White Papers For Dummies book cover

White Papers For Dummies

By: Gordon Graham Published: 04-08-2013

A fast and easy way to write winning white papers!

Whether you’re a marketing manager seeking to use white papers to promote your business, or a copywriter keen to break into this well-paying field, White Papers For Dummies gives you a wealth of practical, hands-on advice from one of the world’s leading experts in the field.

The fact-based documents known as white papers have been called the “king of content.” No other B2B marketing piece can do more to generate leads, nurture prospects, and build mindshare.

Where white papers were once used only by technology firms, they are becoming “must-have” items in the marketing toolkit for almost any B2B firm. Practically every startup must produce a white paper as part of its business planning.

But writing effective white papers is a big challenge. Now you can benefit from the experience of a white paper specialist who’s done more than 200 projects for clients from Silicon Valley to Finland, from mighty Google to tiny startups. Author Gordon Graham—also known as That White Paper Guy—provides dozens of tips and tricks to help your project come together faster and easier.

White Papers For Dummies will help you to:

  • Quickly determine if your B2B firm could benefit from a white paper
  • Master the three phases of every white paper project:
    planning, production, and promotion
  • Understand when and how to use the three main types of white paper
  • Decide which elements to include and which to leave out
  • Learn the best practices of seasoned white paper researchers and writers
  • Choose from 40 different promotional tactics to get the word out
  • Avoid common mistakes that many beginners make

Articles From White Papers For Dummies

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41 results
41 results
White Papers For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet / Updated 03-25-2022

White papers are the “king of content” that can help any B2B company build mindshare, generate leads, engage prospects, and undercut competitors. But to get powerful results, you need to use white papers effectively. Make sure to provide useful information that can help a business person understand an issue, solve a problem, or make a decision.

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How to Work with a Researcher when Writing a White Paper

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Most companies don’t have researchers available to help out white paper writers. Some independent writers do hire researchers to do the grunt work of finding the perfect quotes, stats, and factoids to sprinkle through a white paper. And probably more writers should give this a try. This arrangement can be a marriage made in heaven or the exact opposite. To work smoothly with a researcher, start by giving him right-sized directions: not too wide, not too narrow. For example, suppose you need to research virtual worlds for teens. You don’t want your researcher to send you 75 articles about virtual worlds in general; that’s too broad. For the basics, ask him for the top three or four articles that explain virtual worlds. After that, he should focus on how teens use these worlds. By the same token, don’t ask your researcher to look into using Acme WorldBuilder 3.1 to create a virtual world. That’s way too narrow. (If your white paper happens to be about Acme WorldBuilder 3.1, you don’t need a researcher. Just get your background from your client.) A researcher can work on several levels, depending on what you arrange. He can simply collect likely sources and send you links or PDFs to explore. To save you more time, he can scan through each source and highlight the best bits. Under Windows, you can highlight a PDF by using the free Adobe Reader. Under Mac OS, you can highlight a PDF by using the built-in Preview app. Even if you and your researcher use different systems, any highlighting shows up when you open a PDF on any machine. Finally, insist that your researcher sends complete and well-sourced materials, not just snippets or his interpretations of something he found online. You want your researcher to bundle up his sources for you just as carefully as you package up sources for a client.

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Using Innovative Software to Enhance the Writing Process

