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October 18, 2017 (Updated: March 2, 2020)
A whitepaper is all about introducing a problem or opportunity and what to do about it (buy your product or service, support your cause, etc.) In the age of endless information, quality insights and knowledge become more and more valuable. Whitepapers are one of the most trusted formats for information while also being accepted as commercially driven. It’s a chance to show your knowledge and the finer details of why people should support your venture.
B2B businesses in particular stand to gain a lot of clients, recognition, and trust with a whitepaper. However, one of the things that makes a great whitepaper so significant is that they take work. It’s not just a blog post, brochure, or e-book, and there are concrete standards you must follow. Take a look at our guidelines for an amazing whitepaper, and you’ll be well on your way.
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The curse of knowledge is a common marketing term that refers to a supplier of information being too deep into the complexities of the topic to properly introduce other people to the ideas being discussed. Think of it like a textile company getting too technical with the types of materials and processes they use, using sales language that’s too out-there and not relatable enough to draw in customers. The curse of knowledge is a very challenging paradox in almost all forms of marketing, warning businesses to state the simple, relatable benefits and nothing else.
Whitepapers are all about reliable, technical information delivered from a credible source. What’s terrific about whitepapers is that the curse of knowledge applies far less. Chances are you’re targeting businesses and people who have specific, technical problems that your product or service can resolve, for reasons that can’t be summed up in a Facebook ad or boiled down to an e-book with giant print. Whitepapers are your chance to fully express your knowledge in a context where your readers are pre-educated and ready to learn beyond the basics.
A whitepaper starts with an abstract on the title page that explains what the content is about, why someone would find it interesting, and any conclusions or recommendations related to the findings. It shouldn’t be much more than 200 words. Try not to spoil the most appealing sales points. People should still want to read the full story after looking at the abstract. From there you add a table of contents and then an introduction that establishes the general purpose of the whitepaper.
After the table of contents, there are three sections: an explanation of a problem, an explanation of how your product or service is the solution, and a conclusion that offers further reading or calls to action. Within this framework, there are many unique types of whitepapers. It comes down to your product, brand, and audience. Each whitepaper will need different ratios of text spent on the problem, solution, or conclusion areas, because every product and audience is different. Take time and experiment, ensuring that every section is exactly as long as it needs to be. Keep it thorough but trim.
While whitepapers afford room to get technical, don’t forget the fundamentals of good prose. We’ve all read overly indulgent writing, where the more you read the harder it is to follow along. To avoid this, look at each point and how to make it clearer. For instance, telling stories is one of the best ways to easily highlight a concept in a relatable fashion. You may also want to re-order your information, leading with the most interesting idea and then flashing back to the beginning. Think of it like how a screenwriter would make a hit film, only for technical B2B content.
In general, find a balance between keeping the information coming and keeping the reader on the same page as you. Don’t use filler content and maintain a professional tone, but throw your readers a rope from time to time with specific examples, relevant metaphors, and testimonials. Take the time to write whatever you want for a first draft, though, because these requirements are for self-editing and polishing. Let your ideas run free in the first draft phase or you’ll find yourself constantly deleting what you write, fearful of it not being good enough.
If you really want to create amazing whitepapers, there’s a balance you must achieve in terms of design. Like a luxury car, a good whitepaper looks distinct and eye-catching without looking gaudy, tacky, or over-designed. Instead of gimmicks like funky background colors, add useful charts or graphs that illustrate your points visually. Infographics and other interactive media are especially helpful. Give a person a break from reading by having a spacious infographic that guides their eyes all around the page. Your readers will appreciate the variety and pay closer attention.
In addition to adding graphics, be generous with your page count by leaving good amounts of white space. Avoid the dreaded wall of text, with nothing but words from the top to bottom of a page. Also, when it comes to graphics of any kind, make sure it’s not cliché. Avoid corny clip-art or stock photos of beautiful models in business attire. Be original and make your own visual content at any opportunity.
It takes more than a snappy, detailed name and some long paragraphs to make a whitepaper that converts. These often-feared content pieces are one part customer education, one part authoritative academic writing, one part sales and marketing, and one part attractive design. Don’t be afraid to hire help for any parts of a whitepaper you aren’t comfortable with, or even get a skilled freelancer to interview you and build an entire whitepaper from scratch. It’s the content marketing equivalent of a college end-term paper, only you’re allowed to let someone else make it for you!
It’s been shown that the majority of B2B buyers rely on engaging content rather than advertising to find new products or services. One of the best kinds of content you can make for your B2B audience is whitepapers, so don’t be afraid to try it out. Keep the above tips in mind and spend the time or funds needed to make it perfect. You’ll draw well-informed, pre-sold prospects over to your sales pages, contact forms, or anywhere else you desire.
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