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6 Best Practices for Your Most Effective White Paper

Ready to make your white papers perform at top level, bringing in plenty of leads for your clients? That’s what this Lesson is all about.

At this point in your process of writing a white paper, you’ve written and polished your paper so it’s error-free.

Now, you’re going to do one more pass to be sure your paper has power and impact.

In other words, you’ll make it SO GOOD that readers will be riveted … they’ll appreciate the highly useful info … and they’ll see your client as a standout when it comes to solving their needs.

How? With these extra “power-ups” that boost the effectiveness of your paper:

Let’s look at each one.

Power-Up #1 – Target the Right Audience

Back in Lesson 5, we went over how to pinpoint who you’re writing for: the potential prospect and what he or she needs.

Double check your white paper to make sure you’ve focused on the right audience.

It helps to call out who the paper is for right in the headline or sub-head, but it isn’t necessary.

Here’s an example again from the Dale Carnegie white paper discussed in Lesson 6. Keep in mind that Dale Carnegie is a professional training and development company.

It’s clear the problem they’re solving is helping organizations improve employee engagement with their Millennial and Gen Z employees.

The headline begins with “Creating Cultures,” giving you a big hint to the target audience. Although all employees at a company collectively comprise the culture of the organization, there’s no doubt that culture starts at the top of the organization.

So, the target audience is anyone in management at a company who sets the tone and creates culture.

The audience is clearly management and supervisors at organizations with younger workers, and they’re dealing with a perception of disengagement or even a documented turnover problem.

This paragraph from the beginning of the paper supports that this target audience is management:

This paper uses phrases and terms managers are familiar with and speaks to them in their language. Yes, it does have data and research in it, but it’s a short paper with an easily scannable structure. It doesn’t focus on large tables of data or technical information. Instead, it presents a commonly acknowledged management problem with a solution Dale Carnegie and Associates is well-equipped to solve.

Here are some of the more graphic elements of the paper:

When you’re reviewing your paper to be sure you hit the right target audience, ask yourself these questions:

  • Go back and review Lesson 5 – The Purpose of Your White Paper – Your Reader to remind you who will be reading your paper. Have you given each type of audience member enough information to make them want to take the next step?
  • Have you given them new information they didn’t have before? Does your paper meet their need for evidence and proof?
  • If your audience is technical, have you given them enough technical proof to satisfy them?

For example, in the Cisco paper, they use graphic tables to showcase the extent of the capabilities of the tool they’re promoting. You’ll find screenshots of how their solution works throughout the paper.

  • If one of the readers of your paper has financial responsibilities, have you given them enough cost savings or operational efficiencies or revenue growth to make them want to take the next step?

Page 12 of the Cresta report (mostly a Backgrounder paper), you can see from the text that they’re writing for management and for financially interested readers, quantifying the higher profit margins and revenues they can get from taking the advice in this report.

  • If your audience is management, have you made it clear they can hit their job goals with this new product or process … can they picture themselves as the hero of the story by taking the next step with your client’s product or service?

    See the above Page 12 from Cresta for good examples of this too … Bridge #2 above is clearly directed to sales management, for instance.

  • If “solution users” are reading your paper, have you hit on the things they’d want to see? Can they clearly see how much easier their job will be? Or how much more effective their product will be? Whatever they’ll be using the product or service for, their job benefits should be very clear from your paper, especially if you’re writing a Backgrounder.

This next page from the Sunstone PCB Design paper is a great example of how to make sure you’re including what users want to see. Here, they’re providing advice on how to choose the best software tools to do the job they need to have done. See how reader-focused this section is.

Power-Up #2 – Avoid Selling in the White Paper

White papers are so effective because of their perceived lack of bias. Their research-based, impartial reporting of facts lends credibility that most marketing pieces don’t have.

But that means you need to be extra careful to maintain that objectivity while still being entertaining, useful, and persuasive.

Take a pass through your white paper and look for any place where you may have crossed the line from informative argument into a selling pitch. Often, that will be where you’re describing the features and benefits of the new product or solution.

Take a look at the Sunstone example again.

Notice there’s no reference to their own software tool in that copy.

Everything they list is in the form of a feature or a benefit the reader should try to make sure is in the tool they finally select.

Even in Backgrounders, you’re not selling the product. You’re describing the benefits of the product. You’re showing how problems can be solved with each feature. You’re often explaining new or unfamiliar technologies or processes.

You’re even talking about the product or service’s USP (unique selling proposition) – what makes it better than the competition.

But you’re not selling. There’s no pitch. There’s no offer. At least not in the paper itself.

Just the facts. The Sunstone paper is a good example for you to refer to when you look over your own white papers to make sure you haven’t fallen into sales mode.

Here’s another good example. Look at Page 10 of the LifeLearn vet white paper … giving the reader what options they have for their website, even using persuasive writing to help them make the “right” choice, but not selling them on using the WebDVM4 solution:

Power-Up #3 – Verify You’ve Included All Key Sections

In Lesson 3, you learned about sections that are normally included and expected in each white paper type.

As a power-up … it’s good to revisit the reason for each section, the purpose it serves to bring the reader along with you and persuade them to take the next step your client wants them to take.

Not only do you need to include each section, you need to make sure each section does the job it’s supposed to do in the paper.

For example, your Introduction is critical to delivering on the promise of your headline. It helps your reader decide to invest the time to read your pages-long white paper because they’re certain they’re going to get information they need.

So, when you review what you’ve included in key sections, review them from the prospect’s point of view.

