white papers are able to supply cold, hard facts and credible research to help others make sound decisions.
Visual by Russel Sastrillo