The doctoral dissertation of the content marketing world.
WHAT IS A WHITEPAPER?
A whitepaper is a valuable tool for presenting meaningful, well-researched, and comprehensive information that addresses a particular business issue. You may not get to call yourself "Doctor" after writing one, but you should think of your audience as the equivalent of a dissertation committee: If you expect to win their approval (and their potential business) you'll need to supply real data and unique insights in an well-crafted, authoritative package.
What is the purpose of a whitepaper?
While a whitepaper can drive sales directly, its primary function is to build brand equity. Your goal is to draw attention to your competencies as an organization, particularly your problem-solving abilities and your in-depth understanding of an issue that matters to your audience.
A whitepaper gives your brand more legitimacy as a reputable organization, putting you top of mind as a trustworthy choice when your audience is ready to buy.
What does a whitepaper include?
As with many things in the marketing world, there is no rigid template for what a whitepaper should look like. However, because it is a research paper, you can expect to see certain common components. For a typical whitepaper focusing on a specific business problem, for example, you might use the following format:
- a table of contents
- executive summary
- discussion of the problem
- hypothesized solution
- real-world examples
For different topics, other sections — like an analysis of data or trends — might be useful.
Three other points to keep in mind:
- Don't take the dissertation metaphor too far. Include graphics and charts throughout the paper to break up walls of text, keep it readable, and help your readers visualize the data.
- Expect it to be at least 5-10 pages, given the above-mentioned sections. Of course, there is no limit on length, and this can vary by topic.
- Whatever your typical brand voice may be, the tone in a whitepaper will generally be more formal, concise, and direct. Once again, a whitepaper is not intended to convert, but rather to highlight your legitimacy as a thought leader in your industry.
How to write a whitepaper
Ready to start boosting your brand's h-index? (Just kidding — we're not going that academic.) Here are the steps to constructing a whitepaper:
Identify the issue
This is the most important part of the puzzle. You need to identify an issue that your audience cares about, that is related to your business, and that you can provide unique insights about.
Conduct extensive research
After identifying the issue, it's time to dive into datasets, trusted sites, and primary sources. Unlike other common marketing tools, like blog posts or eBooks, a whitepaper will require intensive research. You want to go deep, and you need to be able to present a holistic and well-reasoned view of the topic in order to establish authority.
Build the paper
You've got the research, and you know the ins and outs of your position. It's time to put it into words! Start by building a standard format (like the one above) or using your company's existing template. Then, fill in the blanks.
Get meaningful feedback and edit
Once the first draft is done, it's time to get feedback and edit your work. Reach out to stakeholders and thought leaders in your organization for their feedback and make any necessary changes.
Congratulations, you've completed your dissertation in content marketing! (Basically.) More importantly, you have built a meaningful document that will help your organization gain legitimacy and strengthen its brand. You'll likely want to make it available as gated content, providing your whitepaper as a PDF to readers who give you their contact information.
What is the difference between a whitepaper and an eBook?
While whitepapers and eBooks certainly have some overlap, they are not the same thing. A whitepaper is an in-depth research paper on a particular topic, with plenty of hard data to back it up. An eBook, on the other hand, takes a more generalized approach and is often lighter on analytical, quantitative content.
A whitepaper is for the heavy-hitters of your audience, the "academics" in your industry, while an eBook is usually intended to be more of a marketing tool and thus is targeted to a wider audience.
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