The great white paper and the role it plays in marketing

White papers are like a marketing team’s Swiss Army knife – they have many uses. As a result, these detailed documents have been offering businesses a variety of benefits for many years, from lead generation to establishing brand authority.

What is a white paper?

The term ‘white paper’ originated in the British government in the early 20th century, when Government reports were often presented in the form of official documents with white covers. These documents contained authoritative information, research findings or proposals on various issues of public interest.

Since the 1990s, white papers have become extremely popular in business, technology and academic contexts – as authors look to raise their profile by sharing their expertise. When it comes to B2B content marketing strategies, white papers play a particularly vital role, as businesses utilize them to establish authority, build trust and generate leads with those who are looking for more in-depth information beyond a witty tweet.

And here’s the best bit – thanks to advances in digital white paper software, marketers no longer have to condemn their hard work to a yawn-inducing PDF. Now, digesting hefty white paper content is made that much easier by serving it up in a beautifully immersive and interactive way – as the Environmental Defense Fund did with their “Rulers of the Arctic” white paper.

Click to read Rulers of the Arctic | Environmental Defense Fund | White paper

Why use white papers in your marketing strategy?

  • Establishing authority and thought leadership. By presenting well-researched insights, analysis, and recommendations, businesses (and individuals) establish credibility by positioning themselves as a thought leader. The result? Enhanced reputation that grabs the attention of prospects, investors and industry peers.
  • Building trust and credibility. By offering valuable and in-depth information, businesses establish themselves as reliable sources of knowledge. This trust can lead to increased brand reputation, customer loyalty and a competitive advantage.
  • Educating your audience. White papers go beyond promotional content and provide detailed analysis and information on complex topics. They educate the audience about industry trends, challenges and potential solutions. White papers help readers understand a subject matter better to make informed decisions.
  • Lead generation and nurturing. White papers often require readers to provide their contact information to access the content. By gating content, businesses can capture leads, expand their customer database and initiate further engagement. By nurturing these leads through targeted follow-up communications, businesses can guide prospects through the sales funnel and convert them into paying customers.
  • Differentiation and competitive advantage. Well-crafted white papers can help differentiate a business from its competitors. By offering unique perspectives, innovative solutions or industry-leading research, businesses can stand out in a crowded marketplace.
  • Supporting decision-making. White papers offer insights into industry trends, emerging technologies, best practices and potential risks. Decision-makers can refer to white papers to gain a comprehensive understanding of a topic and evaluate various options or solutions.
  • Longevity and evergreen content. White papers have a longer shelf life compared to other marketing materials. They can continue to attract readers and generate leads even months or years after their initial release. By optimizing white papers for search engines and sharing them through various channels, businesses can ensure long-term visibility and value.
  • Industry Influence and networking. Sharing valuable insights, innovative ideas and thought-provoking research, businesses can gain recognition from industry peers, experts and stakeholders. This can lead to networking opportunities, speaking engagements, collaborations and partnerships.
  • Media and press coverage. Well-written white papers that address important industry issues or propose groundbreaking solutions have the potential to attract media attention. Journalists, bloggers and industry publications may cite or reference white papers in their articles, providing additional exposure for the business and its key messages.
  • Boosting brand reputation. White papers contribute to enhancing a business’s brand reputation by showcasing expertise, credibility and a commitment to thought leadership.
  • Content repurposing and distribution. White papers can serve as a foundation for repurposing content into other formats. Businesses can extract key insights, statistics, or case studies from white papers to create blog posts, social media content, infographics, webinars, etc. This enables businesses to reach a broader audience across various platforms and cater to different content consumption preferences.
  • Investor and stakeholder engagement. White papers can play a crucial role in engaging investors, stakeholders and decision-makers. By presenting well-researched information, market insights and growth potential, white papers can help attract investment, support strategic partnerships and facilitate discussions with key stakeholders.

Can’t you achieve the same benefits via a blog post series? Or an ebook?

