white papers

When most people think about white papers (assuming they think of white papers at all!), they probably see them as boring, bland and inaccessible, right? To be fair, it’s pretty accurate given most white papers are bland, boring and inaccessible!

A key part of the white paper’s low regard may have to do with the fact it was the love child of government policy, going back to 1922 when the U.K. government published the Churchill White Paper.

But don’t write off white papers because most companies stumble, bumble and fumble the ball by insist on sticking with the old ways of creating them. Instead, here’s a radically new approach: opportunities to deliver insight and thought leadership, while using creativity, good writing and some design flair. A marriage of white papers and design – what a different concept!

It helps to take a customer-centric view of white papers. You want people engaged and interested, while delivering rock-solid information about a product or industry trend. There is no reason why white papers aren’t accessible, as opposed to something people struggle through because they’re a necessary evil.

For startups, white papers let them show domain expertise (aka we’re really smart!). You want to create an impression by offering content that educates and drives food for thought.

You want someone to think about your startup in a new or different way. Maybe they will become a customer, maybe not, but you will have, hopefully, brought someone into your brand universe. Once that happens, there never know what opportunities will emerge.

So, why create a white paper? Try these on for size:

1. Show thought leadership and domain expertise.

2. Generating leads and sales – always a good thing!

3. Grow an email mailing list – another good thing!

4. Great way to fuel social media activity.

And make sure to follow these best practices:

1. Length doesn’t matter: For most white papers, 750 to 1,500 words is probably enough content to achieve your goals: education, engagement and, heck, entertainment. When a white paper is long, it seems like too much work to read, even if the content is good.

White papers also thrive when there is good writing that inspires, motivates and gets people thinking. The traditional image of a white paper is they are dull as molasses, but that formula is dead in the water given the fast-paced, instant gratification world.

2. Tell, don’t sell. White papers are NOT sales collateral. Well, they are sales collateral but certainly not in-your-face, you-need-to-buy now. Instead, white papers should meet interests of customers looking to learn more about a particular subject, trend or technology.

To serve them well, it is important that a white paper be authentic, focused and structured to educate rather than sell. The dividend for white papers that achieve these goals is people start to think of your brand in a positive way. Hopefully, it means your startup is top of mind when a purchase decision is happening.

3. Good design is critical. Ever read a white paper that is a sea of text? Ever want to read a sea of text? Design makes anything, including white papers, more accessible and inviting.

By using charts, graphics, photos, different colours and fonts, and interesting headlines, the sea of text disappears. Instead, there are well-defined sections that are more user-friendly and accessible. It makes no sense to create white papers if you don’t make it easy for people to read them.

4. Make it easy for people to discover and get your white paper. Promote it on your Website, email newsletters or social media so people are aware it exists. One of the best ways to extract value from a white paper is creating landing pages that provide a taste of the information being featured.

If someone wants to download it, they simply have to provide their name and email address – a small price to pay for valuable content. This creates a win-win scenario that delivers insight and information to the reader, and marketing and sales opportunities to company that created the white paper.

5. Leverage analytics: To drive marketing and sales activities, you will want to know how many people downloaded your white paper and, ideally, how many times they opened it, how much time they spent reading it, and how many links they clicked on.

Using a service such as Uberflip can provide valuable data to get even more ROI from publishing white papers.

Any suggestions on how to successfully create and distribute white papers? Any examples of creative or interesting white papers by startups?

More: Roanne Neuwirth looks at why white papers are still effective content marketing tools.


For start-ups and fast-growing companies looking to jump-start their marketing, I provide strategic and tactical marketing services: messaging, marketing strategies and content creation.

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