White Papers: What They Are and Why You Might Want One

Almost every time I mention to someone that I’ve written a white paper (granted, it’s not my best chat) they ask:

“What’s a white paper? Is that a government thing?”

They’re right, the government produces white papers, which lay out policy proposals before they become a Bill.

But that has nothing to do with what I wrote, which was a business or marketing white paper.

Only 35% of marketers use them but I think the other 65% could be missing a trick, white papers are a great way of having the time and space to explore a relevant topic in depth and share lots of information.

The basics

They are much longer than most pieces of marketing (except maybe for eBooks), most white papers are at least 2000 words and an average 6 to 10 pages long, according to the white paper guru That White Paper Guy.

They are marketing documents but they’re not salesy, they read more like an essay than a brochure or a website, and just like an essay, they look at a question or issue and use lots of juicy referenced research to prove a case.

Engaging content and visuals

Unlike an essay, a white paper isn’t going to read by someone with a Doctorate in your field who doesn’t mind wading through thousands of words of dense text though.

It’s going to be read by someone with 300 things on their to-do list who needs it to be an engaging read and sustain their attention. You’ll see below that a white paper uses lots of different ways to present information – callouts, lists, charts, images and graphics – to keep it interesting.

Why go to all that effort?

Good question. Researching, writing and designing a white paper requires a lot more work than a posting a blog or other content but it can achieve a lot more too. It will educate your readers through relevant facts and research, not opinions, show that you know what you’re talking about and provide your clients with a clear solution to their problem. It’s a really meaty piece of marketing that most of your competitors won’t be using.

Here’s one I wrote earlier

Here’s the white paper I wrote recently for Kurtosys (who provide software for some pretty huge asset management companies like Santander, J.P.Morgan, Investec and Prudential), it looks at the five essential components of a fund website:

marketing white paper

As you can see, writing it was just the start. Once my bit was done, Luke Hinchcliffe, a very talented designer at Kurtosys, added the graphics (it’s worth having a look just to see them).

Promote, promote, promote

A white paper has a long shelf-life, you don’t need to keep updating it and you can promote it far and wide to your existing and prospective customers: offer it on your website in exchange for people’s email addresses, send it out via your email list, use it in your Google Ads, push it on social media, and make sure Google can search it so you pick up organic traffic.

White papers are a great way of sharing really valuable information and research – while setting yourself apart from your competitors.

I’m not a white paper guru (yet!) but if you’ve got any questions or thoughts on white papers, feel free to leave a Comment.


P.S. Did you spot that it was written in American English?

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