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Any real writer can work with paper and pencil, if he has to, or scrawl words on the wall with the end of a shoelace dipped in soot. But everyone uses computers now. So if you ever wonder, “What software should I use for writing? Graphics? Publishing?” the short answer is that you can’t go too far wrong with Microsoft Word. One of the best things about Word is that everyone else has it. With more than 500 million users around the world, Word is the industry standard for creating documents. You can use Word for outlining, writing, footnoting, checking readability, collecting comments, tracking revisions, creating graphics, styling text, and doing the final formatting of a white paper. Even though Word provides a versatile set of tools, it can’t do everything. What else is there? Consider three other types of software that could help you with a white paper project. Brainstorming software Brainstorming or creativity software has never really caught on with the mainstream. Because so few use it, it could be your secret weapon. One intriguing product is ThoughtOffice. ThoughtOffice is a database of nearly 20 million word associations. Using this software, you can enter a seed word and see dozens of related terms, metaphors, and idioms. For example, if you type the word “baseball,” you instantly see 100 associations, from “Babe Ruth” to “utility player.” Click again, and you see another 100, and so on. The program can also serve up quotes, lyrics, rhymes, and synonyms. You can use ThoughtOffice to find a master metaphor to tie your white paper together, explore ideas for graphics, or develop a more compelling title. And you can use it for anything, not only white papers. If you work with words and ideas for a living, you owe it to yourself to check it out. Voice recognition software Wouldn’t it be fabulous to dictate your next white paper while pacing your office, riding your exercycle, or even walking the dog? Well, this idea isn’t science fiction. It’s here now, effective, and fast. You can save hours with voice recognition software, because you can talk faster than you type. You can dictate into a handheld recorder or smartphone while you’re out for a walk and then plug that file into your computer to be processed. You talk; the computer types. Sweet. In the past 15 years, the improvements in voice recognition have been stunning, to the point that this software now works extremely well right out of the box, with no training. The industry standard products are Dragon Naturally Speaking on the PC and Dragon Dictate on the Mac, both from Nuance. When they claim up to 99 percent accuracy, it’s true. You may find that dictating can help you turn out a much faster and better first draft. Rudimentary voice recognition is included with both Windows and Mac OS. They give you a small taste of what’s possible, but they’re slower and less accurate than the Nuance software. So you probably won’t find these powerful enough to produce a white paper. For a longer discussion of using voice recognition software to write white papers, see thatwhitepaperguy.com. Graphics software Most writers aren’t artists. So how can you get a decent graphic for a white paper when you have no money in the budget or time in the schedule for professional artwork? This is where SmartDraw comes to the rescue. Anyone who can use Word can use this software to create business-quality graphics that are certainly good enough to include in a white paper. SmartDraw is bundled with hundreds of pre-drawn graphics to get you started. You can run through 70 different categories of graphics for ideas, find a sample close to what you need, and tweak it for your own purposes. Need to enter your own text? Go ahead. Need to delete some elements and add others? Click, click. Need to change the color scheme to match the company branding? Click. For a one-time cost that’s about the same as hiring an artist to create a couple of custom diagrams, you can buy this software and use it on an ongoing basis. And it’s equally handy for making graphics for slide decks, documentation, or any other purposes. You can download a trial version to check it out.

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Incorporate New Media into White Papers

