What Type of White Paper Works Best?

If you’re sold on the idea of the usefulness of a white paper for your business, now you need a few more details about what goes into one, and how you write it. If you’re going to create this document, it needs to provide the best information available. It should also demonstrate that you really know your stuff, and that you’re not trying to foist a thinly-disguised five-page sales pitch on your readers.

So let’s have a look at the three main types of white papers, to see how they differ, and how each one would be used. The type you choose will depend partly on the needs your readers and potential customers have, but it will also depend on your own goals. And remember that you’re never “locked in” to one specific kind of paper. You can use different types at different times.

Technical White Papers

soil test results (summer 2005)

Report test results and statistics (Photo courtesy Flickr user lynetter)

These white papers, not surprisingly, will contain quite a few technical details. If your readers have problems you’re able to solve, back up your claim with this information. Show how the problem can be defined and explained with scientific data and test results, and give technical specifications and further data to support the types of solutions that exist.

This is not a sales pitch for your particular solution, though. You will mention your own product later in the paper, but it’s not the focus. The purpose of a technical white paper is to make sure your reader really understands what’s going on when they encounter their problem or face some obstacle or need.

This type of paper is a general information paper. You don’t simply want customers who buy your product or solution. You will also benefit from readers who are well informed about your entire industry. These are likely to become long-term customers because they’re not focused on a “press this button to solve this problem” answer. They’re looking for what works best in the context of the whole industry, and when they find it, they’ll stick with it.

Marketing White Papers

mannar carnival loudspeaker

Don't overdo the advertising (Photo courtesy Flickr user indi.ca)

These are the papers where you get to pitch your own business a lot more. In a paper like this, you would tout your solution to a problem, and would try to persuade the reader why yours is the best solution of all. But use this sort of white paper with care and caution; you still need to maintain at least some attitude of objectivity.

For example, you should still present the whole gamut of available solutions to the reader’s problem or need. You can assess the ones that others offer, perhaps with a “pros” and “cons” type of approach. Naturally, since you’re promoting one solution in particular, you can try to persuade the reader that yours is the most ideal. But if you don’t provide at least some information about alternatives, the paper will turn into a five-page advertisement that is more likely to turn people off than to get them to buy your product.

Technical/Marketing White Paper

If you’re really itching to make a sales pitch, this may be the best type of white paper to use. In fact, even the “Marketing” white paper discussed above should probably be more like this than anything else. Here you can combine the statistics, test results, and scientific data with an effort to persuade.

This will serve to give your readers the wider view of the industry that we mentioned earlier. The white paper will show that you know what you’re talking about, and have looked at things from every angle. It will also demonstrate your respect for the reader, and your belief that they don’t need to be shielded from information. You are treating them as equals, capable of seeing all the facts and making a responsible decision.

A Technical/Marketing white paper doesn’t swing too far toward tech-speak, nor does it try to overpower potential customers with market-speak. It walks a line down the middle, providing valuable information while simultaneously saying, “So this is why we believe our solution or product can meet that need or solve that problem.”

Remember that the reader or potential customer is the primary focus of the white paper. If this reader gets the feeling he or she is being “marketed at” with a vengeance, that could be the end of the relationship. But being given intelligent and useful information, in a respectful and interesting way, does half the marketing legwork for you.

Next time: Structuring a White Paper