What is a whitepaper and how are they used?

Written by Kate Wobschall


what is a whitepaper

What is a whitepaper?

Have you ever been cheerfully browsing a website when up pops an offer to download a whitepaper? It’s rather intriguing – what is this mysterious whitepaper? Why do you need to read it? And what makes the business in question want to offer one in the first place?

The term whitepaper isn’t really a PR definition at all; in fact, it stems originally from politics, where it refers to a legislative document outlining and supporting a political policy. What you’re likely to have been offered is quite different.

In this scenario, whitepapers are a report or a guide that informs readers about a complex issue while presenting the author’s viewpoint or philosophy. As a marketing tool, a whitepaper can outline problems and commonly presenting a specific product or service as the ideal solution.

That’s not to say that they are just an extension of a company blurb or, worse still, advert or product pitch. A whitepaper should be detailed, brimming with relevant facts and studies and, above all, authoritative and informative.

A whitepaper is a chance to explore a particular pain point in detail then present a solution – and the reasons behind why that’s what you recommend. The aim is to inform and persuade through use of facts and research.

Typically, it will be 10-15 pages long and the emphasis is on content – it will contain references to credible third-party sources and be supported by charts and process diagrams.

It’s the e-book’s more academic cousin; it’s still well illustrated and (hopefully) contains some well-placed infographics but still contains a high level of expertise backed up with researched that’s referenced where necessary.

Why produce a whitepaper?

At first glance, a whitepaper might seem like a lot of work. Whitepapers are long, they require some in-depth research and need to be well-written. Producing a whitepaper requires commitment – it’s a sizeable document that needs to be thoroughly researched.

It can take weeks, even months, to produce a detailed, polished whitepaper of the right tone and appearance.

It’s not a few cheerful soundbites thrown together a few infographics, it needs to be highly professional in both appearance and language.

They aren’t designed to get people to buy your product now; they’re designed to position you as an expert in your field. An authority. Someone who knows their onions and can be trusted to give you the facts.

Is it right for my audience?

Whitepapers are generally aimed at a B2B audience rather than general consumers. They’re something of a slow burner but can form a crucial part of the buying process.

It’s tied in with the so-called rule of seven – seven being the number of interactions with a brand needed before the B2B customer will buy. It makes perfect sense – why would you spend your money with an unfamiliar company?

The presumption is that the customer knows what solutions they want; therefore, the paper itself needs to be written with a similar level of expertise.

That’s why a whitepaper can be such an important weapon in the B2B marketer’s arsenal – it’s of a certain gravitas and it will stand the test of time.

What are the benefits of a whitepaper?

In addition to building your business’s profile and expertise, a whitepaper can help build a mailing list. Typically, an email address is usually required in order to download a white paper; or it can be used as a free gift to encourage your audience to sign up for a newsletter.

As a means of generating leads, whitepapers have a great conversion rate as they offer both educational content and marketing material. They identify the reader’s pain points then present solutions and outline why your business’s offering will help address issues.

They can also help drive engagement on social media. Despite being regarded as something of a traditional marketing tool, the whitepaper is useful for tying in with digital marketing campaigns – it can be offered in exchange for a like or a follow.

Summary

The whitepaper is a serious piece of work, a mixture of educational and promotional material that can boost your business’s gravitas, particularly with a B2B audience. Producing one is not for the faint-hearted, however, so it’s always wise to consult a communications expert. At Faith PR, we’ve produced numerous whitepapers for clients in a diverse range of sectors – to find out more, please get in touch.

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