A white paper is a type of report with a specific purpose and reading audience. The government of the United States first used the term to describe official reports that were both informative and authoritative. Marketing companies now use white papers as a way to establish the organization as having the best product or service to meet the customer’s need. White papers as marketing tools may also outline a company’s position on a certain topic or product while attempting to convince potential customers that this is the preferred position to take.
Writing a white paper can be a time-consuming process, so it’s essential to understand the client’s needs and message he or she is attempting to convey before taking on such a project. You should have excellent powers of persuasion since key decision-makers in an organization are typically the people who read white papers. Besides driving sales and stating a position, white papers are ideal for generating public awareness about a company. Lastly, a well-written and researched white paper gives an organization the opportunity to establish itself as a thought leader in a competitive industry.
What to Know Before You Start Writing a White Paper
To produce a white paper successfully, it helps to have at least a working knowledge of the Business to Business (B2B) industry. This is an entirely different focus than the Business to Consumer (B2C) industry, which is where most copywriters start their career. Although the six-trillion-dollar per year B2B industry is less competitive, it requires a higher level of writing skill as well as the ability to perform investigative reporting. This means you may need to interview several people to gather the information you need. B2C writing contains more of a marketing spin whereas B2B writing is more informative and objective. However, the tone of the latter should remain informal.
It’s essential that you understand the target audience before you start writing the white paper since different people will have different concerns. For example, assume that you are creating a white paper to introduce a new accounting software program for small businesses. Someone who works entirely for himself or herself may want to know if the software can help them calculate estimated taxes and deductible expenses. In this case, focusing on how it solves common self-employment financial issues would be ideal. An organization with 50 employees may be more concerned with payroll processing issues. Be sure to ask your client who will read the white paper so you set the right tone and cover the most important topics.
Steps to Take to Ensure a Quality White Paper
According to an article written by John Wood at American Writers & Artists, Inc. (AWAI), the key to producing a high-quality white paper is to start with identifying the problem. In the example of accounting software above, it may be the need for a user-friendly, cloud-based program that small business owners who are not accountants could use with ease. Once you have done that, you need to convince the reader that the program actually exists. People are often so busy and accustomed to making due with what they have that they don’t realize the need for a new solution until someone else presents it to them.
The best place to expound on other potential problems related to the issue the white paper addresses is after the introductory paragraph. If you can make a case that the reader has multiple problems your client’s product or service could resolve, he or she is more likely to invest in it. Highlight possible pain points the reader may have without making them appear overwhelming. Remember that the ultimate purpose is for him or her to contact your client, not give up entirely.
You now want to make the gradual shift from problems to solution. Initially, focus on a general solution to the issues at hand without mentioning the product or service your client has to offer. This will pique the reader’s interest while also providing hope that his or her problems are resolvable. It’s only after you have connected and identified with the reader that you should offer a specific solution. This is the ideal time to describe what your client has to offer as well as why it makes a better solution to the reader’s problem than similar offerings by the competition.
At this point, your reader needs to know what you expect him or her to do with the information you just presented in the white paper. If you don’t make the next step easy and obvious, the reader will feel frustrated and is not likely to invest any more time in your client’s company. Therefore, be certain to clarify with your client what you should include in the ending call to action. This could be calling to schedule a consultation, downloading a free demo version of a software program, directing the reader to additional websites for more information, requesting that he or she sign up for the client’s newsletter, or any number of activities.
White Papers Are Popular and Effective
According to a research study conducted by Eccola Media, 84 percent of key decision-makers in a business state that white papers affected their choice to purchase a product or service to a high or moderate degree. Among this group, 77 percent had read at least one white paper in the past year. Further, 89 percent of the respondents shared the white paper they read with someone else. Compared to writing that is purely promotional, white papers provide people with the unbiased facts they need to make an informed purchasing decision.
If you’re looking to establish a niche in the online copywriting world, you may want to consider writing white papers. To see if any are available to write on Content Runner, check the far left column under Type as you review the open assignments under the Browse tab.