The content, purpose, structure and intended audience differentiate white papers, blog posts and ebooks quite significantly.

For example, white papers have a structured format and are rooted in research, data, statistics, case studies and other forms of evidence, while blog posts tend to have a more informal and conversational tone, are less rigid in structure and are usually more trend-focused.

White papers are also renowned for providing objective information, insights and analysis – and for being less promotional in nature. Blog posts are more focused on encouraging reader engagement through comments, social media shares and discussions.

Ebooks often target a wider audience, while white papers target a specific audience interested in a subject matter (often professionals, industry experts, decision makers or those involved in research and development). White papers are also more concise and authoritative, focusing more on a specific problem, technology or solution. E-books often cover a broader topic.

Here is a research based white paper example which focuses on B2B content marketing – from successes and trends to budgets considerations (If you’re interested in content marketing, you might want to give it a read!)

Click to read The voice of the content marketer | Report (Gated Version)

How can you use white papers for lead generation?

There are many ways you can turn your white paper into a lead magnet.

Offer gated access. Ask visitors to give their contact information, such as name and email address, in exchange for access to the white paper. Tease your audience into submission by showing a few pages of content before the gate. Gated content allows you to collect valuable lead data and build your email marketing list.

Create a dedicated landing page. Design a compelling landing page that highlights the benefits of the white paper and entices visitors to access it. Include a lead capture form  and clearly communicate the value of the content, explaining how the white paper addresses the target audience’s pain points or challenges.

Promote through active calls-to-action (CTAs). Include CTAs throughout your website, blog posts, social media posts and emails that drive visitors to the landing page to access the white paper. Craft persuasive CTAs that convey the value of the white paper and encourage action.

Email marketing campaigns. Tap into your email marketing list to promote your white paper. Segment your audience based on their interests or buyer personas and create targeted email campaigns. Personalize emails and highlight how the white paper can benefit them. Include a bold call to action to make access to the white paper simple and clear.

Webinars or events. Host webinars or virtual events where you discuss the key findings or insights from the white paper. Promote the event to your target audience and set up registration to collect contact information. During the webinar or event, offer the white paper as a resource for attendees to dive deeper into the topic.

Content syndication and guest contributions. Submit your white paper as a guest contribution to relevant industry publications, websites or newsletters. Include a call to action or link back to your landing page within the contributed content. This sweeps in new readers and potential leads from another publication’s audience.

Social media advertising. Scale word-of-mouth about your white paper across social media with sponsored posts that laser-target your ideal audience. Get creative with your ad copy and visuals to capture attention and clearly communicate the value proposition of the white paper. Direct users to a cohesive landing page where they can access the white paper in exchange for their contact information. And don’t forget to design a thank-you page for signing up.

Retargeting campaigns. Reach people who have previously visited your website or engaged with your content with retargeting campaigns. Show targeted ads promoting the white paper to these warm leads, reminding them of the value they can gain by downloading it. Again, provide a direct link to the landing page where they can access the white paper.

Collaborate with industry partners. Partner with complementary businesses, influencers or industry experts to promote the white paper to their audience. This can be done through joint webinars, guest blogging, co-branded content or cross-promotion. This way, you share impressions, reach and credibility and get to expand your network.

Track and follow up. Monitor the leads generated from the white paper and track their engagement. Save time using marketing automation tools to follow up these leads through targeted email sequences or personalized outreach. This will nurture leads with relevant content and guide them through the sales funnel.

Are there different types of white paper formats?

There are! Here are a few common types, which businesses can pick up and try, based on their goals, target audience and specific subject matter:

Problem/Solution white paper

Identifies a specific problem or challenge faced by an audience and presents a thoroughly comprehensive solution. It explores the problem in-depth, provides analysis and offers practical recommendations they could reasonably explore.

Backgrounder white paper

Provides background information and context about a particular topic, technology or industry trend. It aims to educate readers and help them understand the subject matter better.

