Why Write a White Paper?


By Kath Walters @kathwalters

A simple way of describing content marketing is that it’s an opportunity to show what you know; to show, not tell.

I may tell you that I am an expert in content marketing and media relations, but you are unlikely to agree until you see some evidence.

Content marketing is providing the evidence, and giving your readers the opportunity to make an informed decision about whether or not to buy the services you provide.

For example, you might look back at all the blogs I have written on Newsmodo and make an assessment for yourself about whether I know:

  1. More than you about how to successfully use content marketing to drive profitable customer behaviour

  2. About the latest content marketing trends

  3. Other content marketing authorities

  4. How to meet your content marketing needs.

Great. But there are actually a number of different modes of content marketing that you could be using.

From government to marketing

The “white paper” is one of those bits of marketing jargon that has slipped into the lexicon and, like content marketing, has many different interpretations.

Historically, it’s a term borrowed from government – some argue  Winston Churchill used it first in 1912  – to present information authoritatively while at the same time inviting comment.

In the marketing world, white papers have been used as a business-to-business sales tool since the 1990s. They started as long-form sales content, but today have evolved into a tool of persuasion. The American marketing automation company, Hubspot, defines white papers thus: “A whitepaper is a persuasive, authoritative, in-depth report on a specific topic that presents a problem and provides a solution.”

Sales, persuasion or position?

Some people think of white papers as an opportunity to become even more technical, but I would argue that is taking it in the wrong direction.

The more powerful white papers will explain the why behind your services – why your market might see them as valuable and why you provide them. They will show something of what you know, but far less than in your other forms of content marketing, which are more focused on how.

For example, I have a media relations program designed specifically for architects, and I have written a white paper on why I believe architects (and our whole world) would be better off if they mastered the art of successful media relations, building their profile and positioning. It also explains why it matters to me for that particular sector to become more vocal in the media.

After 20 years as a successful marketing consultant, Carolyn Tate wrote a powerful white paper, The Conscious Marketing Revolution, to mark the end of that career and the start of her new journey into “conscious marketing” and conscious capitalism. (She has since founded the Slow School of Business.)

In her paper, Carolyn explained why the old marketing system is broken and why it needed fixing.

Tate wrote about her own personal journey and about the changes she had made and planned to make. The paper generated many leads.

Value explained

As well as explaining the purpose behind what you do, or your company does, the white paper is an opportunity to explain value.

Laurel McRae, a New Zealand-based thought leader in lead generation and closing sales has a marvellous video called “Shut Up”, a white paper in video form, explaining the value of keeping your mouth shut at a certain point in the sales conversation to time for your prospect to decide whether or not what you are offering is what they want and need at that time.

Approached this way, the white paper becomes a very different document to the highly detailed, technical workbook (which has a place in content marketing).

But the white paper is more powerful still. Here your passion and personality can take flight, your empathy for your market and the problems they face are presented with clarity, and you are positioned as a committed professional with value to offer the market you serve.

Small is big sometimes

A final tip on effectively using white papers: narrow the market to whom they are addressed. I might be tempted to address everyone in the world who could benefit from content marketing, but the problems that architects face are different from those of financial advisers, and this will affect the most effective approaches they can take.


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