What is a White Paper and Why do I Need One?

Editing and Writing

What is a White Paper and Why do I Need One?

So. What’s a White Paper?

There’s a lot of talk lately about how valuable white papers are to businesses. But does everyone even know what this document is? And if you’ve got one — what on earth do you do with it? The basic definition is that a white paper is a report that contains information that is factual, sometimes technical, always well researched, and as objective as possible. The information should be useful and interesting to a company’s customers. And when the business has a white paper, they can use it for marketing and sales purposes.

But really, don’t make the mistake of thinking that a white paper is just a big advertisement, longer than usual. The “marketing and sales” side is only part of the story. In fact, if the white paper gets too “salesy,” it could turn customers off. People already try to avoid being advertised to: nobody will want to read five full pages of sales pitch.

White Papers Geared to Customers

The primary purpose of a white paper should be to think of the needs of a potential customer rather than your own sales and income needs. The two are related, naturally, but in this document, put the customer first. A white paper first of all asks what the customer needs or wants to know, that you can provide (and, by happy coincidence, provide better than anyone else, especially your competitors).

You will first need to ask these sorts of questions:

  • what do my potential customers need that I can provide?
  • what is a problem my customers have, that I can fix?
  • can I improve my customers’ lives, make their own work easier, or resolve a dilemma for them?

So say you have a customer who wants to engage in greener living. Do you provide your service in a way that will help them switch to a greener lifestyle? Or can they buy your product or use your solution knowing that you yourself are using greener, sustainable methods of providing it?

Your white paper, giving the details about your methods in contrast to less sustainable ones, could make your customers say, “I’m so glad I found out about this, and now I can use this solution or product with a clear conscience!” Even keeping any “sales pitch” aspect in the white paper very muted, customers who value the information it contains will feel much less pressure to buy, yet are much more likely to buy anyway.

White Paper as Foundation Document

A white paper can serve almost as a “Frequently Asked Questions” document. If there are things your customers keep asking about, these are things they are obviously interested in. So you might consider providing a report that answers or clears up the questions that are most on your customers’ minds.

And this highlights another immense value of a white paper. When it contains factual, important, and interesting information about certain aspects of your business, it can be “repurposed” and used in countless other ways. Here are just a few ideas:

  • reshape the same information into a slideshow on your website, or a presentation you can give to an audience
  • set up an information section on your website, with each major point you made in the white paper having its own page
  • expand the most interesting parts of the white paper into an e-book or booklet your customers can buy
  • use the white paper content as material for blog posts
  • adapt parts of the white paper into brochures or other sales materials

Think of a white paper as a multi-purpose foundation document for your business. It primarily serves your customers, but it can provide information you use for your own marketing needs. Creating one or more white papers on just the right topics related to your business can go a long way to showing your customers that you really do understand them, and have worked hard to give them the solution they’ve been looking for.

Next time: What type of white paper works best?