Google+ The Marketing Survivalist: 7 Tips for Creating Compelling White Papers

7 Tips for Creating Compelling White Papers

White papers are a unique animal in the content marketing stable. They can be highly useful at every stage of the sales cycle. They can help introduce prospects to your business and fill your funnel with fresh opportunities. They can help prospects frame a challenge or a possible solution. They can even dig deeply into technical questions or offer potential ROI scenarios.

Side note: While white papers can be helpful at every stage of the sales cycle, as content marketers, we need to be sure we aren't focus only on one stage. Too often, marketers focus more on the awareness phase (especially when they are measured on leads generated) and less on later stages of the sales cycle.

That said, if you’re thinking of creating a white paper, or having someone else (like me) create it for you, here are 6 tips that can help you produce a compelling piece.

1/ White papers don’t have to be white. Scratch that. Perhaps it’s better to say they shouldn’t be white. Gone are the days when you can have your engineers knock one out in Microsoft Word in an afternoon. To get noticed, today’s white papers need to be as aesthetically pleasing as they are educational.

2/ Use your messaging as a guide, but leave your product at the door. Your messaging says a lot (or at least it should) about what matters most to your prospects. Like all collateral, the white paper should be guided by your messaging. I love it when clients have formal messaging because it tells me how to portray them in the right light with their audience. However, break in too early with a product message and your prospects starts to feel like they are "being sold."

3/ Title is critical! Journalists know this. That’s why they create titles that draw you in whether you’re perusing search engine results or standing in line at the supermarket. X tips for doing whatever works exceptionally well for pieces that are a bit lighter, like this post, but they also work well for heavier topics. Here’s an example from the solar energy industry written for energy executives that does this well.

4/ Use headers. Many executives tell me they skim the headers of a white paper to judge whether it's worth reading. I notice myself doing the same thing when reading a longer article or blog post. Make sure you use headers that tell a compelling story. Long blocks of text are also harder to read, so using headers keeps your reader engaged.

5/ Your product manager may not be the best author. As a former product manager, I hate to disparage these hard-working folks. However, too many PMs, especially those managing highly technical products, get so lost in the bits and bytes that they forget how to speak to anyone who isn’t an engineer. If your target audience sits in the executive suite, you will want a writer who can bridge the gap between product features and the business case.

6/ They don’t have to be long. A lot of my clients come to me with a set number of pages in mind. While that helps with estimating, remember that a white paper can easily be as few as two pages. On the other hand, it may be as many as six or eight if the subject warrants it. These days, shorter can be better, but I still recommend a mix of lengths. 

7/ Include plenty of whitespace.  While the paper may not be white, you want to include plenty of whitespace to increase readability. You may not need as much whitespace as a well-designed product brochure, but nor should you cram every little nook and cranny with content. Images are also good (necessary) for breaking up content and keeping the reader focused.

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  1. Anonymous13:45

    Fantastic blog! Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?

    I'm hoping to start my own blog soon but I'm a little lost on
    everything. Would you propose starting with a free platform
    like Wordpress or go for a paid option? There are so many choices out
    there that I'm completely overwhelmed .. Any suggestions?
    Thank you!

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  2. Hi there, anonymous!

    My #1 tip for aspiring writers is not to be afraid of your own words. Just let them flow. You can always edit later. I write for clients. I blog about my profession. And I dabble in fiction writing. It all adds up.

    My #2 tip is to have another profession if you're young. I spent almost 25 years in sales and marketing - learning from some of the best - before I went out on my own.

    As for the platform, I've been using a free platform for years - Google's eblogger. I love the platform, but then I don't blog for a living. (Although I do blog about my living.) I looked into WordPress and it was good and easy. I've had others who use it tell me there are more analytics capabilities but that's heresay, so you should check into that yourself if you are interested.

    The reason I checked into WordPress was because I was hoping to use it for my website.It was recommended to me by a colleague, but IMO, it's more of a blogging tool. For my website, I use Adobe Muse. Unfortunately, it doesn't have blogging capabilities.

    Good luck!


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