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Tomorrow’s white papers will likely incorporate new media beyond text and graphics; they may even move beyond the paradigm of a fixed document into a flexible cluster of information accessed via the web or a mobile app. No one can predict the exact timetable for this evolution. It will probably occur in fits and starts, with most companies making cautious forays into new territory, while a few plunge ahead to break new ground. The quality of these efforts will also vary, with production values for each medium ranging from quite amateurish to very professional, just as they do today. Compare the fuzzy images and muffled sound of a teenager’s upload to YouTube with any clip from a big-budget feature film. Whatever the timetable and the standards, B2B marketers should get used to the idea of using animation, audio, video, and interactivity in the future. This chapter provides some ideas on how to gather and develop new media to add to white papers. Adding interest with animation An animation is a graphic where something moves to convey information. A common example is when each point of a slide flies in to build the final slide. The ultimate form of animation is a cartoon or full-length animated feature. Because the human eye is sensitive to motion, adding movement to a static graphic can help make it more engaging. If motion can help tell a story or explain the key point of a graphic, consider using it. For example, in any type of flowchart or process diagram, an animation can convey information or material moving from one point to the next. And many infographics could be improved by a touch of animation to lead the viewer’s eyes through the wealth of information presented. To see a relevant animation in action, visit VizEdu. This site is devoted to visual primers and provides many animations on different topics. You can see how simple an animation can be, yet how much impact it can add. You can also see that some animations work better than others. Animation is underrated and underused in B2B marketing, perhaps because few artists are trained how to do it and few marketers visualize how it can improve a presentation. Certainly, few business people have the confidence or expertise to do business-quality animations on their own. Perhaps that will change in the future. Engaging an audience with audio The U.S Census Board says the average American spends almost an hour a day commuting to work. During that time, some people listen to music; others just relax and unwind. That time represents a huge potential for using audio with white papers. For your audience members who drive to work, why not create an audio version of a white paper to download and listen to in the car? You could rewrite the white paper for the ear as a script and then have someone with training in acting, radio, or voiceovers record it. You could have the audio file available for download from the white paper landing page and promote it as a free podcast on iTunes. For those commuting by train or bus — who can safely use mobile devices — why not add short clips of interviews or speeches as clickable sidebars right in the PDF they view on their screens? You could include audio clips from interviews the writer did with subject matter experts to research the white paper. Many writers record these interviews, so including these audio files would be a simple way to repurpose that content in a new and engaging way. Capturing attention with video Video is kind of “the mother of all media” because it can incorporate many other formats including animation, speech, sound, and music. You can use video effectively to complement a white paper in many ways. The most basic is to add a talking head — some expert talking as a tiny picture-in-a-picture image — that elaborates on a single point. At the other extreme, a vendor can sponsor a documentary-style production that presents all the same material as the white paper does, but in a visually interesting way. B2B vendors aren’t yet using video routinely in white papers, perhaps because there’s still a big gap in skills, confidence, and budgets. After all, how many marketing people have experience making video? That means hiring a scriptwriter, director, videographer, on-air talent, plus people to do lighting, makeup, costumes, and edit the video into a professional-looking production. Even if they know where to find people in all these specialties, how many marketers can afford a full-blown video production? Just as the breakthroughs of desktop publishing took some years to percolate through every industry, the use of video in B2B marketing will take time to become common. Still, more companies are gaining experience with video every year, a trend that’s bound to continue, because it’s driven both by technology and demographics. Following are some of the most likely ways to use video with a white paper: Talking-head interviews B-roll Video executive summary Video sidebars Video conclusions Complete video version of a white paper Talking-head interviews The most obvious place to start with video is to plunk down a camera in front of a company executive or subject matter expert, give him a few leading questions to get started, and then zoom in for a “talking-head shot.” If you use this format, choose someone with the discipline to stay on topic and express him thoughts in short, pithy statements. When filming an interview, keep these pointers in mind: Check the color of the suit, shirt, tie, or scarf worn by your on-air talent to make sure it doesn’t create a moiré (wavy) pattern or halo in your recording. Get your expert talking and relaxed, perhaps by asking him a few generic questions at the start before you get into the meatier content. Don’t use a teleprompter unless you’re dealing with a senior executive who’s used one and can read the text with conviction while looking into the camera naturally. B-roll Although a talking head is easy to record, the results use none of the amazing possibilities of the medium. Video can present moving, color pictures of anything in the whole world, so why limit it to a talking head? One way to get beyond a talking head is to use stock video the same way you use stock photography. For example, alternate talking-head footage with B-roll video with a voice-over, just like in a local news broadcast. Or splice together bits of B-roll with charts, graphs, or slides that tell your story and dispense with the talking head altogether. To find a