White papers are persuasive, research-based essays. They tend to be a marketing tactic that B2B marketers are more familiar with than B2C marketers. This is the nature of the product because white papers focus on professional or technical topics that tend to require longer buying cycles. While very informative, and definitely original, white papers require much more effort, research and time than many other forms of content marketing.
Initially a common term as a government staple, white papers have expanded to B2B marketing in the past 20 years in order to explain, promote or review certain business problems. They are typically six to eight pages long and are used to generate leads and establish thought leadership in a specific industry. There are no “standards” for writing a white paper, but it does show credibility in your industry when you write or sponsor a worthwhile white paper. They are not product or sales pitches; however, the opinion outlined in the paper will be favorable to the author or company who sponsors it. White papers may also be promoted as a variety of different names such as:
- Market overview
- Position paper
- Product brief
- Competitive review
- Executive briefing
Here are a few examples of types of white papers:
Business Benefit – This type of white paper presents a question or problem and identifies a solution. (It is also known as a solution-oriented or problem/solution white paper.) It includes useful information to help people understand a relatively new, complex or expensive product or service and is usually tailored to management and business leaders. People will look for this type of white paper when doing initial research on a topic to learn about the possibilities, advantages, pitfalls and solutions to a certain industry problem they face. Because the reader is trying to gain knowledge, and most likely a relatively new prospect, the author may suggest solutions to implement and refer to the company, but too much brand information turns readers off.
Backgrounder – This is a technical or detailed overview of a product or service that demonstrates product knowledge. It identifies one or more new product s and provides information about that product or service, outline features and benefits. This type of white paper is helpful when marketing a product launch. Keep in mind, it is not a sales pitch, rather what you would send or leave behind to a prospect near the end of the buying cycle. Because you have an informed audience, these tend to be more technical. They are very detailed and many times written by experts for others in their industry.
Round-up – This can be anything from a product comparison to a summary of highlights about a specific issue. It is not necessarily technical, and it is for anybody who is interested in the topic. Depending on the topic and audience, it can be easy-going and witty, or it can be statistically based with numbers and results.
As with all content marketing, white papers need to be relevant and interesting to gain traction. Validating something most people already know won’t get a lot of pass along (or new leads), but highlighting the unexpected will. As far as how to distribute and promote white papers, use methods that will get your audience’s attention. White papers are not for every audience, but the more you have, the more likely people will find something they are interested in and download it. Keep an archive of all your white papers and make sure it’s always available and searchable as a resource.
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