illustration of a woman in from of a laptop with a white paper floating out of it's screen

What’s the deal with white papers?!

Julie Ewald content marketing Leave a Comment

B2B tech marketing can’t thrive on blog posts and infographics alone. While short-form content is essential in any content marketing strategy, it’s not enough to generate the type of engagement necessary when selling tech products. You need heavier content that describes pain points, teaches and suggests solutions based on substantial research and documentation — content like white papers. 

White paper creation stays at the heart of inbound marketing for technology companies. That’s because, in this niche, the customer’s journey is long and complex, and B2B buyers need tons of information before they make a purchasing decision. 

The bigger the value of a potential purchase, the more time prospects will spend considering your offer versus others. And this is precisely where white paper content marketing comes into play—to help nurture these prospects with high-quality content.  

What is a white paper?

 

In marketing and business, a white paper is a guide or report meant to inform readers and give them details and insights on a topic. 

Generally, white papers are put out by a business to help prospects and customers understand an issue, solve a problem, gain in-depth information, get further education, or make a decision. They’re close to academic documents in terms of tone, style, and citing rules. The difference is that the white paper is part of a content marketing strategy, thus has commercial purposes. So, while white papers can help to promote your business, brand, products, or philosophy, the ultimate goal when creating them is to help those who do business with you (or may do business with you in the future). 

In short, white paper creation is mainly about providing high value for the folks who read them. They’re not advertorials! You, your company, or your products shouldn’t be the focus of the document. If you choose to name-drop any of these (when necessary and appropriate) however, that’s okay—but be subtle about it. Inserting a faint logo or listing contact information on the back page or rear cover of the white paper is fine, but avoid adding in overly self-promotional product descriptions or sales copy. 

A look at the white paper creation process 

Writing a white paper can take anywhere between a few weeks to a couple of months, depending on the topic and the resources you’re planning to use. Remember that white papers are high-level pieces of content, so you can’t rush through them.  

Also, white paper creation is a team project, so expect to have more people involved—even if it’s just for proofreading.

Length

According to HubSpot, the length of a white paper should be anywhere between six to 50 pages. The length, however, can vary due to the topic, the number of illustrations, or charts that you’re using. There’s no right and wrong here, as long as you stay between these numbers. 

Substance

The essence of a white paper falls in the quality of the content. So, make sure you include all the necessary data and research to make your point. Another element that makes a white paper valuable is its relevance. It should communicate a point of view on a topic that is important to your industry, in a way that is new to your audience. 

Tone and style

The main requirement when it comes to white paper creation is maintaining a professional (but still friendly) tone of voice in the document while you focus on facts. A white paper shouldn’t include speculations, personal opinions, humor, or slang. The document itself needs to be professional and polished, which means that top-tier proofreading and editing, along with skillful design and layout, are necessary. 

No one is going to bother reading an amateurishly prepared, typo-ridden white paper. Also, even if someone is patient enough to go through such a document, it’s very likely they won’t take you seriously after that. If you lack specific writing or design skills on your team, then this is the sort of project you may want to consider outsourcing.

Layout

Since the content of the white paper consists of facts, numbers, and high-level concepts, the design of the layout should specifically be tailored to help make the information easy to read and understand. 

Any white paper should have a title page, table of contents, and ideally an executive summary before the introduction. The outline of a white paper should follow a classic pattern. After the intro, you lay out a problem or issue, then deliver possible solutions with everything explained in as much detail as possible. You can also reinforce your ideas with a few case studies before jumping to the conclusion. 

A trick you can use is to think of the white paper as a booklet. As you plot it out, keep in mind how it would come out on print. 

Useful resources 

As part of a B2B tech marketing strategy, white papers are pretty dense documents. It’s not something that you can produce on the treadmill, between writing a blog and tweeting some wisdom. 

You’ll need all the assistance you can get. So, here are some resources that could be of help:

  • White Papers for Dummies by Gordon Graham: It’s a staple on Impressa’s bookshelf, and our team members always get back to it when assigned to tackle a white paper. It’s very comprehensive. 
  • Purdue OWL: All their resources on writing are pretty helpful, and the instructions for white paper creation are no exception. The website keeps things brief and to-the-point, so it provides a decent enough overview for someone who is just itching to churn out a new white paper.
  • Content Marketing Institute: They have resources on all kinds of content creation, and the white paper section is rich in tips, tricks, and best practices.

The difference between white papers and eBooks

Inbound marketing for technology companies includes all types of content, so it’s quite easy to get confused between white papers, eBooks, case studies, and other long-form content. 

So, what differentiates white papers? First, it’s the density of its content and the tone of voice. Then, it’s the effort that you put into such a project. White papers require original research and professional analysis of the results, substantial documentation, and a certain level of expertise on the subject. The content should show, as well as tell. You need to use graphics and illustrations, and interpret them for your readers from an expert’s point of view.  

You don’t need this level of complexity for writing an eBook or a long-form article. These are softer, easier-to-read pieces of content, that are better for people still at the beginning of their buyer’s journey. An eBook is brilliant for folks who want an overview of a concept. The white paper targets an audience that is familiar with the subject and has the knowledge necessary to understand your ideas. 

You have a white paper. What do you do with it?

Companies don’t whip up white papers just for fun. White paper marketing is a cornerstone of inbound marketing for technology companies. As much as 71% of B2B buyers use this type of content to research purchasing decisions.  

So, how do you integrate it into your customer’s journey? Among other advantages, white papers are highly-effective lead magnets when they provide enough value to convince visitors to convert. But if you want to see this happen, then it isn’t enough to write a white paper and craft a landing page. 

There are two essential elements you need to add to your white paper marketing strategy to see some ROI. 

1. Promotion

Be sure to push your white paper in front of your target audience using all your marketing channels. Blogs, email, social media–each one can become a tool to spread the word about your valuable piece of content. 

2. Follow up 

The white paper is worth the investment only if you can follow up on the leads you attract. If you don’t follow up promptly, you risk losing your new contacts to a competitor. After reading a white paper, prospects are usually ready to start a conversation and learn more about the subject. If you won’t be there to assist them further, they’ll find their answers somewhere else. 

What’s next? 

White papers are powerful B2B tech marketing tools. Besides their ability to attract new leads, they also help you to build a strong brand image. When you share your knowledge, you prove your expertise, which then establishes you as an authority in your niche. 

There are multiple advantages of investing in white paper marketing if you do it the right way. You should make sure it fits into your overall content strategy and reaches the right people at the right moment to convert. 

So, is your buyer’s journey built up to get folks to these detailed downloadables? Or do you need to do a bit of groundwork first? Find out more about how you can integrate white papers into your B2B tech marketing strategy from our Killer Content Strategy eBook. 

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