I’m going to give you the quick and dirty on white papers because I get a lot of blank looks when I tell people that part of Defy the Status Quo’s content marketing services includes writing B2B white papers. Maybe like the one you’re wearing right now. But white paper marketing can be a great tactic to support your authority marketing efforts.
This post was updated on March 10, 2020.
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What is a White Paper in Marketing?
A white paper is a fact-based but persuasive piece of marketing content that’s long-form. It might be 5 to 50 pages and is very research-heavy (or at least it should be).
Sometimes you may be on a website and you download something that says it’s a white paper, but maybe it’s only three to four pages. I would say that that probably qualifies as another type of marketing document. Probably not a full-blown whitepaper.
That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have some of the characteristics, but it seems that in recent years the term “white paper” gets kind of tossed around a bit loosely.
What Is The Difference Between a White Paper and an Ebook?
Honestly, there isn’t much of a difference in style between a blog post and an ebook in most cases. An ebook may be longer than your typical blog post, but they are often similar in style and tone. You may invest more in the design of infographics for an ebook (which could be repurposed for other content) than you would for blog content.
A white paper that’s really meant to increase your industry profile will have a more serious tone. You can count on it being longer than five or six pages in a Microsoft Word document, and that’s before you add in your photos, illustrations, and infographics.
The tone of a white paper should be serious and professional. It’s a persuasive document, but it should rely on data and research to build your position. Don’t confuse the need for a professional tone to mean that your white paper needs to be full of jargon. Never forget to pay attention to your audience. Keep the vocabulary of your content at the level that your target audience expects.
Who Typically Commissions White Papers?
They are often commissioned from companies that are B2B, but if you’re a B2C company and you’ve got expensive or new or complicated products, then white papers may still be for you too. Any company that’s selling something new, something complicated, and something that’s also expensive that needs explaining could use a white paper.
If there’s a B2B company and their product is warehouse robots, their angle would be those warehouse robots are more efficient, more effective, and over time they cost less. Those are all great selling points, but they may be selling points that they need to clarify or justify to their potential buyers.
Someone won’t just purchase one warehouse robot; they’re going to purchase a whole fleet of them. That’s a decision that’s going to require some justification. But they like the idea already. Perhaps they’ve read a blog post you wrote about warehouse robots and the efficiency they bring to the warehouse.
Your white paper on “Modernizing Warehouses with Automation” could be just the lead magnet your prospect needs to become a marketing qualified lead.
B2C White Papers?
Let’s say you sell new CBD skincare products. CBD is still kind of the wild west of products. And it seems like a lot of people are adding it to products. I’m not completely sold on the effectiveness of it just yet. I’m not saying it’s ineffective, but there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence going around. I would definitely like to see more empirical evidence regarding the health benefits of CBD.
If you sell new CBD skincare products, you might consider other business models besides selling through Amazon or through websites and other typical e-commerce setups. Say you want to work with wholesalers and retailers to get your product out on the market.
Direct to consumer is a B2C setup, but when you’re working with wholesalers and retailers, that is a B2B relationship because it’s your business and their business. And they’re not just going to buy one bit of your product, the purchase they’re going to make from you is much larger.
This is why people who sell individual small products tend to like to have relationships with wholesalers and retailers because they can move product in bulk.
The purchase cycles for B2B are longer because the purchase orders are bigger, but you can make more. You can spend less on packaging when you’re moving and shipping. You can spend less on shipping when you’re moving a bulk order from your warehouse or your manufacturing facility to the wholesaler’s warehouse or the retailer’s warehouse.
So you might want a white paper that goes into the benefits of CBD oil in skincare. Anything in skincare, you would have a lot of statistics. You would cite relevant modern research. You would want to have a doctor, specifically a dermatologist because you sell skincare, quoted in your white paper.
Let’s say you’re sold on white papers and you want to use them in your business.
The “Why” of White Papers and Lead Generation
White papers are denser than ebooks because they can be used to justify purchases to higher stakeholders. This can come in incredibly handy when your primary contact in an organization doesn’t have decision-making authority.
People make emotional decisions, but with long purchase cycles and expensive purchases, you typically have to justify those purchases to someone besides yourself. White papers can provide fact-based justification. They can be very persuasive.
