What Makes Good Evidence for a White Paper
You know you need convincing evidence for your white paper. But, what exactly does it look like? B2B marketing can be a little more rigorous than those college English essays you wrote; after all, millions of dollars can be at stake.
Use indisputable facts in your white paper
A fact is a concrete and provable reality, as opposed to an opinion, theory, or claim. Think of a fact as something another lawyer would stipulate. Know how to tell the difference. Too many business people try to pass off vague claims as facts.
The simplest offering to discuss factually is a piece of hardware that you can see, touch, and measure. Software is trickier because you see only the results of running the code, which exists only as electronic bits, not as a tangible object. And a service or process is the hardest to describe factually, because it’s conceptual and often varies a little every time it’s delivered.
Some of the indisputable facts you can use in a white paper include the following:
Actual size, weight, or physical characteristics of the product
List of components or modules in the product
Stages or steps in using the product
Patents or trademarks granted to the company for the product
Standards or certifications granted to the product or company, such as CE, CSA, Energy Star, ISO, NOM, UL, and so on
Use rock-solid numbers in your white paper
By definition, numbers seem more precise, scientific, and convincing than words, which are always a little fuzzy and interchangeable. So what kind of numbers can you use in a white paper? To start, make sure you find the best statistics from impeccable sources. Then, for a reality check, try to confirm every stat from a second source.
For example, if one source says a market is worth $3 billion a year, but another says $3 million, you’ve got some work to do. Delve into how both sources sized the market, what they included and excluded, and their methods. If you can’t resolve the difference or find another estimate, consider giving both as a range of opinion.
In a way, the numbers you use are somewhat prescribed by which flavor of white paper you’re researching. For example, in a backgrounder, you can talk about any numbers to do with the offering, such as the following:
Benchmark scores or test results of the product
Lines of codes in the software
Miles of wiring in each system
Number of features or functions provided
Person-years it took to create (but don’t exaggerate!)
Total installed base, total number of users
Years tested, years on the market
In a numbered list, you already have a set of numbers, one for each main point of your discussion. Don’t clutter up that flavor with many other numbers, or you’ll dull that impact. In a strange way, the power of numbers gives the points in a numbered list more gravitas, even if the whole tone of the piece is tongue-in-cheek.
In a problem/solution white paper, use numbers to show the scope of the industry-wide problem. How much money is spent fighting it every year? How much profit does it drain from the industry? Estimate the results from each existing solution, and show why that’s not enough. And then give some powerful numbers to prove that your new offering attacks the problem in a bigger way than anything else.
Find some credible numbers about how much better your new solution works, such as how much time and money it saves, how much more revenue and profit it generates, how much longer it lasts, or any other numbers you can justify.
Remember, percentages are especially tricky. A percentage is nothing more than a comparison between two other numbers.
Use awards, accolades, and acknowledgments in your white paper
Even though awards, accolades, and acknowledgments are based on opinions, at least these opinions all come from third parties, so they still boost a B2B vendor’s credibility. And if your offering ever wins an industry award, appears in a magazine article or review, or gets included in an analyst report, that counts for something, too.
Most of all, if you have any customers who are raving fans, you can incorporate a brief testimonial or case study in your white papers; certainly this type of an opinion would fit nicely into a backgrounder.
Any of these sources fall into this category of third-party opinions:
Awards, best-of, editor’s choice
Favorable comments from experts
List of top 100 firms
Reviews or third-party endorsements
Use unassailable logic in your white paper
This category isn’t really evidence; it’s a logical argument or rhetorical device. When you can’t prove some claim one way or another with facts, figures, or even opinions, you must resort to rhetoric. You can’t do this throughout your entire white paper, though, because that means you have no more powerful evidence to provide.
But if the rest of your paper is backed up well, and what you say on one point or another is thoughtful and reasonable, most readers will give you the point. Make sure your argument is like all the rest of your evidence: tough, solid, and free from any obvious flaws.