The white paper, white paper in English, is widely used in business, as an internal communication document and in digital marketing. The origin of the term: Short government manuals, whose thinness did not warrant binding, took on the appearance of white papers, cover pages and edges included. The white paper in any case is part of the gray literature, which includes reports, guides and treatises excluded from the traditional circuit of publishing and distribution.
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Today, the corporate white paper inherits the informative, educational and documentary character of the first white papers, and continues to deal with substantive subjects. But the current stakes go beyond the initial stakes: the company, especially in B2B, is seizing this tool for commercial purposes as part of its content marketing strategy. The paper book is also becoming digital, hence its current name of e-book.
Definition of a white paper
The white paper is marketing content. Three characteristics differentiate it from other content such as blog articles or infographics: its length, its tone and its distribution. It is a long document, up to several tens of pages, which does not use commercial discourse. The content is above all informative and demonstrative, and can be downloaded (often from a landing page or by e-mail).
If the content of the white paper is educational, so as to increase the reader’s skills, it ultimately achieves the same objectives as any other marketing content: promoting an offer and strengthening brand awareness. Note that this digital content is undoubtedly part of the inbound marketing trend, because it is up to the prospect to take the initiative to download the e-book or request to receive it by e-mail. This action also allows the company to obtain in exchange the contact details, in order to expand its database.
Why do a white paper?
Raising the skills of the target audience is the main objective of the white paper. The user of the product or service must, by reading the e-book, acquire new knowledge in order to perform better in his activity.
- HubSpot, for example, distributes white papers to educate clients on marketing, sales, customer service, and operations management skills.
- Another example: the publisher of the graphic design platform Canva provides guides for designers to help them manage their production workflows.
With this objective of increasing skills in mind, the company derives 5 major benefits from distributing a white paper:
- Convert website visitors to contacts : with an eye-catching title and call-to-action (CTA), the company encourages visitors to download their white paper. In exchange for the download, the visitor communicates his personal data via a contact form. In this way, the company uses the e-book as a monetary asset, its database grows.
- Segment the audience : the company, on the basis of the personal data communicated during the download, is able to identify the profile of the contacts interested in the subject of the white paper. The company takes advantage of it, it implements an adapted communication campaign, with enhanced efficiency. Example: the e-book deals with irrigation management on a specific type of farm, a niche subject; the company profiles the persona on the basis of the upload data, to refine its communication strategy.
- Generate leads : When the content is interesting enough for the target audience, the white paper captures the reader’s attention. The prospect is converted. From then on, he closely follows the company’s news.
- Strengthen brand reputation : with sufficiently qualitative content, which stands out among other content, the company proves its expertise and know-how. It is positioning itself as a benchmark player in its market.
- Close a sale : the e-book, by educating the reader on a subject, can guide his decision to purchase a product or a service. By increasing skills, the customer sees the emergence of new needs for the exercise of his activity. The white paper then enables him to discover the adapted solutions, among the offer marketed by the company. These may be more advanced technological tools, upgrades to a product or even additional services.
The white paper is also a very good communication medium on several other occasions.
- When the company releases a new product or service, innovative or very technical. Example: the development of a CRM, a complex software, requires educating the user about the issues, the functionalities and the results.
- The e-book can also show a quantified balance sheet, in a current context. Examples: a report on upcoming trends in clothing fashion enriches the knowledge of the ready-to-wear business; a guide to good practices for using social networks is a valuable tool for a company’s marketing department.
The white paper is mainly written for professionals in a sector. In B2B, in fact, the internal decision-making process is based on a strong argument, the purchasing cycle is often longer and involves several decision-makers, and the economic stakes are high. The e-book then constitutes a valuable information document to guide decision-making. Many sectors of activity thus write white papers intended for their target audience.
- A technology services company is writing a white paper to develop the technical specifics of its solution, in order to allow the user to use the service optimally.
- A consulting company offers an e-book on good management or e-commerce practices, in order to offer its clients a practical guide, to be used in support of the advice provided by the company.
- A player in the construction industry educates its subcontractors in the use of ecological materials and techniques, so that they comply with new construction standards and improve their brand image.
In any case, the white paper is a medium-term sustainable information medium, which is part of the company’s content marketing strategy. The e-book is an effective tool for generating website traffic, nurturing leads, and can be shared by the customer who becomes a brand ambassador. Incidentally, the white paper is also used by salespeople, as an informative document in support of sales discourse.
How to write a white paper?
Target a persona and define a precise objective
First, the company targets a persona in order to determine the most relevant information and arguments, as well as the tone to adopt. Example: if the target is very specialized on the subject treated in the e-book, the company may use technical jargon; if the target, on the contrary, lacks education on the subject, the company uses concrete cases of application of the product or service for a better understanding.
The company also refines the objective of its white paper, determined according to the stage of the purchase journey at which the persona is located. Illustration: at the discovery stage, the content is very explanatory to allow the reader to understand the issues and the features of the offer; at the evaluation stage, the company relies on the advantages of the solution and puts forward customer opinions as well as qualitative and quantitative studies; at the decision stage, the white paper can propose a promotional offer.
In any case, the company makes sure to insert a CTA at the end of the document, to encourage contact. The CTA offers the choice of requesting a quote, a demonstration or a free trial.
Perfectly master the subject and the technique
Once the subject of the white paper has been defined, having regard to the interests of the audience, it is essential for the company to ensure that it is under control, at the risk of considerably losing credibility. Illustration: a company is developing software for managing paid leave and is writing a white paper to present it; she is an expert in IT development, but not in law; it is in their interest to rely on the advice of a legal expert to write the e-book, in order to avoid errors and to bring real added value to the content.
With the same concern for credibility, editorial quality as well as the formatting of digital content are important. It is customary to call upon a writer seasoned in the technique, to write the text with a rich lexical field and to structure the plan in a coherent way. Likewise, the use of a graphic designer is required in the process of developing the white paper.
Make reading easier
To facilitate reading, the content should be organized on the basis of editorial logic:
- A catchy title.
- An introduction that sums up the content.
- A paginated summary for smooth navigation.
- One chapter per idea.
- Reliable external references, with redirect links to institutional sources.
Example: This 2021 Marketing Evolution Report has a catchy title because it describes a topical issue. The introduction summarizes the main themes of the e-book, which includes a summary.
Writing content in a fun way also helps to make reading easier. This involves inserting visuals such as infographics, photos or diagrams, and placing inserts for quotes from executives and testimonials from clients. The contribution of a graphic designer is invaluable at this stage. Note that the presence of numbers to punctuate the text further improves the playfulness of the white paper, while increasing its level of reliability.
Effectively distribute the white paper
Once the content is written and formatted, there are several options for distributing the e-book:
- For download via a form on a landing page of the website: the company then promotes the landing page on all media, by electronic signatures for employees, among others. To encourage people to fill out the download form, the design of the landing page must be neat. On this landing page, for example, the visitor is attracted by the scrolling visuals, by the font and by the layout.
- Through E-mail : the company, at the prospect’s request, sends him the document by e-mail. To promote demand, it is a question of integrating a CTA button on digital marketing media such as the newsletter or publications on social networks. The company can also communicate on its white paper during a webinar.
- On the company blog : the white paper can be cut into extracts, to be published regularly in the form of blog articles.
With each download or email, the company brings the prospect into the lead nurturing process, to follow and support them until the end of the purchase cycle.
To take it a step further, download this free guide and learn how to optimize a landing page for lead generation.