There are as many different types of white papers as there are buyers and products. I wrote about this a while ago: When is a white paper not a white paper?
Sometimes clients offer to provide an outline. That actually doesn’t help much–outlining is for me part of the writing process.
5 questions for a successful white paper
What I really want is for the client to answer the following 5 questions:
Who is the audience? Who is the intended audience for this paper?
What part of the lead lifecycle are they in? Do the readers know they have a problem yet? Are they researching alternatives? Shoring up support for taking action?
How will you distribute the paper? Are you using the paper to attract new leads? As part of an email campaign? Or are you just plopping it up in your Resources page. (Hint – that alone may not be quite enough to be effective.)
What’s the call to action? What action do you want the reader to take after reading it?
What are your SEO keywords: How are prospects likely to search for the solutions you’re offering?
Sometimes the answers are vague, or as-yet-undefined. That’s fine, I make my best guess and continue. But the answers to those questions will influence important decisions in the writing, such as:
- The proper balance between promotion and education: The later in the sales cycle, the more appropriate it is to be pitching your own solutions more directly. Pieces earlier in the cycle need to more more general and build a relationship with the prospect.
- Tone and style
- Format: How important are graphics, callouts, and other scannable features. (It depends on part on where people are likely to read the paper.)
- What’s an appropriate length? Even sentence length should be shorter if the piece will be read online.
- Word choice: Knowing the SEO keywords will influence word selection, particularly in headings.
The next time you ask a writer (freelance or in-house) for a white paper, see if you can answer these questions first. You’re likely to get a much more focused and effective result.