what is a white paper

What is a White Paper? | White Papers for Business

A white paper can be a very effective format to connect with your target market and build credibility through thought leadership. If you’re considering using a white paper for B2B marketing, this short guide covers the basics of business white papers and how they are used. 

Why is it called white paper? 

The term originated with the British government, and many people think that the first one (a defence white paper) was commissioned by Winston Churchill in 1922. In government settings, white papers present proposed government policies and often invite feedback before the policy is implemented or legislation is introduced. 

In the early 1990s, businesses started creating white papers (sometimes spelled whitepaper) as a way to their products and services. This is not done with a hard sales approach (as you might find in a brochure, landing page on a website or other sales pitches) but positions the business as a subject matter expert. As part of a content marketing strategy, it can be used as a marketing tool to generate leads, with the ultimate goal of winning new customers. 

Types of  papers 

There is no universal agreement on this. Some experts believe there are types of white papers, while others use broader definitions and define a much smaller number. 

The White Papers for Dummies Book is a helpful reference that keeps it simple with three broad categories: 

  • Characteristic/Backgrounder – this provides an in-depth overview of the features and benefits of certain products or services, and is targeted at B2B buyers near the bottom of the sales funnel. It includes a factual description of the product or service benefits and supports a company’s position as a leader in its field. While it has a more sales-focused approach than the other types of papers, it should be low-key and avoid hype. 
  • Numbered/List – this type of publication provides a number set of points, tips, questions and answers about a challenge. Its approach is lighter and livelier and is aimed at attracting attention with provocative views. This approach is most effective to engage prospective customers during a complex sale to cast fear, uncertainty and doubt on competing solutions. 
  • Problem Solution – this type of whitepaper includes facts and logic to present a new solution to the customer’s problem. It’s aimed at B2B purchasers near the top of the sales funnel. As an industry white paper, it has a broad focus on an industry-wide problem. Unlike the Characteristic/Backgrounder, it doesn’t focus on the particular products or services that the business offers. Usually, this is done at the end with a call to action to get in touch to learn more. 

Whatever style you choose, it’s best to keep it as simple as possible and clearly summarise the points you are making, including key takeaways that can help potential customers improve their understanding of the topic. In addition to effective  writing, you will also want to ensure that it’s visually appealing. This includes using your brand colours and getting it professionally designed (not a simple Word document).

What’s included?

The contents will depend on the type you choose to create. For the Problem/Solution version, the outline recommended in the For Dummies book is:

  • Executive summary – a summary no longer than one page.
  • Problem – go into detail about the problem and its impact. If you have research/data, include it to show the seriousness of the challenge. 
  • Existing solutions and shortcomings – give an overview of potential solutions and what they are missing.
  • Recommended solution – how a product or service solves the problem.
  • Case study – show how a customer overcame the problem by using the recommended solution.
  • Buyer’s guide – this can show the positive and negative points of the potential solutions and how yours stands out as the best. 
  • Conclusion and call to action – a brief summary and next steps for getting the solutions you offer. 
  • About the company – an overview of your business with the points you typically include in a company profile. 

Although this is not a business white paper template, it can be used as a guide to structuring your own paper. If you’re looking for B2B white paper examples, here’s one we wrote for a business finance provider. It looks at the issue of debtor days (the average time it takes a business to get paid after issuing an invoice) and how their service solves this problem. 

How to write a white paper

If you are writing a white paper, choose the type that best suits the audience and your solution. Once you’ve chosen the type, create an outline to guide you. Based on this outline, determine what content you will include. You might need to conduct some research to get the information needed. Large companies have the resources to conduct surveys to include insightful information. Your business might not be able to do this, so you can consider including existing third-party research. If you want to include case studies, you will need to interview your customers who have used your product or service to solve their problems. 

If you don’t have the resources to create a white paper, you can consider white paper writers for hire. A professional white paper writer can help you kick start the process and make the paper a reality. As professional content writers, we’ve helped businesses across Australia with content creation, including white papers.

White paper graphic designers

The white paper format is another important consideration. Those in your target audience reading your white paper will also judge it on how it looks. This is why high-quality formatting and graphic design are important.  A good graphic designer will make it easy to read and include supporting graphs and illustrations.

Ways to leverage your content with white paper B2B marketing

Once you’ve completed and designed the final publication, the next step is to leverage your white paper for B2B marketing. Things to achieve this include: 

  • Sending out media releases to relevant publications and websites.
  • Using search engine optimisation to help people find the paper when searching online (find out more about SEO copywriting services). By getting people to opt-in by leaving a name, email address and phone number, you can follow up by contacting people to get their feedback and start a sales conversation. 
  • Repurposing the content in the white paper in articles and blog posts to generate website visitors and sales leads. This can include publishing sections for the white paper and including a link to the opt-in page where website visitors can download the full version. 

If you’re looking for a white paper freelance writer, we’ve assisted businesses across Australia with white paper writing services. Contact us on 1300 731 955 to discuss writing, designing and promoting your white paper.