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The Purpose of Your White Paper - Your Reader

One of the questions you need to ask your client very early in the process is ─ who is this white paper for? Who are they expecting to read this and what do they want that reader to take away … where does your client want the reader to go next or do next?

Here, you’ll meet the main likely target audiences described in detail, so you know what they’re looking for:

  • Techies
  • Financial Decision-Makers
  • Managers and Business Owners
  • The Potential Users

You’ll often have readers who fit more than one of these categories. For example, Information Technology (IT) managers tend to be pretty technical themselves. And owners can be managers and financial people, depending on the size of the company.

What’s most important is the kind of information that will persuade your reader most effectively to take the action step your client wants them to take next. And to write that, you need to know who they are and what they need.


Often when you’re writing about a new technology or a new system or process, you’ll be writing to a technical audience.

They could be IT staff (such as software developers and programmers), engineers, scientists, quality teams … anyone who’s an expert in their field and is reading your white paper for a specific purpose. They’re usually looking for an answer to a work problem they’re facing.

They’re often quite analytical and are the most likely to read your entire white paper instead of skimming through it.

This audience generally loves details. This is why research is such an important part of any white paper project. You will often be talking to folks who at least know something about the subject. They’re reading your white paper to get answers they don’t have, though, which is another reason why white papers are such effective lead generators.

They might be reading your white paper for the following reasons:

  • To solve a problem by getting information from a variety of sources,
  • To stay on top of cutting-edge technology and industry knowledge,
  • To compare different solutions,
  • To pre-qualify your client’s product or service: to be considered to move on to the next phase of a purchase consideration.

Some of the titles of the white papers you’ve already looked at are targeted to technical readers. Here are those titles as a reminder:

Drupal Integration with Salesforce.com: Functionality Gaps Solved Through Customized Synchronization

Cisco UCS Infrastructure for AI and Machine Learning with Red Hat OpenShift Container Platform 3.11

Use a Cisco Validated Design to deploy OpenShift on Cisco UCS infrastructure

Are equities overvalued? Taking an active approach to asset allocation

What do you notice about them, even from the titles?

They seem to have very specific language that assumes the reader is familiar with details the average reader may not know. And they present the problem in a way that implies “everyone” knows this problem or opportunity … and reading the paper will give them a solution.

There’s another clue to the target audience of these papers.

When you read the introductions or conclusions of these white papers below, there are some key words and phrases telling you who the intended audience is.


In fact, it’s usually pretty obvious. This is key because you want your reader to know this was written for them.

In the Drupal Problem/Solution paper, the Introduction is clearly focused on technical sales managers and sales reps … or IT staff supporting the sales department:

In this paper, we focus on one specific area of integration: successfully bridging functionality gaps between Drupal and Salesforce.com through continuous synchronization.

We explain how the underlying technology works behind the integration. Then we show you how the existing Drupal Salesforce module can be elegantly modified to provide complete, customized Salesforce functionality within Drupal to meet your enterprise requirements.

In the Conclusion of the Cisco Backgrounder, the benefits are targeted to IT professionals and management. What tells you that? “This solution delivers …” tells you it’s solving someone’s problem. The fact that the product is an IT product tells you whose problem it solves. This may not be clear to someone who isn’t an IT professional, but it’s very clear for them:


Experts and data scientists today believe that new industry leaders will be enterprises that invest in AI and turn their data into intelligence. Cisco has partnered with NVIDIA to design an affordable and simple yet powerful AI infrastructure on Cisco UCS rack servers that delivers high performance specifically for AI and machine-learning workloads.

Cisco now offers a solution using Cisco UCS infrastructure with the Cisco UCS C480 M5 ML Rack Server AI platform and Red Hat OpenShift Container Platform with container-native storage. This solution delivers a production-ready foundation that simplifies the deployment process, uses the latest best practices, and provides a stable, highly available environment for running containerized production applications and GPU-enabled containers for AI and machine-learning workloads.

Here is part of the introduction for a white paper for a printed circuit board (PCB) design and manufacturing solution, from Sunstone1. The audience? Engineers. You can tell from the bolded sentence below that the people reading this paper are making things … so they’re probably manufacturing engineers, maybe design engineers. To be even clearer, the last paragraph gives the reader an example of why an electrical engineer might need the services of a company who does PCB design.

Four Strategies for Becoming Your Own, Best PCB Designer

Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs) support the functionality of just about every working electronic device in use today. They are integral to every professional discipline from mechatronics to robotics and process automation. If you want to make something that does something, PCBs are likely a component of your product design. With boards getting smaller and demands on them increasing, off-the-shelf PCBs probably will not provide the functionality you need for your next project.

Say you’re an electrical engineer or a rocket scientist in a small shop, part of a lean product team, or building the next big thing in a makerspace. You’re expert in a lot of areas, but not necessarily PCB design. You need a specific function out of a PCB, you need it now, and ready access to an experienced PCB designer is not at hand. This is a challenge we see every day.

In this Sunstone paper, they have this callout at the top of page two. They’re assuming the reader, a techie, is comparing options for how to get PCBs for a product they’re planning to manufacture. The writer is explicitly telling anyone reading the paper what they WILL find and what they WON’T find in the white paper. Whoever wrote this paper is really trying to connect with the reader by acknowledging their expertise and reassuring them they’re not going to be wasting their time by reading this paper:

All of these examples require the reader to have some level of expertise or knowledge in the subject area.

Once your technical reader has read the white paper and done other research, they’ll likely pass along the info to others in their organization who are involved in decision-making.

One group they may share your white paper with are …

Financial Decision-Makers

Financial decision-makers might be purchasing agents, product or operations managers, or Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) and their teams.

