How to Write a Great White Paper that Generates Quality Leads
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How to Write a Great White Paper that Generates Quality Leads

Main image for blog post on how to write great white papers

White papers can be extremely effective when it comes to lead generation.

A recent DemandGen report found that 63% of B2B buyers surveyed shared their contact information to download a white paper. The same report noted that B2B buyers find white papers quite valuable during the early stage of the buying process. White papers are also the No. 1 shared content among B2B buyers surveyed. Webinars and case studies followed.

The 2020 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends—North America report by the Content Marketing Institute (CMI)  shows that  ebooks and white papers — along with social media and blog posts — are still among the top 10 top types of conent used by B2B marketers to help them achieve their specific objectives.

There are a number of ways to ensure your white paper is an effective tactic in your marketing plan. Like any other piece of content, it has to focus on the primary needs of your targeted audience. But there’s much more to it than that. 

Here are four tips to help you write a great white paper.

1. Solve your client’s biggest problem

If you’ve read white papers, you’ve probably seen that they vary in terms of content and style.

However, the intent of a white paper is to pinpoint a problem that’s particularly vexing to your target audience and demonstrate not only that you understand their problem, but that your company has the solution.

Those two aspects — an issue of high interest to your audience that can be best solved by you — are the two pillars of great white paper topics, according to Steve Slaunwhite, best-selling author and “Copywriting Smarts” blogger.

For Janeen Hazel, director of marketing at Luth Research, it’s a similar story. The leading marketing research company uses white papers as a call to action in its advertising campaigns, as press opportunities and as added value for existing clients. The content must be relevant to the specific audience the firm is targeting.

“It is very important that our white papers focus on how the data we are reporting can apply to a handful of industries,” she says. “We are careful to point out in every white paper the ‘how’ and ‘why’ this data is important to the reader.”

If you’re considering a white paper, keep in mind who you’re writing it for and why it matters to them.

You may have what you think is the greatest white paper topic ever, or your CEO may want to expand on his or her favorite subject, but if it doesn’t speak to the needs of your potential client, then it’s time to have another brainstorming session.

2. Present unbiased information

Use research in white papers

Good white papers will give your potential clients more detailed information about an issue without overtly selling your product.

Even if the white paper uses someone from your company as the primary source to show them as a thought leader, you should avoid talking only about your product. Instead, do your research. In fact, the Demand Gen report noted that 66 percent of B2B buyers want vendors to use more data and research to support content. How do you do that?

  • Cite reports or studies from other organizations or institutions.
  • Offer data that supports your claim.
  • Quote different sources.
  • Include a case study or two if you have them.

While the white paper is definitely a marketing tool, it is presented as offering unbiased and objective information, so your product or service is only mentioned generically, if at all.

Good white papers will introduce the solution in one of several ways:

  • Towards the end: Introduces the solution within the white paper, but several pages in, after the topic has been thoroughly dissected and fortified with data and sourced material.
  • The “About Us” paragraph: Provides a paragraph at the end of the white paper describing the company that produced the white paper and what solution it provides. This is often the company boilerplate.
  • The inside back cover or back page of the white paper: Uses the last page to display the logo of the company that provided the white paper and indicates how to contact the company for more information.

It’s a fine line. You want to make it clear that you have the solution your customers are looking for, but you don’t want to beat them over the head with it.

3. Deliver quality content

This may seem obvious. Why would anyone produce a piece of content that wasn’t good? But in the rush to feed the insatiable content beast, some folks pull stuff out of the oven before it’s ready to serve.

Michele Lin of the Content Marketing Institute puts it simply: “I would like to see marketers focus more on creating fewer but exceptional white papers and then truly putting a strong promotional plan behind them.”

Maybe you can live with a less-than-amazing blog post or tweet, but your audience has higher expectations for a white paper.

Why?

  1. It’s long…ish: A white paper is anywhere from four to ten pages. Readers are taking time out of their day to consume this content. It better be high quality.
  2. It’s taken seriously: A white paper includes research, citations, and often interviews. Remember, it’s the “academic paper of marketing content.” It can’t be a hack job. It better be professionally written.
  3. It promises a solution: A white paper is expected to examine a problem your audience faces and then offer a solution. It better deliver.
  4. It’s usually gated content. Your potential clients know that providing an email address to download a white paper will place them on a distribution list, yet they’re willing to tolerate that in order to read your white paper. They’ve given you valuable information. You better do the same.

There’s another reason, too. People’s BS meter. According to the Demand Gen report recently cite, 96 percent or respondents said they’d like B2B vendors to curb the sales messages, thereby improving the content. They want advice they can trust, not an overt sales push.

4. Use a graphic designer

Since you’ve invested the time and money in creating a white paper, you’ll need to make it shine in the design phase.

This is not the time to go “casual Friday.” You want to dress up this content and present it as professionally as possible.

Even if the content is terrific, your audience may not give it a second glance if the design is amateurish.

It’s also a long document, so break up the text as you would a web page and make it more readable by using some of the following:

  • Strong images
  • Headings and subheadings
  • Bulleted lists
  • Short paragraphs
  • Graphs for data
  • Pull quotes
  • White space

As an example, here’s a page from a white paper on energy efficiency in the private sector in the U.K. that uses strong images, white space and graphics:

White paper example for blog post on how to write a great white paper

Here’s another example from LifeMed ID that shows data presented in a graph, a research citatation, short paragraphs and headings:

Another white paper example for blog post on how to write a great white paper

You can access the entire white paper without providing your email address on the Orange Hook website.

Ready to Get Started?

If you’ve decided to move ahead with a white paper, you need a writer. You can always try tasking a writer in your own marketing department to write the white paper, if he or she has the time.

Or you can hire a freelance writer to do it for you. I’d love to hear about your project. Feel free to contact me.

Bonnie Nicholls on Linkedin
Bonnie Nicholls
Bonnie Nicholls is a freelance writer specializing in thought leadership content: case studies, articles, white papers/ebooks and blog posts. She supports industries such as Agile/Scrum, defense and leadership training.