Let’s take the Mimecast paper … the Introduction is two pages long, setting up the background of the problem and how much worse it’s getting. It goes into how the attention being paid to the problem is changing, and then what the reader (an IT professional) will get by reading the paper.

The last line — “To better understand the current cyber threat variants and what’s required to contend with them, let’s get into the report’s nitty gritty” — is written directly to the IT professional. It’s a summary, a problem statement, and a promise, all in one.

For each section of your paper, review with these questions in mind: did you include it, and did you make it as impactful as possible?

In the Introduction, did you tell readers what you’re going to tell them in the paper? How about the body of the paper – did you deliver what you said you would? And what about the Conclusion – have you made sure you’ve summarized the key points?

Many of your readers are skimmers … even if your writing deserves their full attention. They may not have time to give it full attention, or they just don’t enjoy going line by line. That’s why a strong Introduction and Conclusion are important for your busy readers.

The power of your white paper lies not only in the research you’ve done, but also the way you’ve communicated what your research means to your reader.

Another section you want to be sure you haven’t missed? The call-to-action.

You’ve interviewed your client to find out where in the sales process the white paper fits. You’ve asked your client what they want the reader to do next … now remember to tell the reader what to do next. Often this happens at the end of the Conclusion. Sometimes on the pitch page if you have a separate CTA for that.

Your bonus section of this program includes a cheat sheet for each type of white paper, how long it is, what the sections are, and what the intent of each section is. The better you understand what your reader needs to know and how to present it to them, the more powerful your paper will be.

Power-Up #4 – Ditch the Too Boring, Too Technical, Too Academic

One thing to remember about all white papers … they’re marketing documents. The purpose in writing them is to attract new leads or help nurture a prospect into a sale. Your mission is to guide readers through a concept or solution that’s exciting to them. So, make the paper fascinating!

Writing an academic-sounding document or reciting facts without putting them into a story or a context reduces the impact of all that research you did. Good research should deliver insights, ‘aha’ moments, and light bulb moments.

Your last pass through your white paper should be to see if you can “liven” up any places in your paper that are too boring, too technical, or too academic. What can you do to make that information more interesting? Can you add a little humor? Or make a comparison or analogy that makes the information clearer or easier to understand?

Don’t cross the line to fiction or create a tone that makes your paper less credible. But dry, boring, and academic writing does not persuade … and the goal of your white paper is to persuade.

In Lesson 6, you learned some ways to help with this: use active voice, use power words, use shorter sentences and paragraphs. Make it a natural conversation with your reader.

Another tip is to make sure you don’t “drop a fact” without putting context and/or a story around it. Why is that fact important? Why does the reader care about it?

Exercise #8

Re-write these boring paragraphs

You’re going to use a lot of facts in your papers. Practice putting those facts into context with this exercise. It’s a great way to practice conveying facts in an interesting or persuasive way.

The following are just facts. What context can you put on them that persuades your audience? Or makes the facts interesting enough for your reader to keep reading?

Here’s an example:

Facts you uncovered: People with diagnosed diabetes incur average medical expenditures of $16,752 per year, of which about $9,601 is attributed to diabetes. On average, people with diagnosed diabetes have medical expenditures approximately 2.3 times higher than what expenditures would be in the absence of diabetes.1

Your client is a pharmacological chemical company selling a natural solution for controlling blood sugar to health supplement manufacturers.

Persuasive way to position that fact: Did you know your U.S. customers with diabetes are probably spending about $9,601 a year on care related to their condition, almost 60% of their total medical bills for the year? In fact, they’ll likely spend 2.3 times more than they would if they did not have diabetes. That’s an opportunity for you to help them with both healthcare costs and the quality of their overall health.

Your turn.

Position these facts in a way that isn’t boring or academic:

Fact #1: “The average employee at their workplace spends 2.5 hours each workday accessing digital content that is unrelated to their job.”2

Your client sells employee training programs to corporate clients. You’re writing a white paper on a new method they’ve developed for helping employees install new, more productive habits.

Fact #2: “43% of cyberattacks are targeted at small businesses.”3

Your client provides IT security services to small businesses … and you’re writing a Numbered List white paper for them about the top seven fixes small businesses can make to protect themselves from cyber attacks.

Fact #3: “U.S. businesses lose $1 trillion every year due to voluntary employee turnover.”4

Your client conducts employee surveys and provides management training around the results. They’ve asked you to write a Backgrounder white paper for them about a new survey process they’ve just created that is a better predictor of turnover and provides more actionable data for management.

Give it your best shot! Soon, you’ll be comfortable tackling those facts for your final assignment.

In Conclusion

To boost the impact your white paper can have for your client, use these four power-up tips:

  • Target the right audience. Whether your audience has technical, management, or financial responsibilities, make sure you’ve addressed their needs by giving them the right information to help them take the next step. And in the way they’re most comfortable with.
  • Avoid selling in your white paper. Read back through your paper – are you helping them understand the benefits of having the right solution without overtly selling your client’s solution?
  • Verify you’ve included all key sections. Your Introduction ensures your reader knows what they’re going to get, your Conclusion sums up what you’ve told them, you have a call-to-action that helps your reader take the next step … and you’ve made sure the white papers are the “right” length for the topic and the reader’s goal.
  • Ditch language that’s too boring, too technical, or too academic. Wrap your facts and statistics in language that helps your reader know why it’s important. Present the research you’ve done in a way that persuades or informs but doesn’t bore.

Now that you know how to write your paper, you’re going to learn how to work with your client.

Move on to Lesson 8!