Comparative white paper

Compares and contrasts different products, services, technologies or approaches. They objectively evaluate the pros and cons of each option, helping readers make informed decisions. This format is commonly used when businesses want to showcase the advantages of their offering compared to competitors.

Technical white paper

More detailed and specific, this type caters to a technical audience. Heading deep into the technical aspects of a product, technology or process, these white papers provide detailed analysis, specifications and implementation guidelines. Technical white papers often include diagrams, charts and technical terminology.

Research-based white paper

Relies heavily on data, statistics and research findings to present insights and analysis on a specific subject. These may involve conducting surveys, interviews or literature reviews to gather relevant information. Research-based white papers often contribute to industry knowledge and thought leadership.

Best practice white paper

Focuses on providing recommendations, guidelines or industry-accepted practices. They aim to help readers improve their processes, operations or strategies by adopting proven approaches.

How to write a white paper, in steps

1. Define the objective

Determine the problem you want to address, the target audience and the desired outcomes. Understanding the purpose and scope of your white paper will guide your research and writing process.

2. Conduct thorough research

Gather relevant information, data, statistics and industry insights to support your white paper. Conduct comprehensive research from credible sources, such as academic journals, industry reports, case studies, or interviews with subject matter experts. Organize your research findings and keep track of your sources for proper referencing.

3. Outline the structure

Create an outline that reflects the logical flow of your white paper. Typically, a white paper includes sections such as an executive summary, introduction, problem statement, analysis, solution or recommendations, conclusion and references. The outline provides a roadmap for your writing and ensures a coherent and organized structure.

4. Write an engaging introduction

Start with a compelling introduction that grabs the reader’s attention. Clearly state the problem or issue you are addressing and explain why it’s important. Provide context, background information and set the tone for the rest of the white paper.

5. Present the problem and analysis

Describe the problem in detail, outlining its causes, impacts and challenges. Back your statements with research and evidence. Analyze the problem from various angles, considering different perspectives and potential implications. Use charts, graphs or diagrams to enhance clarity and comprehension.

6. Offer solutions or recommendations

Based on your analysis, propose practical solutions, recommendations or best practices. Clearly explain how your suggested approach can address the problem and provide benefits. Support your recommendations with data, case studies or examples to bolster credibility. Anticipate potential objections or counterarguments and address them proactively.

7. Provide supporting evidence

Throughout the white paper, back your statements, analysis and recommendations with supporting evidence. Reference your sources appropriately and ensure accuracy. Use a mix of statistics, research findings, expert opinions and real-world examples to strengthen your arguments.

8. Write a clear and concise conclusion

Summarize the key points and insights presented in the white paper. Restate the problem, highlight the proposed solutions or recommendations and emphasize their potential impact. Conclude with a call to action or next steps for readers to take.

9. Edit and proofread.

Review your white paper for clarity, coherence and grammar. Eliminate any inconsistencies, refine your language and ensure a logical flow of ideas. Pay attention to formatting, headings and subheadings to enhance readability. Proofread the document carefully to eliminate any errors or typos.

10. Design and presentation

Consider the visual presentation of your white paper. Use professional formatting, fonts and styling. Incorporate charts, graphs or visuals where relevant to enhance comprehension. Add a cover page, table of contents and proper citations. Ensure your white paper is visually appealing and easy to navigate. And don’t forget that times have changed – interactive white paper software is readily available to help marketers present white papers in both an attractive and engaging way.

Remember to revise, refine and seek feedback from peers or subject matter experts before finalizing your white paper.

How to publish and distribute your white paper

Publishing and distributing your white paper effectively is crucial to maximize its reach and impact.

Determine the publishing platform.

Common options include your own website or blog, industry-specific websites or forums, social media channels and content sharing platforms. Consider the platforms that reach your target audience and align with your marketing strategy.

Prepare the white paper for publication.