useful B-roll source, Google “free video” or “free B-roll” or “B-roll sources” and turn up many sites that distribute free or low-cost video clips. You can pay anywhere from nothing up to several hundred dollars per clip, depending on your budget and the specific imagery you need. And don’t overlook government sites and agencies like NASA, which have a wealth of footage available as well. Video executive summary Another way to use video is to create a one- or two-minute video clip that covers the executive summary of a white paper and invites people to read it. This clip can be used as a promotional tool on YouTube to build downloads of the white paper and placed on the landing page to give visitors a quick preview of what the white paper content is all about. If desired, the video version of the executive summary can be included in the PDF as well. Then people who download the white paper can get started by watching a short video that “tells them what you’re going to tell them.” Video sidebars Another likely way to use videos in white papers is for brief sidebars that drill down to provide more detail on a particular point. These sidebars can be inserted on a page as a clickable frame, like the well-known YouTube screen. Some likely uses for these sidebars include Analyst comments Documentaries on identified problems or solutions Product demos for software Sample uses for hardware Slides or animations to explain methodologies Customer case studies or testimonials Video conclusions At the end of a white paper, the same person who provided the executive summary or welcome can offer a wrap-up and call to action. He can offer a more compelling conclusion and personally invite people to take the next step to engage with the vendor. You could show the company website or toll-free phone number during the call to action, but make sure to do so tastefully — not like in a blaring infomercial. Complete video version Another way to use video is to convert the white paper into a video presentation, like a documentary that runs 10 or 20 minutes. Doing so will probably require the kind of seasoned skills found only in experienced TV producers, directors, and crews. Some obvious questions about this approach concern the ideal length, budget — perhaps $25,000 or more — time frame required, and whether this kind of video production would generate sufficient ROI to be justified. Early video versions of white papers haven’t been encouraging because they haven’t broken out of the document mold. To be successful, a video version of a white paper must truly use the strengths of the format as a way to tell stories and present arguments with moving pictures. Don’t call some mash-up of text and video clips a video white paper. That term is a total oxymoron, right up there with jumbo shrimp. How can any one piece of marketing be both video and paper? Clearly, it can’t. Anyone who uses this term is just trying to apply the gravitas of the white paper format onto whatever mishmash he produces. But it won’t stick, so please don’t try. Incorporating interactivity Interactivity means clicking an area of the screen or page to do something, go somewhere, or engage with the content or the sponsor in some way. The most common forms of interactivity include links to websites, online widgets, social media, or QR codes. All these interactions are possible in today’s PDF white papers. Not all these interactions are routinely used by many B2B marketers, likely because they require extra resources for web programming and design. But their time will come, if the effectiveness of these tactics is proven out. Any of these interactions can serve as an excellent call to action, bringing prospects back to your website to engage more with your company. If your privacy policy allows, you can even capture the information a prospect enters in a widget or survey form and use it to help personalize any further content you deliver to each prospect in the future. Links to websites A link to the sponsor’s website is the most likely form of interaction in a white paper. Some vendors also create links to the sources footnoted. If you work with a complex supply chain, consider linking to the largest or friendliest of your distributors or resellers. The same caveat applies to links from your website: You worked hard to get someone there. Try to keep them as long as you can. You don’t want to give them too many opportunities to click away to somewhere else. Links to online widgets A link to an online widget can be a powerful interaction. One form is an ROI calculator where a prospect fills in his numbers and sees how much his company could earn or save with the vendor’s offering. Another is a table where the B2B buyer fills in some numbers on some aspect of their operation to compare their company to the top-, middle-, and lowest-rated companies in their industry. Or a survey can ask a handful of questions and then derive a score on some aspect of their operation. Some vendors may be able to create games or simulations that provide interaction while delivering insights about a certain market space or offering. Links to social media You’ve seen those common icons linking to various social media channels. This tactic doesn’t need to wait; you can implement it today. In the contact section of your white paper, make sure to include an icon for all the social media channels you use, especially LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+. Then an engaged reader viewing your white paper as a PDF on-screen can click to comment, visit your company page, or retweet your white paper. Only include links that actually make sense. For example, does your company really have any interest in linking to Digg, Facebook, Pinterest, or Tumblr? Just because you can find the icon, you don’t have to use it. QR codes The jury is still out on whether those QR codes you can scan with a smartphone app deliver any useful results to marketers. Sure, the codes work when people scan them. The question is, do enough people scan them? If you’re sure a significant portion of your audience is young people with a smartphone, implementing QR codes may well be worth the minimal cost. As a best practice, don’t just stick in a mystery code; give your B2B buyers a strong hint about what they’ll see if they bother to scan the code in your white paper. You want to show them some further information or take them to the web page that supports the next step in the sales cycle, not just bring them to your home page.

