You do hear about “white papers” a lot lately, although the expression goes back about 90 years.
Originally the term referred to government documents that were concerned with policy analysis. Later the term was broadened to refer to any document with in-depth analysis of some social or governmental issue. Today the term is used more loosely to refer to any document, whether in government or technology, that presents an issue, analyzes it, and offers some kind of solution.
Many companies are now using this method as a cleverly hidden marketing ploy. The idea is to write a document that doesn’t look so much like a sales piece, but looks more like an informational paper. The white paper wouldn’t replace your other marketing tools, but would be in addition to them, and might even “piggy back” with them, as indicated below.
For example, let’s say you run a heating and air conditioning company. You install, repair, and replace systems in businesses and homes. You know that with some larger clients you need to establish your credibility and authority. If you want to supply all the units at a large new office building, you have to look like you know what you’re doing. You may have sales brochures, but to clinch the deal you want something more impressive. So you put together a 20-page white paper with these elements:
- You provide a general introduction that focuses on factors to be considered when selecting a heating/air conditioning contractor for a large building.
- You discuss issues such as cost, efficiency, environmental questions, etc.
- You provide a list of pros and cons for different kinds of systems.
- You summarize the strong and weak points of systems offered by different manufacturers.
- You close with some general statements, and provide information about your own business, but this should not be the focus of the piece because you don’t want it to look like a sales piece.
Once you have your white paper completed, you can use it a number of ways. You can send a mailing to architects and business developers within a 100-mile radius of your company. You can either mail them the report itself, or send a brief letter or post card offering a “free report” if they will contact your office. You can send a report to anyone who inquires about your company. You can place print ads or online ads offering a “free report” on request. You can leave copies at your local Chamber of Commerce. You can arrange to give a talk at a local Rotary Club and pass the reports out there. I’m sure you can come up with more ideas on your own.
Creating a white paper could work for you no matter what your business is. If you create technical tools or gadgets you’d be a perfect candidate. But even if you run a tire and auto repair business you can prepare white papers on tire selection, pros and cons of rebuilding an engine, maintenance schedules, and so on.
If you think you might want to try putting one together, here are some points to consider:
- Your paper can be of any length, but you want it to have a little “heft,” by which I mean it should be at least several pages. Beyond that, the length will depend on how much material you have to cover, if there will be diagrams and graphics, if you need a list of resources, etc.
- Your white paper should look like an educational document, and therefore it should appear to be “objective.” Give general facts. You may refer to things that inferior businesses do compared to superior performance, and then at the end you may subtly make it clear that your business offers a better alternative. But don’t let it look like a sales piece for you from the beginning.
- Your paper should provide good technical information, and should be written well (and fully proof-read to eliminate errors). In other words, the point of the paper is to impress your reader, so make sure it IS impressive. Have a “professional” team prepare your white paper, including a writer, graphic designer, and editor.
- With regard to technical information, make sure the level of information matches the level of understanding of your audience. If the reader will be highly informed your paper should not “talk down” to the reader and should give new information that the reader probably doesn’t know. But if your reader isn’t technically aware (for example, your heating/air conditioning paper is for business developers/real estate investors, not system designers) make sure it is understandable and gets your important points across as pertains to the specific needs of that type of reader.
I hope this doesn’t make it all sound like creating a white paper is too daunting. I think these can be great marketing tools, and really, you can adapt them any way you want. Start by thinking of a good topic that would be of great interest to your potential clients or customers. Then put together an outline, gather information, and start producing the report. You may already have a staff that can assist you with production, or your local print shop can probably give you the names of professionals you can use.
Just get started, and you may find it’s not that hard to turn a white paper into green money!