White Papers as a Pillar of Your B2B Content Marketing Strategy
White papers usually appear on your site as a lead magnet. If you create or commission a white paper, you’ll also probably create several blog posts pointing towards that white paper, encouraging site visitors to download it. Once they download the paper, they become a lead that you can now market to via email.
You may follow up their download of the white paper with one or two case studies once you get to know your new lead better. Case studies are the most effective content at the bottom of the funnel, when you want to convert your leads to buyers.
White Papers for SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
If your white paper presents a new argument or is on a topic that’s of serious interest to your industry or client’s industry, then you may notice an uptick in your website’s backlink profile. This is incredibly common when you pair original research with your white paper production. You may get links from news sites, blogs, and even your competitors.
Your Marketing and Sales Funnel with White Papers
We’ve talked a bit about how white papers can help with your lead generation, but how can they help you with the leads already in your pipeline?
Talk to your sales teams about any common objections to your consulting solutions. You may be able to weave a narrative through your white paper that helps overcome these objections. Your sales team can send any new white papers to Sales Qualified Leads (SQL) to warm them back up. They may also be sent to prospects who’s objections your team weren’t able to overcome.
White Papers for Public Relations
Some companies have been able to leverage white paper releases as a public relations event. This can work very well when the white paper addresses a new concern or new technology. If your company includes original research in your white paper, then it could lead to great interest from industry publications or industry news outlets.
You could also use your white paper to land podcast interviews and speaking engagements if the point you’re making is intriguing.
What to Expect From The White Paper Process (as a Business Owner)
Depending on the size, the writer and the topic, your white paper may run anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 just for the content. Yes, you should expect to pay that much. It’s a research-heavy document. If you’re paying less, you run the risk of getting someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing or doesn’t understand the actual intent behind a white paper.
If you are in that range somewhere, you should get a high-quality document that was very research-heavy, and includes editing and things like that.
As a writer, I typically provide recommendations for the photos, charts, and infographics that should go inside the white paper. Creating a white paper isn’t a quick project. You should expect it to take four to six weeks (ideally six to eight weeks), and that’s just because there are a lot of shareholders involved in a white paper project.
It’s not just the writer taking four to six weeks to write it, although they easily could and be comfortable.
There’s the time that they have to wait for feedback on the outline. They won’t be writing at that time.
Then they write the first draft and they send it out for feedback. Multiple people have to give their feedback, and that takes time.
White papers should include 1-2 interviews at a minimum, which happens during the first draft creation process. They can include sourced quotes, but interviews are best. As a writer, I’ve noticed that quotes pulled from an actual interview sound more authentic. They can be a bit more catchy, a bit more clever when they’re speaking.
Whereas for some people, when they’re writing out quotes, it becomes very rote and robotic and generic. So voice interviews are normally the best.
Once the first draft is returned with feedback, your writer will work to incorporate all of the feedback and send a second draft. Any feedback for the second draft should be a lot more minor in nature.
We’ve created an infographic of the process. You can read about each step in detail beneath the infographic.
Determining the Stakeholders in White Paper Creation
It’s critical to determine who the stakeholders are for your white paper. This must be done upfront. Even if your writer is the project manager, you are their champion within your organization (or whoever is designated as their primary point of contact). Stakeholders coming in late to the project (e.g. when the outline or first draft is done) can completely derail the project.
This can also drastically increase the fees you can expect to pay your writer if significant rewrites need to be done because a late stakeholder demands significant changes.
Selecting a White Paper Topic
As noted above, your white paper can be leveraged in a variety of ways, not just for lead generation, but also for SEO and authority marketing. In order to see the type of success you’re no doubt aiming for, picking a compelling topic is of the utmost importance.
You can’t expect backlinks and podcast interviews based on a white paper that looks and sounds just like everyone else’s.
There are few white paper writers who can help you pick a topic that accomplishes all of these goals, so I suggest you speak with a content strategist who typically works in your industry. White paper topic selection is a crucial part of the marketing process.
If you pick a terrible topic but hire the best writer and graphic designer to work on the project, what are you going to be left with? A beautifully written and designed document that no one is going to want to read.
