The mention of a ‘white paper’ is likely to send shivers down the spine of any marketing manager today. And it’s no surprise, because the work it takes to produce a good white paper should not be underestimated.

But it’s worth it! Here, I’m going to look at some of the key reasons you should start planning your white papers now!

But first, what is a white paper?
The term white paper is commonly used in the context of ‘government white paper’ or, for example, an independent report on an issue prepared by a neutral parties. But, as online publication platform provider Foleon describes so well, white papers for sales and marketing are something quite different.

A white paper is a high-quality, weighty publication that presents a well-balanced view of a topic, technology, solution or product. For example, it could present the results of a study or research conducted by your company, or it could explain a new technology and how it addresses a market need in a new way.

If you’re wondering what else the subject material could be, look no further than a recent presentation held at an industry conference. A presentation about a new technology or product strategy is ideal subject material.

Let’s put it into context.

Imagine your company produces measurement equipment for the dairy industry. In conjunction with the latest release of new milk testing equipment, which features important innovative breakthroughs that you’ve been developing for years, you have run tests to determine whether a new prediction model delivers accurate results. In a white paper, you can discuss these innovations and how they have resulted in, for example, “excellent transferability of test results”.

Why go to all the trouble?
Your white paper should represent a well-balanced view by people who are qualified, experienced experts in the field. (More about these subject matter experts later.) Of course, the claims you make in the white paper will always be more credible if they are supported with evidence, such as test results, research data or customer cases.

But even when you don’t have quantitative data, a white paper can still have huge value when based on a qualified opinion about a topic resulting from the extensive, proven know-how that your subject matter experts possess.

Let’s look at another example – this time in the food ingredients sector.

“Gentle processing” of food ingredients helps keep nutrients intact so that they retain their goodness. As this is such an important aspect for health-conscious consumers seeking healthy foods, how food ingredients are processed requires attention. A relevant white paper topic could be to discuss the advantages of membrane filtration as a means of gentle processing. You may not want to share all the details of your membrane filtration technology, including test results, but there is likely to be ample opportunity to convince readers that it is a viable option for improving quality.

Not just top of the funnel
It’s clear that when you’re dealing with this type of subject matter, producing a white paper should not be taken lightly. But there are many great reasons to take the leap.

Often, it is used as top-of-the-funnel, gated content designed to attract attention and capture a prospective customer’s data. But white papers are important tools for customer nurturing and sales enablement, too.

Without doubt, white papers are crucial to sales enablement. Technical pre-sales and sales development reps just love to be equipped with credible, expert, unique content. It creates a great reason to reconnect with customers and prospective accounts. So with a white paper tucked under their arm, they can open up in-depth discussions about the solutions and technologies your company is developing.

Don’t pump it up!
But beware. What is a white paper not? A brochure, so go easy on the overt sales messages and powering up the benefits. There is a time and place for that, so make sure you don’t get over-eager.

At the other end of the spectrum, neither is a white paper a peer-reviewed research paper. It doesn’t have to present extensive test results if you don’t have them, and its purpose is not necessarily to stand up to in-depth scrutiny of academics.

That’s why it’s important to use the right tone of voice and type of message – something that Marketing needs to take the lead in. Imagine a brochure about the membrane filtration solution I talked about earlier. The brochure is likely to focus mainly on clear messages about the benefits of the technology, and the language will be bright and snappy with catchy headlines and clear calls to action. This is all appropriate in a brochure.

In a white paper, however, the voice should be neutral and balanced. Of course, you still want to make it attractive to read, through clear, concise language using minimum jargon and ‘insider’ terms. But keep the sales voice out of it.

High-quality publication
The structure of the white paper is vital, too. Approach your arguments in a coherent, logical order. Precisely what that order is will be determined by the topic. So one of the first things you should do when creating a white paper is agree on the flow of arguments.

You want to make your white paper attractive to read with easily digestible information, even if the content is targeted at specialists. Before you start writing, sketch out possible major headlines with supporting arguments.

Remember, a white paper is a branded, high-quality publication that is an opportunity to position your offerings and, with this, your market position. You need to consider the layout. Here, the white paper belies its name and, in some circles, the terms white paper and ebook are becoming synonymous.

Together with a reader-friendly layout with tasteful illustrations and infographics, good headlines also help the reader navigate the content. This is crucial so that you also cater for readers who skim the publication. Perhaps they won’t read the entire publication from beginning to end, but you can try to catch their eye as they skim with a good headline or graphic.

When a thought leadership article won’t suffice
The white paper should be packaged into a nicely presented individual publication that can be downloaded or printed. In essence, it has no maximum length, so you have the opportunity to present all the necessary arguments in one publication.

The latter point also explains why a white paper differs from an article for your website or blog post. These are very important content pieces, too, but the format for reading online, whether on a large or small screen naturally limits how much content you can include. The format seldom makes it easy for readers to download or print, whereas a branded, beautifully formatted white paper is perfect for exactly that.

In fact, a white paper is a key element of any thought leadership strategy. Demonstrating that you are an authority in your topic, you get the opportunity to own the space by sharing your unique, in-depth knowledge about, for example, important market issues or technological developments. Apart from anything else, it contributes to your competitive advantage in the market.

Subject matter experts making connections
In any company’s positioning, how often do we read “our people are our best assets”? Although it’s often a cliché, for most industrial and tech companies, the SMEs are actually their key differentiators. So let’s prove it!

By publishing a white paper by a named SME, you get these valuable individuals into the spotlight, adding depth and credibility to your brand proposition. At the same time, you humanize your company’s technology, allowing you to make closer interpersonal relationships.

The white paper media appeals to certain target audiences, especially other technically minded people or informed individuals involved in the purchasing decision who like to dig into the details. And remember that making the connections between your company’s experts and your target accounts is a vital element of any account-based marketing approach.

Make or break of content marketing
What’s content marketing? At its essence, it’s the practice of distributing quality content to facilitate relevant connections with key target audiences. I believe that white papers are a central – shall we say indispensable? – part of any content marketing effort. They provide the authority and evidence that so much of your other content needs.

White papers are often some of the most evergreen content you can produce. They have lasting value to your readers and your organization. In terms of payback on marketing spend, therefore, white papers deliver very good returns.

Sales-marketing-R&D alignment
One aspect of white papers that is often underestimated is the potential to align marketing, sales and the technical organization. In developing a white paper, all three should have a shared understanding of what it is and its objective.

Don’t go any further until you have that in place.

Marketing and R&D will usually work together in producing it, but sales needs to have a say in how it aligns to customer needs and how it can be used in the dialog with the customer.

And when all the hard work is done – make sure you share it with your colleagues! In a busy work day, many don’t have the time to keep up with the latest developments and thinking in certain pockets of the organization. What better way to inform them of your company’s latest innovations – and reminding them of the unique expertise that they, too, contribute towards?

About the author

David Hoskin is a sustainability communications consultant with a background in marketing, brand communications and business strategy. With a passion for storytelling and a focus on sustainable practices, David helps organizations achieve their environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals. His work includes developing sustainability reports and stakeholder engagement programs for employees, customers and investors. Driven by a personal commitment to biodiversity and nature conservation, David aims to integrate sustainability into core business operations, making it a strategic asset within organizational cultures.