When I started writing white papers for B2B technology companies, I made the false assumption that all of my potential clients knew exactly what a white paper is.
The assumption was my mistake. That’s because the term “white paper” means different things to different people.
And anything can be called a white paper.
It wasn’t enough for me to understand the awesome persuasive power of white papers. If I was going to help B2B technology companies grow their businesses, I needed to create a clear definition of the modern white paper.
A white paper is …
After researching the history of white papers, and how marketers have used them over the years, I was able to come up with a way to easily explain what a white paper is – or, at least, the type I write.
A white paper is a piece of B2B marketing collateral that identifies a specific business problem and proposes a solution in an objective, logical, and persuasive manner.
An effective white paper provides the reader with useful and objective information that will help them solve a problem or make a purchasing decision. It serves the interests of your technology company because you offer a product or service that provides the solution to the identified problem.
But your specific product or service is not the focus. In fact, the white paper only mentions what you are selling very briefly, and at the very end.
White papers aren’t brochures
A white paper isn’t a brochure that explains the benefits of your product or service.
Well, it isn’t supposed to be.
Unfortunately, many of the documents that technology companies are sharing with prospective customers are actually brochures dressed up in a white paper suit.
Brochures are easy to recognize sales documents. They are written from a sales perspective and use all of the tricks of the trade. While they correctly focus on the benefits of the product, they intentionally push emotional buttons that nudge the reader towards a sale.
White papers aren’t a sales pitch. They are a well-reasoned presentation of facts that inform the reader about solutions to a specific problem they are facing.
White paper’s aren’t eBooks
I was surprised with a client asked me to write an eBook about their innovative bit of technology. I couldn’t imagine why they thought an eBook would work as an effective marketing piece of collateral.
What I came to understand was that they wanted to compile a document that contained everything their prospects should know about their product niche. With that one document, they wanted to conclusively establish their thought leadership on the subject. And they thought “eBook” sounded better than “white paper.”
So I wrote the eBook. Duh.
It was five times longer than a white paper and it went into great detail about the technology and their product. While it generated leads in addition to serving as the perfect primer for someone who wanted to learn the subject matter quickly, it was not a white paper.
After that experience, I would only recommend writing an eBook instead of a white paper under very limited circumstances.
When you make the investment in creating a solid white paper, you’ll position yourself as an authority in your market, capture more leads, and close more sales.