The more complex the B2B purchase is, the more stakeholders involved in the final buying decision.

White papers often contain enough financial benefit information to help a purchasing agent or manager move your client’s product or service to the next step in the buying process.

Let’s say your client’s product is a warehousing software system that will help companies find, pick, pack, and ship products or parts more accurately and efficiently. It uses a unique location system so users can always find what they need, and it automatically recalculates routes through the warehouse to involve less backtracking.

You’re hired to write a Numbered List white paper talking about the “Top 7 ways warehouse managers can reduce overhead costs.”

This paper will appeal to the warehouse manager for generally helpful information. But that manager will probably also give it to their purchasing person and ask them to check out your client’s software, since it looks like it might reduce their overhead costs.

The purchasing agent may then put your client’s software on a qualified list of solutions the company is evaluating to reduce warehouse overhead costs.

Depending on the investment level, the company’s CFO or other financial management may need to evaluate the potential purchase value or return on investment as well.

But financial decision-makers rarely make decisions without the input of …

Managers and Business Owners

Like our example above about the warehouse manager looking to reduce overhead costs, managers throughout B2B companies are always being tasked to do more with less, find more reliable solutions, or fix actual problems the company is facing.

These will often be your readers too. They’re less likely to read the white paper cover to cover. But they’re looking for proven solutions they can use in their company, and you need to write your white paper in a way that speaks to them.

Managers tend to prefer charts and graphs. They like the sub-heads so they can skim and pick up the highlights. They’ll thoroughly read your executive summary. And they’ll look for what you’re recommending as next steps.

They may also be technical, and they’re usually critical thinkers, so you can’t skip doing the thorough research and proving your claims with real data. They just don’t always take the time to read every sentence, so giving them guideposts like graphs and sub-heads to pull them through the white paper makes it more likely they’ll use it.

Here are some titles from your swipe file that are probably targeted toward managers:

Four EHR Change Management mistakes
And how your medical practice can avoid them

Good Salesperson, Bad Salesperson – Closing the Sales Performance Gap

How to reach your buyers where they are, from prospect to post-sale

Reach Local Pet Parents on the Go with Veterinary Mobile Website Wellness

What do you notice about these titles?

They seem to highlight a business problem or opportunity, something a manager or owner will care about, and offer a solution to that problem.

And if your white paper can convince management, they can often get it past the other gatekeepers … so these kinds of white papers are great lead-generation pieces for your client.

Here’s a great white paper example from Wellmune2, a company who makes a specific ingredient that can be used in many health supplements.

This paper is very similar to the first one we looked at, the Mimecast “State of Email Security Report,” in that it looks at the state of the supplement and functional food market globally. There are lots of trends, stats, and graphs throughout the white paper.

This is the kind of information that supplement or functional food company managers would find valuable.

Here is the bottom of the last page of Wellmune’s report:

Notice the bolded paragraph: “By partnering with the Wellmune team, supplement manufacturers and brands can ensure they are fully prepared to go to market with their next innovation.”

Wellmune hired a writer to produce this paper targeted to management teams of supplement companies, with the desired next step to be a discussion with Wellmune about using their ingredient.

This Wellmune white paper is definitely targeted to management, but they’ve also published other white papers and content that’s more scientific and technical … and even some that are process-focused.

Managers will also often ask for input from team members who’ll be using or receiving the benefit of the new product or service. And often, it’s those users who find the solution and bring it to their management.

So, now, you’re going to look at the final group of white paper readers …

The Potential Users

Users are, as the name implies, anyone who may use the product or service. They can be technical, non-technical, management, non-management … anyone we’ve already talked about except (usually) purchasing agents or financial decision-makers. They’re interested in solutions to improve their own work situations ─ easier, more efficient, and more enjoyable.

Take a look at this white paper from Freshworks3, a call center software company. They make software that tracks customer cases, product failures, and the warranty status of customer products.

This white paper is not gated, meaning it’s open to anyone looking for a solution to read online, but you can also download it by providing your email address.

You can tell from the title and the introduction that it’s specifically targeted to call center agents, or more likely, team leaders, managers, or other lead agents responsible for improving the success of the call center agents.

Here’s the conclusion of that white paper:

It’s unlikely that Freshworks expects a call center agent to reach out to them. But they might expect a lead agent or agent supervisor to want to use this white paper’s information to reach out and ask more questions about their SaaS software solution.


Exercise #5

Update Your Swipe File Spreadsheet with an Audience Column

If you’ve been building your swipe file and keeping a tracking spreadsheet, add one more column to your tracker.

Go through your swipe file and record who the target audience is.

Remember, it could be multiple roles: users, managers, technical experts, financial decision-makers.

What clues did you notice about the paper that helped you decide who the target audience was?

In Conclusion

Besides the type of white paper you’re writing (Backgrounder, Numbered List, or Problem/Solution), you also need to know who the target audience is.

  • A Technical Audience is going to be most likely to read your white paper cover to cover, looking for solutions to problems, cutting edge technologies, and how your client’s product or service compares to what they have now.
  • Financial decision-makers will use your white paper to understand the impact of the investment or the savings their company could see from implementing your client’s product or solution.
  • Managers and business owners are looking for solutions to problems or to understand the current state of the industry. They’ll use key pieces of your white paper to decide if the product or service is worth looking into, then likely pass it to others on their staff to pursue.
  • Potential users just want their work lives to be improved. Your white paper should help them understand things can be better.

With your target audience in mind for each project, you’ll automatically write more effective white papers. And to ensure you do write the most effective white papers …

Move on to Lesson 6!