To get their client’s message out, content marketers have a lot of options available.

For a constant rat-tat-tat volley of content that ensures you’re at the top of Google rankings, there’s the branded blog, updated daily or weekly to stay in the minds of readers or the clicks of newcomers.

For a dose of visual adrenaline, there’s the video, either live-streamed or scripted and edited, which can capture the attention of newbies or enthrall returning visitors. An emotional, entertaining, and well-produced video will net a lot of views, shares, and overall engagement.

For something a bit more technical, there’s the white paper. But what is a white paper and what is its purpose?

We’ve touched on white papers and more in-depth content formats before, but as a quick refresher, white papers are a deep dive into a specific, complex issue. Usually, the white paper seeks to describe and solve an industry problem. With the right persuasive arguments backed up by interviews, quotes from subject matter experts, and detailed reporting, a white paper can do a lot to generate credibility (and leads—more on that later) for a brand. If a white paper is authoritative and informative enough, it can get shared around the industry blogosphere, picked up by large media outlets, and build real thought leadership for a brand.   

Unlike blog posts, white papers require a lot more research, time, and effort to produce. A good 500-1000-word blog post can take 2-5 hours to produce. But a comprehensive, multipage white paper can take weeks or often even months to research, source, write, and edit. Also, unlike blog posts, the tone of voice is usually more serious and technical—less personal, more academic. White papers are for professionals.   

That doesn’t mean you have to break out The Big Thesaurus of Ten Dollar Words. In fact, you should strive to keep things as simple or “readable” as possible for laymen’s sake. Just because you’re writing about cybersecurity that doesn’t mean everyone in the C-Suite knows the difference between encryption and pseudonymization. You should define phrases and terms as they come. Because the goal of a white paper isn’t just to generate credibility—you must also provide value, and that usually means educating an audience about a common or uncommon problem an industry might be facing.

Another goal of the white paper is to subtly promote a brand’s product or service. During, or after, you describe the industry issue, like, say, the rise of catastrophic data breaches in the healthcare and financial sector, you should offer solutions. One of those solutions would be a commonly accepted industry standard such as encryption or following the requirements of industry regulations. The other would be your client’s cloud security product, complete with a detailed explanation of its features and how it would lock down private data on the cloud with the latest reliable technology.

But, seller beware: A white paper is not an ad or a brochure, it’s a document meant to inform or persuade readers, not to pitch to them. It’s not a user’s manual, either. If the reader wants to know more about the product or service, simply let them know who to call or where to go for more information at the end of the white paper.  

Lastly, the final purpose of a white paper is to generate leads. Once you have a white paper you should have a landing page for that white paper, which requires that visitors share their contact information in order to download the white paper. These leads can go straight to your sales team, who can follow up with each person who downloaded. And even better – they’ll already have an idea of a challenge those leads are facing.

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