Your white paper topic should further your lead generation goals, SEO goals, and/or authority marketing goals. Why? Because you’re going to be paying quite a bit for a great paper, that’s why. Careful topic selection will help you generate the most ROI possible.
Deciding on the White Paper Format and Structure
The internet can easily get out of control when it tries to tell you about the different white paper formats. When we began writing white papers for our clients, I bought Gordon Graham’s White Papers for Dummies. In this book, he talks about the “three main flavors of white papers,” which are:
- Vanilla (the backgrounder)
- Strawberry (the numbered list)
- Chocolate (the problem/solution)
Your Vanilla White Paper: The Guide
This white paper is as… well, vanilla as they come. Companies usually create these backgrounder white papers in order to provide an in-depth look at their product or service. It should be a specific product or service. These types of white papers work best for your prospects at the decision stage of the sales cycle.
The Easy and Light Strawberry White Paper
A strawberry white paper is usually a numbered list of some kind. You must be careful with these white papers because you don’t want it to devolve into an ebook. Strawberry is often considered the easiest of the white papers to write, with it’s enumerated structure. But your writer will still need to fully develop each point and support it with research and the interviews.
The Best for Authority: Chocolate White Papers
Chocolate white papers are the best for moving authority marketing goals forward. A well-done problem/solution white paper can get you the attention of not just new prospects, but also:
- Industry bloggers
- Strategic partners
- Industry-relevant podcasters
- Conference organizers
The problem/solution white paper typically focuses on a serious problem felt within your target industry. This is your chance to put to paper your company’s position on a particular subject while also mapping out a specific solution. This type of white paper is the one most likely to make use of case studies (all the better if they’re your case studies).
Creating a Detailed White Paper Outline
The white paper outline is like a source of truth for the project team. Once it’s created, the writer has a plan and the other stakeholders know the path. I prefer to be pretty detailed in my white paper outlines, even including some of the sources I plan on using. Competitor awareness is required here too. You don’t want your writer to write a fabulous paper that links to your competitors.
The outline is where the actual structure of the white paper becomes more apparent. It’s no longer just a nebulous idea. Once the white paper outline is approved, the writer knows that they’re on the right track.
Some teams do interviews at this stage, while the research is still fresh. Depending on the topic, it may be beneficial to do some preliminary writing work prior to the interviews. If there are multiple viewpoints on a topic, then it can be helpful to know that ahead of any interviews so you can specifically ask the expert about it during your interview.
A detailed white paper outline might look like this:
One of the Main Topics
Supporting Point 1
- Why this is true
- Interesting portion of a case study of your client having the problem exhibited in Supporting Point 1
- Contributing factor 1
- Source hyperlinked
- Really interesting statistic showing how widespread the problem is.
- Contributing factor 2
- Source hyperlinked
- Could be a breakout box
- Stat showing how much the problem costs
Supporting Point 2
Supporting Point 3
Another Main Topic
I also make extensive use of Google Docs’ comment feature, and I ask my clients to do the same so we’re all on the same page.
Actually Writing a White Paper
I’ve found that actually writing the white paper to be the easiest part of the process. Or at least the part with the lowest amount of stress. If the outline is detailed and approved, the client has no issue with the annotated sources, and your interviews are done or scheduled, you’re in the creative element now.
I advise approaching each main section of your white paper as if you’re writing a series of articles. This will help you mentally approach each section with the brainpower it deserves. If your sections are going to be somewhat long (you’ll know from the outline), then only commit to one section in a given day. Especially if your main points seem disparate until you unite them later in the white paper.
Once you think you’re finished with your first draft, review the interview transcripts again for anything that seems different now that you’ve done additional research. Is there a statistic that better supports your narrative? Is there a fact you can approach in a more contrarian manner (if that is brand-appropriate)?
If you’re certain that you’ve included the right supporting data, it can’t hurt to review your project brief again, just to make sure you haven’t missed anything. Leave the paper alone for at least 24 hours before you plan on sending it to your client. 2-3 days would be even better. You’ll approach the content with new eyes.
