6 “Dos” and 1 “Don’t” For Developing a Great White Paper

According to the Content Marketing Institute/MarketingProfs’ 11th Annual Content Marketing Survey, 47% of B2B content marketers used white papers in the past 12 months. Considering that the average white paper costs $4,000 to $6,000 to produce, with some complex projects costing as much as $10,000, it’s reasonable to assume that organizations receive a good return on their investment. In fact, white papers are among the best early-to-mid-stage content formats, particularly effective in generating early buyer interest from the awareness through the consideration and intent stages. What’s more, white papers often benefit from a long shelf life, and can be easily repurposed in a variety of formats and channels, such as blog posts, podcasts, webinars, press releases, bylined articles, infographics, and social media. A well-developed white paper is indeed the gift that keeps on giving.

Given the levels of investment, effort, and potential return associated with a white paper project, marketers have plenty of incentive to do it right. Whereas blog posts and infographics can be produced quickly and relatively cheaply, long-form content like white papers demand some additional thought and planning. Most importantly, your white paper should be fully aligned with your organization’s long-term content strategy and goals.

With this in mind, here are 6 “Dos” to consider before kicking off your next white paper project:

  • Do speak to your audience: A successful white paper begins with a compelling topic. And that topic needs to speak directly to a specific, unique challenge or issue your target audience is facing right now. The name of the game is clicks, and unless the topic clearly resonates with your audience, your white paper is likely to gather dust in a forgotten corner of their inbox.
  • Do say something original: One of the most important jobs of a white paper is to help an individual or brand become established as a “thought leader” in their field. The late economist and editor-in-chief Joel Kurtzman first coined “thought leader” in its modern usage in strategy+business magazine. In the decades since, many organizations overused this term, throwing it around to describe every regurgitated utterance of conventional wisdom. Don’t be that guy or gal! For your white paper to have a chance at making an impact in the marketplace, and to have legs beyond the current quarterly cycle, you need to say something original or counterintuitive, and be prepared to back it up.
  • Do cite relevant data: One way to back up your unique or counterintuitive big idea is through evidence – specifically, fresh, current, compelling, independently validated data that support your key points. This information can come from a variety of sources: proprietary research, published studies, government publications, or anecdotal evidence gathered through client interviews and focus groups.
  • Do quote industry experts: Another popular and effective way to establish credibility in your white paper is by interviewing recognized experts in the field. Not only will these quotes help validate your position and point of view, but since everyone loves to see their name in print, they will also extend your reach among the experts’ networks and spheres of influence. Don’t forget to approach your current customers as potential interview subjects, as well. They can provide real-world examples of how they solved the problem you describe in the paper (using your solution, of course), and the additional recognition can serve as a way to thank them for their loyalty and partnership.
  • Do avoid jargon: As much as you hope your shiny new white paper will enable you to leverage industry best practices to help move the needle on all your marketing goals and capture low hanging fruit along the customer journey, you can easily shoot yourself in the foot by overusing industry jargon, cliches, and the most annoying buzzwords of the moment. Nothing reduces a white paper’s effectiveness and credibility more than jargon, except maybe this …
  • Do proofread! Perhaps the only sin worse than overusing buzzwords is neglecting to weed out careless typos, spelling errors, and grammatical snafus. Not everyone will notice, but for the vocal minority that does, nothing is more annoying than silly mistakes that should have been picked up in a final round of editing. Take the extra time to have a second set of eyes read through the final product before you publish. Your readers will thank you!

As a bonus, here is one important “Don’t” to remember for your next white paper project:

  • Don’t push product! We all understand that the ultimate purpose of marketing is to drive sales. Long-form content like white papers are most effective when used in the top and middle stages of the sales cycle, when establishing brand awareness and credibility is most critical, and your audience is seeking objective, thought-provoking points of view. For this reason, avoid overtly selling your products or solution in the white paper, where product-pushing can be more damaging than beneficial. Leave the selling to late-stage content like case studies, website product pages, in-person and virtual events, sales sheets, and brochureware.

White papers hold a unique and important place of prominence in your content marketing toolkit. They help build awareness, credibility, and “buzz” for your brand and offerings. They also have a long shelf life and can be repurposed in multiple ways. Follow our tips for effectiveness, and you’ll be assured of a successful white paper project that will keep returning value for years to come.