White papers have become the rage in recent years, and for good reason. They are an excellent way to showcase your expertise and build credibility. A well crafted white paper can quickly establish you as an expert among experts.
So what is a white paper, anyway? In very simple terms, a magazine article you self-publish. White papers strive to position your company as a solution to problems. They typically demonstrate this through case studies, test results, or position statements.
Unlike magazine articles, however, the visibility part is up to you. Most people today post white papers on their web site. It is popular to use white papers as bait for e-mail addresses, as part of a list building strategy. This can be effective, but the white paper must be worthwhile.
Another use for white papers is for sales collateral. They can be included in sales calls or sales responses to build your credibility. They can also be used as handouts at trade shows or conferences. In that case, however, be sure to get the contact information before you give them away.
White papers are not subject to editorial limitations. You control the content, layout, and length. Here are some comments on each of these parameters:
Content - The material must be useful to your potential client or customers. This can include case studies, test or survey results, top-ten lists, and the like. Make them information rich – not salesy!
An acid test I’ve always applied to any written piece is, “If I never do business with this person, is the information still useful and of value?” If it is just a sales pitch (we’re better than XYZ and here’s why) it is more likely to offend rather than to convince.
In the technical world, white papers are often called application notes. These have been around for years, and typically show how to design and use a manufacturer’s products. Follow the examples to get similar results — you don’t need to reinvent the wheel.
Layout - This is probably one of the biggest advantages over a magazine article. You can coordinate the look and feel of your white paper with the rest of your collateral – letterhead, brochures, and web site. Spend the time and money to make your white paper look professional.
A professional printer can be a big help here. They can advise on technical issues like paper stock, font, graphics, and more. (Except for the paper, this advice applies to digital versions, too.) They may even save you money by making your white paper fit a standard format to eliminate printing waste. We’ve worked with a professional printer for years, and consider them “part of the family.”
A professional copywriter can help, too. If you are not comfortable writing, consider hiring a “white paper specialist” . On the other hand, if you are comfortable, you might even consider writing white papers as a potential service. We’ve done several white papers for our technical clients over the years.
If you do decide to use outside help, pick a topic or two and make a preliminary outline. Do your homework – don’t just hire someone to “write a white paper.” That is like hiring an architect to “build a house” without any idea what you want in the first place.
Length – It depends, but 6-12 pages is typical. Longer than a newsletter, but shorter than a booklet. Think of an essay or in-depth magazine article, but without the editorial constraints (article length, number of words, number of figures, ad space, etc.)
As such, you can add as much detail as is needed to make your point. Just don’t overdo it. You are not trying answer every question imaginable.
Given the right circumstances, white papers are worth the effort. But always remember — the goals are to educate, enlighten, and establish credibility — not to sell. You are trying to begin a conversation, not to close the deal.
Questions or comments? Please send me a message via the contact page.
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