Technical Content Smarts: How to Write a White Paper (And Promote It)

Want to make the most of your company’s collective expertise? Learn how to write a white paper and showcase that technical know-how. A white paper is your chance to present in-depth content that drives sales and positions your organization as a thought leader in your field.

Unlike blog posts, white papers are long-form pieces of content. But like blog posts, they advocate for a specific solution to a problem your prospects and customers face. So, if you and your teams haven’t done so yet, make sure you create (or update) buyer personas for each segment of your target market.

If you don’t know your audience, you won’t know their pain points. If you don’t know their pain points, you won’t be able to advocate for a solution to those problems.

Once you’ve identified the market segment you want to target and the problem you want to solve, you’re ready to research and write your white paper. Proper content planning is the key to success.

Start with Content Collaboration

Unless you and your content teams have in-depth technical knowledge of your field, it’s best to engage your subject matter experts in content collaboration as your jump-off point. Tell them which problem you want your white paper to solve, and then take notes on the specifics of their solution.

Documenting the conversation allows your content teams to pull quotes from your technical experts’ research, testing, and product development process. Using your company’s own data lends authenticity and authority to your paper.

Develop a Working Thesis

Think back to your college days. Even though a white paper has a commercial purpose, it takes on the style and substance of all those research papers you had to write back in the day.

So, just like with a research paper, you start with a working thesis. State what you want to prove and work backward as you develop the paper.

Do Background Research to Support Your Thesis

To add authoritative punch to your subject matter experts’ research data, search for expert-level articles, academic papers, and books on your topic. The more data, the better.

Be selective. Use only trusted sources from industry experts.

Don’t just cherry-pick data and conclusions. Read the source material in full to make sure that the author(s) used proper research methods and sound reasoning.

Don’t shy away from using sources whose conclusions don’t agree with your subject matter experts. Instead, look for holes in their argument or flaws in their research methods.

Eliminating other solutions can strengthen your case. Using a format where you state several possible solutions and eliminate them one by one, leaving only your solution still standing, is a powerful argument.

Start with the Structure

When you begin to write your white paper, it helps to start with the bare-bones structure. Doing so guides your thought process since each section has a specific purpose.

The Title

Make it catchy and keyword-rich. White papers take a long time to read, so people often judge whether it’s worth their time by the title alone.

The Abstract

Like a formal research paper, most white papers begin with an abstract. An abstract is a short summary, usually a single long paragraph.

In your abstract (also called an “executive summary”), you’ll summarize your main points and the conclusion you arrived at.

The Introduction

Start your introduction with your audience’s pain point. Use attention-grabbing language in your first paragraph. Introduce some data to support your conclusion, using more detail than you did in your abstract.

The Problem

Here’s where you take a deep dive into the challenges your prospects and customers face. Look over your buyer personas and jot down some of the pain points that your solution can fix so that later, during the writing process, you can fill in all the details that will bring these pain points to the forefront of your readers’ minds.

The Solution

Expand on the solution that you outlined in your abstract and introduction. Use details, data, and a cogent argument to eliminate all the other possible solutions, leaving your own as the best way forward for your readers.

The Conclusion

Use the conclusion as a recap of both the problem and the solution. Use persuasive language to drive your points home.

The Reference Section

List all the references you used in writing your paper so that your readers can research further if they want more information. Use links, but write out the information in full in case your audience reads a printed version.

The Boilerplate

At the end of your white paper, you’ll want to include a short blurb about your company. Here, you’ll tell what your company does. Make it about what you do for your customers, not about your awards. Be sure to include your contact information so that readers can get in touch.

How to Write Your White Paper Effectively

Many content teams feel intimidated when the boss tasks them with a white paper. They’re used to writing blog posts, video scripts, and website content where they’re addressing their readers directly with chatty, informal pieces.

Here are some tips to help you succeed in the white paper writing process itself.

Be formal, not fusty

Unlike most marketing pieces that your content teams write, a white paper needs to take a more objective tone. To that end, always use a third-person point of view.

That’s not to say that your writing should be boring. Quite the opposite. Using a storytelling approach will engage readers in the process of finding a solution to their problem.

Use active voice verbs as much as possible. Yes, many writers look at the “formal” tone and go immediately into passive voice, just like all those yawnfests in academia.

But even academics would be wise to give their papers a more engaging voice. Using active voice draws your readers into the story – even when you’re using a more detached approach.

Use visual guideposts and interactive features

Use an abundance of subheadings and bullet points. Since a white paper is long-form content in the extreme, make sure you give your readers some visual guideposts so that they can get the gist of your points even if they only skim it.

Plan to insert plenty of relevant visuals throughout your paper. Presenting your data in visual form engages more of your readers’ senses – always a good thing. And, visuals help people retain more of your content.

Including interactive elements in your white paper takes visuals to a whole new level. When you insert relevant videos, assessments, quizzes, and calculators, you get your readers to engage with your material physically as well as mentally.

Edit and proofread your work

A white paper needs to be of the highest quality to fulfill its role as a thought leadership piece. It ceases to be so if your copy includes glaring errors in cited facts, typos, or grammatical errors.

So, make sure that your teams run their work by your editorial staff and your compliance department. It always pays to have a second or third pair of eyes look it over before you hit “Publish.”

Finally, Promote Your White Paper

Your teams poured a lot of effort into creating an effective content asset. Take its reach to the next level by planning a proper promotional effort to get it in front of your target audience on all the channels on which they’re active.

You have a lot to gain when you do. Studies show that 71% of decision-makers use white papers to drive their buying decisions. That’s a lot of business to leave on the table – so get the word out about what you can do for your prospects. With the right kind of content management, you can boost your white paper’s success even beyond that number.

whitepaper usage in B2B buying decisions

Image Source: Demand Gen Report – 2018 Content Preferences Survey Report

Here are some ideas to jumpstart your promotional campaign.

Use it as a call to action at the end of a case study: As you can see from the infographic above, the only other content that beats white papers in its effectiveness in driving buying decisions is a case study. When you use it as a reward for your prospects giving you their email address at the end of a case study, you combine the power of both – and you get a lead in the process. It’s a win-win combination.

Use a landing page to give your paper a broader audience: Using social media and search ads, find people who have a vested interest in solving the problem your white paper tackles. When they respond to your landing page’s call to action with their email address, you can send the white paper directly to their inboxes.

Link to your white paper directly from social media posts: Create short, compelling social posts (with visuals) to entice your followers to follow the link and read the paper in its entirety. Mention the pain points that your paper solves so that they know they’ll find the answer in your paper.

Send it to your email subscribers: Your email list has already expressed an interest in your brand and what it can do for them. Find the subscriber segments that your white paper’s featured solution can help, and send them a link to download your paper.

Create a well-optimized blog post from your paper’s main points: Let your hard work do double duty when you use it to create a shorter piece that you’ll post on your company blog. Then, if they’re interested in the details of your solution, invite them to submit their email addresses in exchange for a link to your white paper. Since blog posts are the most shared types of content, you’ll expose your white paper to a whole new audience of qualified prospects.

most shared content types among b2b buyers

Image Source: Demand Gen Report – 2018 Content Preferences Survey Report

Putting together a white paper is a lot of work – but you can streamline both the creation and promotional process with a content marketing platform that allows you to ideate, plan, collaborate, create, publish, and more in a single digital space.

It’s DivvyHQ – and you can try it free for 14 days with no obligation. Start your free trial today!