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Are you sure that’s a white paper?

A white paper by definition is an authoritative report giving information or proposals on an issue. For business-to-business companies, a white paper demonstrates subject matter expertise and provides a platform to share client successes. When given away for free, it’s also an effective tool for online lead generation. The problem is that when readers click on a, “Download Free White Paper,” button these days, most likely after a compelling sales pitch from a text ad, there is a 50/50 chance they will be disappointed.

A white paper is often a first impression, an opportunity to take prospects through the early stages of the buying process. Don’t fall into the trap of providing too little information. Instead, follow these best practices as you plan your next white paper to ensure the leads you generate from it turn into customers.

Pick a topic that requires in-depth information. Common elements of a white paper are an executive summary, table of contents, multiple sections, and a conclusion. For a topic to be a white paper and not an article, it would need to be able to expand into this level of depth. The topic also should be relevant to the everyday challenges of the reader, not a self-promotion of your company benefits.

State the value up front. No matter if your white paper is 4 pages long or 10 pages long, let readers know exactly what they will learn from the white paper in an executive summary. This content also can be leveraged when convincing audiences to give their contact information in exchange for a free download.

Present the case in point in digestible chunks. Think about the journey you would like to take the reader through and make it easy on them to not only read the entire document but keep it as a resource. You can accomplish this a few ways:

  • Organize the flow so that your story unfolds naturally
  • Call out case studies, testimonials, and tips in separate shaded boxes
  • Include a bullet point summary at the end of each section
  • Create space for a reader to take notes or fill in a model, if appropriate

Keep it interesting. Appeal to shortened attention spans and information overload by planting a few shiny objects within the layout. These could include infographics, pictures, even videos. Visual elements make it easy to share on social media and repurpose on websites as a way to attract downloads.

Wrap it up. Always include a conclusion that restates the argument of the white paper, the main points, and the next steps for the reader. The conclusion also is a good place to provide contact information and additional resources your company offers.

Put yourself in the readers shoes when you are planning a topic, outlining the content, creating graphs and charts, and collecting case studies or proof points. White papers have certainly entered the modern content marketing era by becoming more interactive and less scientific. They are a great tool to demonstrate your inherent expertise to both your established community and new audiences you have yet to meet. Just make sure you are delivering on the promised value.

About the Author:

A Chicago native, Elizabeth moved to Milwaukee to attend Marquette University. Her journalism curriculum sent her all over the city, from covering local businesses, interviewing politicians and conducting research, to completing multiple internships. After falling in love with Milwaukee – and her future husband – she officially became a transplant. Elizabeth now has more than 15 years of reporting and public relations experience, along with numerous awards for her work across manufacturing, technology, agriculture, construction and professional services industries.

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