White papers are generally associated with large corporations. They tend to be dense, complex documents with connotations of prestige, power and highbrow ideals. But that’s not what they are all about – any business can produce a white paper.

Before I go into what a white paper is all about and what it should do, there is one thing you may want to consider. You know your customers better than anyone, which means you probably realise that producing a document and calling it your latest white paper will have them heading for the hills. That’s why many companies find different names for them, such as ‘A Special Report on…” that may be more appealing to their readership.

So what should your white paper do?

1. Provide information

The whole idea of a white paper is to provide information that your potential customers need. It’s like a technical case study that goes into detail about problems being faced by customers and the solution that you can offer.

If you’re not sure what to write about, take a good look at your products or services and ask yourself:

  • What problems are your customers facing?
  • Can you help them overcome these problems?
  • What advice can you give them to help them?

The answers to these questions will provide the starting point for your document.

2. Don’t sell

The main thrust of your white paper is information not sales.

It’s there to help build trust between you and your reader, which is why it’s essential you use it to offer advice and information. Any whiff of a sales message and you’ll blow it.

3. Conversation

Just because you’re writing a white paper doesn’t mean you have to use complex jargon, convoluted sentences and the biggest words you can think of.

Just like all other forms of marketing you’ll produce, a conversational style that speaks in the language of your reader will win hands down. Plus, the addition of short paragraphs and sub headings will make the document easy to read.

4. Proof

Whatever claims you make within your white paper must be backedĀ  up with relevant facts and figures from reliable, cited sources.

Without them your document will be nothing but fluff and hot air.

5. Appearance is everything

Although you may be tempted to cut corners, it’s well worth using a professional designer and copywriter to make sure your final document is polished. Anyone can throw something together using PowerPoint and clip art, but it will also look as though your 10 year old son or daughter put it together for a school project.

6. Title

The title you give your white paper will have an effect on how well it is received. Make sure the title reflects what the paper covers so your readers won’t feel cheated if you promise them one thing and give them something else. It may also be worth considering calling it a special report rather than a white paper to make it more appealing.

7. Tell the world

Once it’s written you must promote it so people know it is available. Once on your website, promote it through your social media channels, email your marketing list and write articles that introduce it and link to it.

White papers can help businesses of all sizes.

Have you used them in your business? How successful was it and what did you learn from it?

Leave a comment below.