I have never seen a white paper fail.
Yep, I said it.
I started writing white papers over 10 years ago, and they can be remarkably effective content assets for companies of all sizes. I love ’em, and so do my clients. When white papers are done well, they can be a content cow for you, and pay off for literally years.
I recently spoke with host Sarah Panus about white papers for the Marketing With Empathy® podcast. Her show focuses on helping content marketers confidently navigate the world of brand storytelling.
We talked through what papers are, the difference between e-books vs. white papers, and whether or not white papers are still relevant in today’s competitive tech marketplace.
What is a white paper?
A white paper is a high-authority content asset that is commonly presented in PDF format. However, I’ve also seen them distributed as web pages, or an interactive format resembling a magazine. They’re very flexible.
White papers are particularly useful for presenting solutions — whether they are products or services — that are complex, technical or expensive.
They work for both marketing and sales teams because they provide in-depth, well-researched information about the solution, which helps build trust with potential customers who are considering investing time or money in what your company offers. They position you as an authority on the topic you’re writing about.
White paper vs. e-book — what’s the difference?
White papers are more complex and research-oriented than e-books. They typically contain less visual content, and they focus instead on detailed information, statistics and insights from subject matter experts.
When I create a white paper, I conduct extensive research, including gathering data and doing in-depth analysis. This deep research is what makes white papers particularly well-suited for technical, complex or high-value topics.
On the other hand, e-books are generally more visually engaging and simpler in content. They are usually shorter and written in a more casual style. This format is better suited for broader, less technical subjects. E-books are ideal for conveying information in a more accessible and engaging way, particularly for audiences that do not require the depth of information found in white papers.
Which one you choose — white paper vs. e-book — depends on your target audience and the complexity of the information you’re presenting. For audiences like executives, technicians, developers or professionals in complex fields, a white paper is often more appropriate.
For audiences where you’re having a more casual conversation about less complex subjects, an e-book may be a better choice.
What all great white papers have in common
An effective white paper includes comprehensive research, but it also weaves this information into a narrative that guides the reader through a journey from beginning to end.
A compelling narrative is the key to keeping the reader engaged throughout the document. It’s this storytelling aspect that resonates with readers because it aligns with our natural human inclination toward stories.
Storytelling is the secret to making your white paper relatable and memorable.
White papers can vary significantly in terms of length. Some are as short as 1,500 words (about three to five pages, especially if visuals are included) and some are significantly longer. I’ve even created white papers that are over 10,000 words.
Make your white paper as long as it needs to be to address the problem, and use your research to provide a thorough and convincing argument. Deliver enough detail to be informative, but don’t overwhelm your reader.
The enduring power of white papers
White papers can be powerful tools in your content marketing arsenal, and you can use them to build trust by explaining complex topics in a comprehensive and engaging way.
Combine thorough research with a compelling narrative, and your white papers can be a great way to connect with your target audience, particularly in technical or specialized fields.
Despite the rise of other content formats, white papers are still relevant and highly effective, especially when you can customize them to address specific problems with detailed and convincing arguments.
Listen to my full interview with Sarah to find out when and where to use white papers (and also discover the biggest mistake marketers make when they’re creating white papers).
Want me to be on your podcast to talk about best practices for effective, memorable content marketing — or better yet, talk to your organization in person? Get in touch with me here.