White papers can be a very effective means of promoting the benefits and features of a product or service—as long as the writer produces them with the reader in mind. In fact, experts in this area advise authors to avoid even the appearance of trying to sell a product with these publications.
However, the whole point of white papers—when, for instance, manufacturers publish them—is to highlight one of the producer’s products. So, when it comes to marketing, it is how this highlighting is done that can help determine how powerful a marketing tool the white paper will be.
First some history: The term “white paper” comes from an old concept known as a “white book.” White books were often prepared by governments to lay out the reasoning behind an official policy.
Today, we use white papers in a similar way. They are designed to argue a position or present a solution. All kinds of organizations use white papers because, as mentioned, they can be powerful marketing tools. The following tips can help you make sure your white paper accomplishes your goals:
Concentrate on your reader. A white paper is designed to discuss an issue, often referred to as a pain point that many end-customers may encounter, as well as how it can be resolved—through the use of your product or service. However, never concentrate on your company or its products. Always concentrate on your reader’s interests.
Be an attention grabber. The people that read white papers are typically managers or purchasers. These people have a lot on their plate, so unless your white paper grabs their attention quickly—usually within the first paragraph or so—you will likely lose them.
Provide a little history. Issues and problems don’t just happen overnight. Typically, they develop over time. Provide some historical data on the problems, issues, and solutions you are presenting.
Include examples of failed attempts to address the issue. Invariably when dealing with an issue or problem, initial attempts do not go as well as expected, and some do not work at all. Discuss any previous approaches that have been used to address the issue, as well as how and why they failed.
Introduce your product. This is where you have to be tactful. When introducing your product, do not turn it into an advertisement. This will cause the white paper to lose all credibility, and the reader will likely move on at that point.
For example, let’s say your white paper discusses the problems a facility is having saving energy. The building’s roof is poorly insulated and, while the facility’s manager has taken steps to further insulate the roof, they have had only minimal impact. Taking this a step further, the author might write:
“The facility decided to install a green roof. The roof, which was manufactured by RoofingSolutions, was installed in about one day. Engineers from RoofingSolutions predicted the roof would reduce energy consumption by about 25 percent and double the life span of the roof, both of which would provide significant cost savings.”
Bring in the evidence. The engineers from RoofingSolutions predicted that energy consumption would drop by about 25 percent after the installation of the green roof due to reduced heating and air conditioning bills. If this turned out to be the case, now is the time to list exactly how much energy was saved and how big a cost savings that proved to be. Further, if it costs $40,000 to install a new roof every ten years, also mention that extending the lifespan to 20 years saved another large sum.
The details. Keep your white papers to about four to six pages, tops. Provide chunks of information, about three to four paragraphs on each topic. Provide graphs, images, and lots of facts and figures that can be used as supporting evidence.
By Robert Kravitz