White papers sometimes get a bad rap in the content marketing world as being super-technical documents best suited for equally technical companies and industries. But this perception is outdated. Today, all kinds of companies are producing white papers that help customers solve problems, drive leads and conversions, and demonstrate expertise.
Demand Gen’s most recent Content Preferences Study found that white papers rank in the top two (behind only video — the new king of content) for the most valuable type of content for researching B2B purchases. It’s also one of the most-shared types of content among colleagues in B2B industries.
White papers, when done effectively, can help your customers accomplish important goals while driving your lead generation and conversion efforts at the same time.
Here’s how to create white papers that deliver the most customer value and drive results for your band.
- Whitepaper topics should always be centered around helping customers solve a problem or accomplish a goal.
- Professionalism is key for white papers: a business writing style, thorough fact-checking, and quality proofreading are essential.
- White papers should always include high-impact, engaging visuals and design.
- Brands should always gate white paper content to capture customer information and generate leads.
How to Create a Great White paper: 8 Best Practices
Build Your Topic Around Customer Needs
So you’re ready to develop a white paper to support your overall content marketing strategy. What should you write about?
Don’t just pull a topic out of the air or choose one randomly because it’s familiar. The best white papers pick topics based on customer challenges.
Great white papers help customers solve a real problem or accomplish an actual goal. This means that when you’re choosing a white paper topic, you should always do it from your customer’s perspective.
Let’s take a minute here to talk about what white papers are not. They aren’t brochures or promotional documents. They aren’t product overviews or company reports. In fact, one of the biggest mistakes companies make when they create white papers is they make it about them.
This is usually done with good intention, but it doesn’t make it any less off the mark.
Your potential customer will typically encounter your white paper while in the process of searching for a brand who can provide a solution. What better way to convince them that your brand is the best choice than by providing a solution right away with your content?
This doesn’t mean you’ll solve all of their larger problems or eliminate their need for your services. It means that you’ll demonstrate the value you can provide and entice them to want more from your brand.
To think like your customer, you’ll need to use empathy based marketing.
As marketers, we spend so much time immersed in our products and services that we can lose sight of why they exist in the first place. By using empathy to think from the perspective of our customers, we get back to the core purpose of our brand.
One helpful tool you can use to practice using empathy is the jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) methodology, which works by focusing not on your products or even who your customer is. Rather, it looks to uncover what your customer is trying to accomplish.
Here’s more on JTBD theory:
Once you’ve explored your customer needs, you can confidently explore topics that will deliver valuable solutions.
Use a Professional Tone
White papers should never be dry and boring, but they also aren’t the place to use informal language. The tone of a white paper should always be professional.
Use a business writing style, remain fact-based, and include clear descriptive language. Your white paper is a guide for customers to help them accomplish something real that will make an impact on their job and organization. It’s definitely not the place for opinions.
Backup your content with research and statistics. Whenever possible, conduct and leverage your own firsthand research to support important points. Remain objective and use language that does the same.
Pack it with High-Value Content
White papers are created to add additional value not already offered on your blog or in your other free content. As you choose your topic and begin to develop your white paper, you should continually ask yourself: how is this content providing unique value to my customers?
Here are some ways you can pack your white paper with value your customers will appreciate:
- Provide clear action steps customers can take to implement solutions
- Include research and statistics that help customers make informed decisions
- Use real-world examples to demonstrate your important points
- Keep it interesting using graphics, stories, and quotes to break up your content
Use Engaging Visuals to Support Your Text
A common misconception is that white papers are text-only, academic type documents that don’t or shouldn’t contain images or design. We’ll touch more on design later, but we’ll start here by saying your white paper absolutely should include visual images to support your text content.
In general, people only read about 20% of what they see on any given page. They notice and retain visual information at a much higher rate. You should emphasize your most important points using compelling images and graphics that catch your reader’s attention as they read.
That said, images in white papers should fit in with its overall professional tone and purpose. While blog images can vary and be more casual, white paper images should remain formal. Good ideas for white paper images include graphs, charts, tables, and highlighted statistics that create visual representations of the information you’ve included in your text.
Here are some good examples:
It’s simple and uncomplicated, but it visually demonstrates the top challenges marketers are facing in 2023.
This one shows the one of the top challenges marketers face overall in 2023: the use of AI.
And here’s one we used from our popular stats on the future of marketing post on podcasts:
High-quality stock photography is another great way to incorporate imagery into your white paper. It may not be reporting on actual content, but it can help paint a picture of the topics you’re covering and make your white paper more engaging.
For example, if you were writing a white paper on creative marketing strategies, you could include stock photos showing creative teams working together.
This image may not actually communicate information, but it sets the tone you intend for the content and evokes emotion (all images do), an important component of getting customers to take action.
Fact Check Everything
We’ll keep this one short and sweet: fact check every single thing you include in your white paper. Be sure your statistics are all reliably sourced, and always include your sources in the actual white paper.
White papers are intended to position your brand as an expert. Nothing could undermine that more than inaccurate or poorly sourced information. Take the extra time to find information from sources you can trust and be sure your own research is accurate before you include it.
Proofread (More than Once)
Like fact-checking, proofreading your content is essential. Even the smallest mistakes such as misspelled words or incorrect grammar can paint a poor image of your company.
Attention to detail is key here. Find someone on your team who has the experience and capability to confidently proofread and copy edit your content. Ideally, more than one person should proofread to ensure you don’t miss even a single error!
Don’t Forget Design
A sleek, professional design can go a long way. Not only does great design make your white paper appear more professional, it also makes it more approachable and engaging. Don’t be fooled by that outdated perception of white papers being technical documents. You’re creating it to engage your audience and just like any other marketing collateral, it needs design to help accomplish that goal.
Design is an area that’s best to outsource when you don’t have the in-house team to do it well. Poor design can sometimes be worse than no design at all (and no design is pretty bad).
If you’ve taken the time to develop high-value white paper content, go the extra step and invest in a great design that brings it to life.
Gate Your White paper to Drive Conversions
Last but certainly not least: be sure you leverage your white paper to produce results! You’ve spent a lot of time creating a white paper that offers exceptional value, is well-researched and well-designed, and helps your audience solve a real business problem.
It’s perfectly reasonable, then, to ask for your potential customer’s email address in return for the white paper download. In fact, it’s a total miss if you don’t.
White papers are one of the most effective types of lead magnets for capturing leads. Be sure that you put an effective strategy in place to help it perform.
Create a Compelling White paper without the Stress
Content agencies have the experience and resources to craft content that drives results. If you’re ready to create a compelling white paper and deliver other exceptional content to your audience, Marketing Insider Group has solutions that can help.