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Managing Your Computer Documents during the Writing Process

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Modern technology certainly isn’t foolproof. One morning, your computer may refuse to boot. Or as you’re cleaning up your hard drive, you mistakenly delete the wrong files. And here it comes, that sickening feeling that you’ve just lost hours or even days of hard work. You need to protect yourself against that. You don’t want to lose big chunks of effort, not even once or twice a year. Fortunately, many vendors are busy working out solutions to help people with this problem. You can choose from many free, easy, or relatively inexpensive backup options to prevent losing all your hard work. Here are four suggestions for safeguarding your work: Save two copies of every file you work on. Back up your current white paper on a flash drive. Have your computer make automatic on-site backups. Use a cloud service for off-site backups. Using all four of these backups is probably overkill. But you do need one option for on-site backups, in case your file gets scrambled, and another for off-site, in case your office burns down or your computer gets lost, stolen, or destroyed. Saving multiple copies of every Word file The simplest way to protect yourself from losing hours of work is to save two copies of every file you work on. Start by saving a Word file with a name such as “Acme Paper Burden May-27.docx.” Then, ten minutes later, save the file with a slightly different name: “Acme Paper Burden May-27 backup.docx.” After ten more minutes, save as the original name again, and so on throughout your work session. This pattern creates two working copies of the same file in case one gets deleted or scrambled. Taking a few seconds to save a second copy is cheap insurance. You can also save fresh copies every day you work on a project. So you start in the morning by opening the “Acme Paper Burden May-27.docx” file. Then the first time you save that file, you save it with a new name, such as “Acme Paper Burden May-28.docx.” Then you go on, saving both your May-28 files as previously described. Sure, all those files clutter up your hard drive, but you can delete them when the project is over. And, anyway, storage is cheap, but your time is valuable. Making manual backups on flash drives Speaking of cheap storage, flash drives keep getting bigger and less expensive. You can afford to have one for every project and carry it around in your pocket or purse in case your office burns down. At the end of the day, save your two latest files for the project (“whatever date.docx” and “whatever date backup.docx”) on your flash drive, and take it with you for easy, affordable, off-site storage. You just have to remember to do it. Having your computer make automatic on-site backups You have Word set to make an automatic backup every ten minutes, right? So even if your current file gets corrupted, you’ve never lost more than ten minutes of work? If not, stop reading and do that right now. Just go to Options from the File menu, then Save and then Save AutoRecover Information. Beyond that, have your Windows or Mac machine make automatic backups for you. Windows 7 includes a Backup utility, but it’s so geeky that most Windows users never touch it. Windows 8 provides a feature called File History that’s far easier to use. And on a Mac, Time Machine is a simple built-in utility. Regardless of the platform you use, buy a large external drive, like 2 terabytes (TB), and then set up automatic backups to happen at least once an hour onto your external drive and just let them run. Using a cloud service for off-site backups You need off-site backup for a true disaster, like when your computer gets stolen or destroyed. The best option today is storage in the cloud. There are almost 50 cloud services to choose from, from Apple’s iCloud to Windows SkyDrive, not to mention Google Drive, DropBox, and dedicated backup services like Carbonite and Mozy. You can just set and forget any of these services and hope that you never need them. Again, they’re cheap insurance.

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Defining the Three Main Types of White Papers

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Use the right type of white paper for the right challenge: either a backgrounder, a numbered list, or a problem/solution. The following table outlines the features of each type of white paper and gives you an idea of when to use each one. Characteristic Backgrounder Numbered List Problem/Solution Definition An in-depth look at the features and benefits of a certain product or service A numbered set of tips, questions, answers, or points about some issue A persuasive essay that uses facts and logic to present a new solution to a problem Audience B2B buyers near the bottom of the sales funnel Anyone interested in the issue B2B buyers near the top of the sales funnel; also analysts, bloggers, channel partners, and journalists Approach A factual description of the technical or business benefits of a product or service A light and lively roundup of points or highlights about some issue Useful information about an industry-wide problem that educates readers and positions your company as a trusted advisor When to use To support your firm’s position as an undisputed leader in the field To support technical evaluations To support a product launch To get attention with provocative views To cast FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) on competitors To nurture prospects through a complex sale To generate leads To educate your market To build recognition for your company Length 8+ pages plus cover 5 to 7+ pages plus cover 8 to 12 pages plus cover Typical contents Introduction Features and benefits of each feature Conclusions and call to action About the company Introduction Numbered points (between 3 and 9) Conclusions and call to action (optional) About the company (optional) Executive summary Industry-wide problem Existing solutions and drawbacks New, improved solution Case study (optional) Buyer’s guide Conclusions and call to action About the company

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Jazzing Up the Appearance of a White Paper

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Few people will read a text-only white paper. You can provide visual relief by using at least one of these text enhancements on every page: Bullets: Use a small amount of text after each bullet; avoid lists of 20 or more bullets or several paragraphs of text after each bullet. Headings: Use two sets of headings, big and bold; write active headings to help people skim, scan, and skip. Pull quotes: Extract up to 20 words that give the key point from a page; format these quotes larger at the side; check magazines to see how it’s done. Sidebars: Pull out nonessential side issues or lists and put them in a tinted box to keep readers focused on the main thread. Tables: Present numbers, options, or lists in a table to save words and make information easier to digest. White space: Leave breathing room at the top, bottom, and sides of each page; run text no more than 60 characters wide to make reading easier.

