One of the more comprehensive content types you could write as a content marketer is the white paper.
Separate from blog articles or ebooks, white papers or technical white papers explain a subject in-depth, promote a methodology, technique, or best practice to provide a solution to the reader, complete with quotes and information from subject matter experts (SMEs) and other references and sources. They’re typically much longer than blogs and ebooks so they usually take a few weeks or months to research, write, and edit properly before they’re ready to go.
The effort is worth it since white papers are great at cultivating leads, generating conversions, and raising the profile of a business. Why? Because aside from blog posts, they’re the type of content that potential buyers are the most likely to share, and the most likely to exchange contact details for. Depending on the quality of the white paper, its content could go viral and get linked back to by other publications, thus boosting a company’s credibility and chances for greater conversions.
Take, for instance, a white paper that we created for client JW Aluminum whose new app was a gamechanger in the metals industry. The white paper, which went in-depth into how companies can optimize their supply chains through the use of technology, ended up getting featured by Forbes and other industry publications, driving not only web traffic, but downloads and new lead captures.
Want to generate more leads and conversions for your organization with well-researched, credibility-boosting content? Here are nine quick steps for writing a great content marketing white paper:
1. Find the right issue to solve
Naturally, this involves strong knowledge of the industry you’re going to write about. Interviewing SMEs is an obvious first step in gathering information. But don’t forget to talk to other team members in your organization that are client facing: sales and customer service. These individuals speak to customers and clients on a regular basis and can share more in-depth pain points that they hear about often. And finally, interview your customers to find out what challenges they face and how your company’s products and services provide a unique solution. Follow this up with industry research through industry publications and news sites to see if other companies are discussing the same issues and if the problem is widespread enough to warrant a deep dive into solutions.
Once you figure out the point of the white paper, it’s time to get to work.
2. Hit the books and do some research.
Perhaps the most important step besides writing, here’s where you lay down the bedrock for an authoritative, high-quality white paper. Find both internal and external subject matter experts (SMEs) who can provide deep insight into your white paper topic. For external SMEs, look for industry experts that have large and engaged social followers, which can help extend the reach of your content once it’s published. Organize all of these interviews, research reports, article links, and sources, and gather all that info into a handy Google Doc, where you can then…
3. Organize an outline.
A bulleted list of headlines, summaries, and subsections, complete with intros, main points, goals, and conclusions can go a long way in shaping a white paper. Include all your links, graphics, quotes from SMEs, informative statistics, and the rest in the appropriate sections so you know where to plug them in later.
And to make things easier for everyone involved…
4. Break up the white paper into sections.
The best way to tackle a big project is to break it up like a Kit-Kat bar. That means separating each major section into a different writing assignment, with adjustable deadlines that everyone can agree upon. Who knows, that one SME you’ve been waiting to hear back from could take a week or two to send a reply, so make sure the whole team’s on the same page about deadline expectations. This assembly line approach breaks things down into easy-to-accomplish chunks, and makes writing and editing easie.
Speaking of writing…
5. Define the voice and tone of the white paper.
Before you start, think about who you want to read this white paper and write in a voice that’s authoritative, but keeps in mind the target audience. Make sure you consider what the reading level of the target audience is (for white papers, this is almost always going to be professional audiences that are well versed in industry trends and familiar with company or industry-specific jargon).
A white paper should be easy to read and able to break down complex ideas and concepts into digestible bites without being surface level. Unlike blog posts, which can be more carefree and creative, white papers should be more buttoned-up and informational.
6. Don’t sweat the first draft.
Finally, it’s time to write. Writers: don’t sweat the first draft so much. If you’ve taken our advice and started with a thorough outline that’s been approved by stakeholders, the first draft is mostly filling in the blanks. Editors: give your copywriters ample time to research and write each section. At this stage, you don’t have to worry about extras such as infographics and charts, since those will go in later. Like working on a painting or comic book panel, you’re just laying down the pencil sketches that will be filled in with colors and inks later.
7. Edit to perfection.
This likely won’t be up to the one doing the writing, but the editor’s job is to make sure grammar, spelling, punctuation, and the focus of the content is on point. That requires lots of re-reading and the fixing of typos and instances of awkwardness or repetition. Don’t expect to catch everything on the first go-around, so leave things like making sure the writing flows well until the end. This phase is also where you add the charts, graphics, and other visual elements which will help guide the reader to the end. The final product should be no less than six pages and ideally no more than 15 pages. Of course, page numbers can be shorter or longer depending on the subject. This white paper about metadata from Adobe, for example, is 18 pages long. Consider your audience’s attention span and adjust accordingly.
8. End with a call to action.
That’s right, like other content types the call-to-action should not be ignored. And just like other content types, you should make it short and sweet and naturally weave it into the rest of the conclusion as seamlessly as possible. Avoid sounding like a sales pitch, and briefly explain how your client’s product or service can help solve the problem you’ve spent the whole white paper discussing. If your arguments, research, and writing are solid enough, the reader will feel persuaded.
9. Distribute your hard work!
The marketing part of content marketing should involve including your white paper as part of email newsletters and sign-up forms. Create a landing page for the completed white paper and gate the content so that readers have to enter their email address into forms to gain access to the white paper will help capture new leads to start guiding through the sales funnel.
Share the landing page link for the white paper on all of your company’s owned platforms, such as the blog, email newsletters, and social media pages – especially LinkedIn, where half of all B2B buyers like to hang out and make purchasing decisions.
Smart content marketers will back up owned content channel distribution with a targeted PR and media outreach campaign for earned distribution, and a paid campaign to drive even more targeted visits and downloads.
White papers are pretty exhaustive—daunting, even!—while putting all the pieces together. But they can be an extremely rewarding endeavor for any content marketer looking to drive new lead generation, build expertise and thought leadership, and re-engage current customers. For answers about white papers, technical or otherwise, please reach out to S&G and we’ll solve any puzzle you may have.