The Best Way to Coordinate White Paper Feedback
Once the final draft has been submitted, the champion at the commissioning organization needs to gather feedback for the writer. This is why I prefer using the comments feature of Google Docs or Microsoft Word. If you’re gathering feedback for your writer, it’s easier to see when you have conflicting opinions among your stakeholders. While your writer will catch it in the notes, you can save everyone some back and forth by prodding the other stakeholders to sort it out.
So once everyone has added their comments, there should be one final review of the collective feedback before sending it back to the writer.
Try to impress upon everyone the importance of timely feedback. Late feedback can put your writer behind. Even worse? The late contributor has an extremely important point, but the writer has already made extensive revisions based on the feedback that was sent on time.
Be warned, this is usually the stage where late stakeholders come in. Perhaps you mention to your VP of Marketing that the white paper you mentioned several weeks ago is going back for a second draft. They say “Oh that’s great, why don’t you send it over to me and I’ll make sure you all didn’t miss anything.” If you send it, be ready for a disaster.
It has been statistically proven that any late stakeholders will want to make drastic changes to your white paper.
Well, no it hasn’t been statistically proven, but I’m sure there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to support that statement. Late stakeholders will almost certainly derail your project which will result in additional fees and delayed production timelines.
What Should Be in My White Paper Besides Text? Your White Paper Graphics
Your white papers should include charts and small infographics to visualize the data that you’re representing and to really drive points home. The last thing you want to do is present them with pages and pages of text. Your goal is to persuade, which means you need to get your reader thinking.
Some great ideas for graphics in your white paper:
- An image depicting your point with a question overlaying it
- An annual progression chart for chronological data
- Flowcharts for processes
- Tree charts for organizational representations
- Infographics for visual comparison
You’ll want to make sure that all visuals are on-brand. This means using the right colors, fonts, and images your company normally uses. This doesn’t mean that you need a graphic designer for all of it, but you should make sure that anyone involved with the design of these graphics understands which brand assets are being used.
How to Design a White Paper
You may outsource the design of your white paper as well as the content writing. It could be that the writer or content marketing company you hire can also do the design. Designers often charge per page. Some companies have design staff on hand, so this can be done in-house. Whether in-house or outsourced, your designer will make sure that everything matches, from document design to visual assets.
There are plenty of ebook and white paper templates online; some are free, some are paid. The key here is to make sure that what you choose is consistent throughout. It needs to match your brand and whatever visual assets you come up with. If you’re planning on using a template, then you need to choose the template first, and then design your visual assets so everything matches.
If you’re DIYing it, there are a few tools you can turn to:
For document design:
- Adobe InDesign
For graphic design:
- Adobe Illustrator
For free stock photos:
Promotion and Distribution of Your White Paper
Your writer may or may not be involved in this part of the process, or if you’ve commissioned a team, this is one of the things the content strategist will take care of for you. “Build it and they will come,” isn’t something you can rely on for content distribution. You need to let people know that it’s here.
Your promotion and distribution plan should indicate which channels you’ll be using to get the word out about your white paper. You have every content channel available to you, as well as earned or paid channels.
It could be that you initially distribute the white paper via email, and follow up with social media distribution a day or two later. Let’s say you’ve also paid your writer for a press release about the white paper to try for some earned media attention.
Last but not least, you’ve also allocated a paid advertising budget for retargeting and remarketing to anyone who’s visited your website but didn’t convert.
Repurposing White Paper Content
A white paper could be good for one to two years before it needs updating. It really is an investment. As long as you promote it properly, it will perform well. You can repurpose it into a lot of different things, and repurposing content is important. Repurposing means you take a piece of content and transform it. It keeps its essence, but you transform it and use it on a different platform.
You can post little clips of it on social media or repurpose the white paper into a slide deck. Maybe you talk about your white paper in a podcast episode. You might also consider creating a video series walking through your white paper. There’s a lot of different ways that you can take your content and repurpose it into something different.
White Papers: Valuable Intellectual Property
Done with forethought, an amazing white paper can be a pillar of your content marketing strategy. It’s important to remember that selecting a great topic is critical to your white paper’s success. Then you must ensure that late stakeholders don’t derail your process.
If you’re looking for a professional team to handle your white paper project, contact us today to see if that team is Defy The Status Quo.
Wondering if you need a white paper to better illustrate your services’ impact? Send us a message, and we’ll help you out!