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Promoting a White Paper for Maximum Impact

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

To get your target audience to notice your new white paper, you need to unveil it like a mini-product launch. Try different promotional tactics and repeat as long as they keep working. Don’t abandon promotions too soon, and use all these must-do tactics: Create a landing page with an abstract Feature the white paper prominently on your website Mention it in company newsletters E-mail your sales force and channel partners (if any) E-mail your house opt-in list Tweet it on Twitter Blog about it Announce it to relevant LinkedIn groups Publish a press release Send it to relevant journalists Send it to relevant bloggers Get it mentioned in channel partner newsletters Post it on free white paper sites Create a slide deck Send your slide deck to your sales force and channel partners (if any)

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What’s the Difference Between White Papers and Other Marketing Materials?

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

B2B marketing teams generate all sorts of content to get the word out about their products or services, including white papers, blog posts, brochures, case studies, and e-books. Not everyone knows what sets each type apart from all the rest or when to choose one over another. White papers vs. blog posts Most people can tell the difference between a white paper and a blog post. For starters, a white paper is much longer. Beyond that, a good white paper is based on established facts and logical arguments, like a well-researched article in an industry journal. But a blog post can be sheer opinion or even a rant, like a letter to the editor. After you write a white paper, you can easily create blog posts from it. In fact, a good white paper contains enough ideas to fuel several posts. Here’s the best way to use both together: Publish an effective white paper. Extract one key idea to blog about. At the end of the blog, point to the landing page for the full white paper. Repeat Steps 2 and 3 to cover all the key ideas in the white paper. Using the SEO power of your blog helps build visibility and downloads for your white paper. However, don’t expect an instant rush of web traffic. Business buyers take a good white paper far more seriously than a blog post. After you publish a white paper as a numbered list, make sure to blog about it. Your blog can present the bare list of numbered points and direct readers who want more details to the full white paper. Your white paper can present more detail, more evidence, and more logical arguments than the blog post. White papers vs. brochures White papers and brochures are almost complete opposites. Brochures are sales documents intended to create interest and desire, often by pushing emotional buttons, such as fear, greed, envy, or vanity. Brochures are generally colorful, flashy, and filled with promises, using copywriting and advertising techniques. White papers, on the other hand, are persuasive essays about a certain B2B product, service, technology, methodology, or new solution to an old problem. White papers persuade through irrefutable facts, ironclad logic, impeccable statistics, and quotes from industry opinion makers. They’re generally less flashy and more factual. A white paper should be more dignified, substantial, and informative than a brochure, using plain English and the occasional rhetorical device. Some companies simply reformat an existing brochure and call the results a white paper. Doing so is a waste of effort that irritates most readers when they discover you’ve given them nothing but a sales pitch. Take the time to write a proper white paper, and you’ll be rewarded with more leads, better word of mouth, and increased sales. White papers vs. case studies Case studies are extended testimonials on how a product or service helped someone in the real world. They’re typically 750 to 1,200 words long, written in a journalistic style with many quotes from the customer. Case studies tend to be used later in the sales cycle to reassure a prospect that other buyers just like them benefited from the same offering and are prepared to endorse the vendor. White papers, on the other hand, are persuasive essays, generally 3,000 words or more, written in a somewhat academic style, with no direct quotes from the vendor. A white paper may use the problem/solution structure but rarely before/after. White papers tend to be used earlier in the sales cycle to help prospects visualize a possible solution to a nagging problem. You can include a brief case study inside a white paper, either as a sidebar, a proof point in the text, or a pull quote. You’ll likely need to condense the case study and include only the bare outline of the story, such as the bottom-line results. White papers vs. e-books This doesn’t mean an e-Pub version of the latest vampire novel for tweens. I’m thinking only of the e-books published by B2B companies as part of their marketing efforts. And these two marketing documents — an e-book and a white paper — are often the most difficult of all to tell apart. With no clear standards or conventions established yet for e-books, people call just about anything an e-book. An e-book can be anywhere from 10 to 100 pages long and packaged as a PDF, slide deck, or some lesser-known format. An e-book can have a lot of color and graphics, or not much at all. Fans of e-books call them “the hip and stylish younger sister to the nerdy white paper,” while those of the opposite opinion say things like, “put some lipstick on a white paper and you’ve got an e-book.”

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What Makes Good Evidence for a White Paper

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

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: Analyst reports Awards, best-of, editor’s choice Customer testimonials 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.

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