White Papers: Lead your industry with powerful strategic content (2020)

Written by

A white paper is the cornerstone for your content marketing strategy.

Firmly establishing you as a leader in your field, white papers are sought after by decision makers from every stage of the buyer's journey.

With great potential for building your mailing list, as well as being suitable for repurposing in multiple formats, these premium pieces of evergreen content stand out as superior marketing tools, no matter what industry you are in.

What makes them so powerful?

Read on to find out...


White papers don’t sell. They educate.

A white paper is a research document or guide, that helps solve a problem. It doesn’t contain any marketing speak, hype or unsubstantiated claims, its purpose is not to sell, but to inform.

They are formal and professional in style, as well as factual; citing experts, research and statistics. They provide reliable, in-depth information about a situation the reader is trying to find a solution to.

Now, of course, your product or service is exactly what the reader needs to solve the problem they are experiencing, but, selling is not the primary objective of a white paper. If you do try to sell, you’re going to find that paper being dumped, pretty darn quick.

That’s not to say that you do not use a white paper to introduce your product or service. In the final couple of pages you can outline your offering and place an appropriate call-to-action for readers to get in touch. But it should not be hyped.

Readers of white papers are looking for facts, not fluff.

They can get all the sales-speak they need on your website and the sites of your competitors. They read white papers to be educated, so that they feel confident enough about a topic to make an informed decision.

By calling a document a white paper, you are making a promise to provide answers. That promise needs to be taken seriously.

If done well, the reader will immediately recognise you as a reliable source and a leader in your industry. If, on the other hand, your paper is little more that a product brochure full of emotive, schmoozey sales-speak, then your paper, and the potential trust that could have been nurtured, will be lost.

So, who reads white papers, and why?

White papers are powerful on every stage of the buyer's journey

Regardless of whether your audience is at the awareness, consideration or decision stage of their journey, a white paper is potentially the most powerful piece of content you can create.

Papers can be created in three formats depending on who you are targeting:

  • Problem/Solution Format

This format looks at an industry-wide problem and is great for people in the awareness stage of the journey. They have a problem and are looking for information that will help solve it.

This is your opportunity to demonstrate your expertise by providing a comprehensive document that addresses the problem head-on, explains the issues and points the reader towards the best solutions.

  • Numbered List Format

A numbered list format is ideal for those who are at the consideration stage of the journey. They are already aware of the nuances of the problem and within this format you provide specific answers and tips to help them resolve it.

Both problem/solution and numbered list format papers are great to use as lead magnets. By offering the paper in return for an email address, they provide the opportunity to build your mailing list and have a wider appeal.

  • Backgrounder Format

A backgrounder is for those prospects who are in the decision stage of the journey. They have gathered all the information they need about the problem and are now looking for specifics about your solution.

The backgrounder is the only paper that is targeted to your product/service. But again, it is not a sales brochure but rather a factual, technical document giving detailed information about your offering. At this stage readers aren’t looking for the sales pitch, they know what they need, now they just want to know if your solution provides it.

The backgrounder will appeal to a much smaller audience and should be provided freely. It has limited interest to those in the awareness or consideration stage, and is used more effectively as premium content you would send to qualified leads.

Whatever format you chose to develop, white papers are a premium resource within your content marketing strategy.

A white paper is a cornerstone document with premium ROI potential

A quality white paper takes time to produce, typically 4 – 8 weeks. But the benefits offered are well worth the investment.

  • Demonstrates leadership in your industry

You know your industry inside and out, and you have the confidence to share your knowledge.

White papers attract decision makers. People who have the responsibility to find the best possible solution to a problem.

In the awareness or consideration stage, a great deal of time is spent researching. With your white paper as part of that process, you clearly demonstrate that you understand the problem and can provide a solution.

  • White papers are evergreen lead magnets

A well-written white paper, citing research, experts and statistics has the longest shelf-life of all content. Your white paper will remain relevant and has the potential to generate new contacts for years to come.

  • White papers have great repurposing potential

Once complete, sections of your white paper can be repurposed to develop more fresh content: Videos, blogs, slideshows, infographics, social media posts, etc. can all be developed from one paper.

This not only provides a library of different content formats around the same topic, but ultimately saves money as well. It takes approximately four to six hours to write a blog post from scratch, but if you’re taking a key point from your white paper and repurposing it into a blog post, an experienced writer can reduce that time to just a couple of hours.

Any new content you produce from the paper can then be used to steer viewers to downloading the complete document, thereby increasing the list building potential.

  • Increased sharing potential

A quality white paper already has great sharing potential. If you’ve produced a document that has helped someone solve a problem, they will share it with their contacts.

This is further increased when you repurpose the paper into different formats, with video and infographics having particular appeal.

  • Increased search engine positioning

There are two ways to potentially increase your SEO with your white paper and repurposed content.

Firstly, research and target the right keywords and use them, in different formats, for each piece of related content. By doing so, you have the potential to dominate results for your keyword search.

Secondly, incoming links to a website are the prime metric search engines use to assess a sites quality. A great quality paper, plus the repurposed multi-formatted content, provides increased opportunity for inbound links from sites and blogs in vertical industries.

  • Media coverage

Support the launch of your white paper with a press release to relevant media outlets for further exposure.

Hire me to write your next white paper

Interested in discussing a white paper for your business? Read more about my white paper writing services here and get in touch for an obligation-free 15 minute brainstorm about your next project.

Josette Dehaney

Josette Dehaney is a freelance writer with a focus on business and technology and a passion for nature. As the founder of WorkingTheWeb.co.uk and having worked on all aspects of Web technology over the past 30 years, she has a knack for helping people less tech-savvy understand the options available.

Experienced in SEO, and an avid researcher, she writes long-form blog posts, tutorials, white papers and visual content.