White papers can be an extremely effective marketing tool, especially for B2B service-oriented companies. White papers give a business marketer an opportunity to demonstrate thought leadership, educate their target audience and build trust, all without the perceived “sleaziness” of a sales pitch. However, taking the time to write a white paper or even coming up with a topic can often be an undertaking in itself. To help a small business get started, Bop Design, a San Diego-based marketing agency with clients through the U.S., has developed a step-by-step guide on writing an effective white paper, followed by a handy list of do’s and don’ts.
Steps for Creating an Effective White Paper
- Gain attention by choosing a topic that will resonate with your target audience.Kara Jensen, Creative Director at Bop Design adds, “It should either be a common issue your clients face, or a question you find yourself answering frequently.”
- Attract interest with a broad description of issues and trends in your industry. This is an excellent way to introduce your reader to the topic.
- Assess the issues and/or challenges the white paper will address. Give the reader a high-level overview of the issue you’re going to resolve.
- Summarize what the reader will learn by reading the white paper. Jensen states, “Make it clear what they will gain if they invest their valuable time.”
- Create desire by solving the problem. Describing the solution to your readers makes them want to carry out the solution—or hire you to carry it out.
- Support your solution with statistics, charts and graphs. “Numbers are more convincing than asking the reader to take your word for it.”
- Condense the key points into a brief summary toward the end. This makes for easier reading.
- Stimulate action with a compelling conclusion. Tell your readers the next step—the step they should take immediately after finishing the white paper.
White Paper Dos and Don’ts
- Do understand your audience. What are they interested in? What motivates their decisions? What challenges do they face? Jensen says, “If you work backwards from your audience, you’ll create a white paper that resonates with them.”
- Do break up your content. Try using numbers if appropriate. A list of top 10 tips will be easier for someone to scan—which means people are more likely to download it and read it.
- Do be explicit about what the reader will get out of the white paper. If readers know they’ll get A, B and C out of the white paper, they’re more likely to read on.
- Do put your contact information on every page. “Not every reader is going to get to the last page.”
- Do make the white paper look good. Jensen emphatically states, “A well-written but poorly designed white paper won’t capture your audience’s interest. Hire a designer if you don’t have the in-house ability to make it look professional and appealing.”
- Don’t use industry jargon, acronyms or complex explanations. Most readers lack your expert knowledge. That’s why they’re reading your white paper!
- Don’t write a user manual. It should be educational, not step-by-step instructions.
- Don’t make a sales pitch. You’ll lose your reader immediately.
- Don’t be too wordy. Make it easy to skim and easy to understand.
Bop Design suggests that white papers can be one of the most effective conversion tools on a firm’s website. Jensen says, “One of the primary objectives of a website is for it to serve as a lead generator. If a white paper contains compelling information, a website visitor will complete a form to access it. This generates a qualified lead for a firm’s sales team.”