Ensure your white paper is properly formatted and ready for publication. While most would usually convert it to a suitable file format – such as a PDF – to ensure compatibility across different devices and platforms, consider turning your content into an interactive digital white paper that encourages engagement and is easy to host, share and track.

Publish on your website or blog.

If you have a company website or blog, create a dedicated landing page for your white paper. Provide a brief introduction, key benefit and a compelling call to action. Include a lead capture form to gather contact information from interested readers. Make the white paper easily accessible for download or viewing.

Leverage social media.

Promote your white paper on social media platforms to reach a broader audience. Create engaging posts with attention-grabbing headlines, snippets of key information and visuals. Share excerpts, infographics or statistics from the white paper to generate interest. Include a link to the landing page or the direct download link.

Utilize email marketing.

Leverage your email marketing channels to distribute your white paper to your existing subscribers or leads. Write an enticing email subject line and provide a summary or excerpt of the white paper in the email body. Include a prominent call to action that leads recipients to the landing page or download link.

Collaborate with industry partners.

Identify industry partners, influencers or organizations that align with your target audience and ask if they would be interested in sharing your white paper with their network. Offer value in return, such as promoting their content or providing guest contributions. Collaborative distribution can expand your reach and credibility.

Engage in content syndication.

Explore opportunities for content syndication by submitting your white paper to industry-specific websites, publications or content aggregators. Syndication exposes your white paper to a wider audience and can attract additional readership.

Consider paid promotion.

If you have a budget, consider paid promotion to boost the visibility and reach of your white paper. Options include paid social media advertising (such as LinkedIn), sponsored content placements on relevant websites or newsletters, or pay-per-click campaigns targeting relevant keywords.

Track and analyze performance.

Monitor the performance of your white paper distribution efforts. Track metrics such as downloads, website traffic, lead conversions, social media engagement and email open rates. Analyze the data to identify successful channels and strategies and refine your distribution approach accordingly.

Continuously promote and repurpose.

Even after the initial release, continue promoting your white paper periodically. Repurpose content from the white paper into blog posts, social media updates or infographics. Consider hosting webinars or presenting at industry conferences to discuss the key findings or recommendations from your white paper.

Remember: You must respect copyright laws and intellectual property rights when distributing your white paper. Additionally, ensure compliance with data privacy regulations when collecting and using user information. By effectively publishing and distributing your white paper, you can maximize its impact, attract a wider audience and generate valuable leads for your business.

Why white papers are worth the time and effort

As a busy marketer, it’s natural to look for alternative options to creating time-consuming, research-based white papers. However, the reality is that the business benefits of a well-written white paper are really worth your time and effort.

B2B customers want more from businesses than a speedy one-minute video or 280-character tweet. They require substantive content and engagement that helps them see why they need you, why now – and why they shouldn’t consider your competitors.

With so many options available to customers, it’s no surprise that it feels a bit like a digital talent show, as businesses compete to steal the spotlight and retain it. However, in order to hold their attention, it’s not about the speed, but the engagement. The more engagement, the more likely they’ll trust and buy from you.

And that’s where interactive white papers come in. Thanks to technological advancements in white paper software, there is an interactive alternative to PDF boredom that can significantly boost reader engagement by 90% and drive results. Not only can marketers present and share their white papers in a more dynamic and eye-catching way, they provide a range of interactive features to encourage engagement – such as polls and videos. Crucially, digital white papers can also track reader engagement, helping marketers steer the content of future white papers (or even edit the existing one in real time!).

So there you have it – you can still produce well-researched, detailed documents that form the backbone to your B2B content marketing strategy, and present it in a way that doesn’t intimidate and repel readers (many of whom will likely be viewing it on a small mobile device).

When it comes to selecting white paper software, always invest in quality. Just like a Swiss Army knife – it’ll stand the test of time.

Still using PDFs for your white papers?

Find out how Turtl can help create highly visual, interactive white papers that win your audience’s attention.

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