Whether you spell it ‘whitepaper’ or ‘white paper’ they started in the 1990s and offered text-heavy documents that were meant to be printed out and read. With the creation of the PDF in 1993 things got easier when offering text-based printable content. Fast forward to the designed and downloadable whitepaper of today. Ta-da! It’s still a top performing piece of content for B2Bs and is a high-performing lead generator. 

So, what is a whitepaper?

A whitepaper is a long-form piece of content that focuses on a singular topic. It is usually designed, several pages in length, and can be printed. It’s basically a persuasive essay! Whitepapers are commonly used as an opt-in piece of content in b2b orgs as the insights are sought after and dig deeper than your average blog post. 

Think about it, a company is looking to spend a fair chunk of money on your offering and they want to have a better understanding around the value of what you’re offering. It’s not as easy as visiting a store and trying something on. It’s classified as a ‘complex sale’ and needs a bit of support.  

Your whitepaper should not be a sales pitch or a brochure, but offer them practical and educational content. The biggest mistakes in whitepapers is to do too much selling and ‘me, me, me’. Instead, you should think about providing helpful information. Make sure that your claims are followed by actual proof. Your whitepaper should be a strong argument for your offering without the sales pitch. And above all, put yourself in the role of the prospect and make sure that the whitepaper addresses their concerns, problems or cares.

When you’re looking at creating a b2b whitepaper there are three types to consider: 

  1. A numbered list 
  2. A problem/solution
  3. A backgrounder 

Each type has a purpose and a life-span to consider. Some are easier to write than others. 

  • The list. The list is probably the easiest to create but is the lightest on insights. 
  • The backgrounder. This one is more time sensitive so has the shortest life. 
  • The problem/solution. The problem/solution is the most valuable, has the longest life, but is the most difficult to write. 

Which whitepaper type you choose will depend upon your capabilities (your team), where in the funnel you plan on using it, and what persona/role you are targeting. There is no ideal structure or length, although I’ve seen stats like ‘5-pages’ as an ideal length. I think as long as each page adds good value then you’re doing fine.

To write a whitepaper that has some serious chomps avoid strong sales pitches or puff in your whitepaper, and don’t focus too much on yourself (your business). Yes, I understand that the purpose is to find new business. But just like cold calling, the interjection of your business bravado can be seen as rude (interrupting) in the middle of their research (reading). Try to keep your company info to the minimum and stick to offering insights and showcasing your thought leadership and industry skills. The best way to do this is to back up your content with research (facts). If you don’t have the research to back up your information then don’t write a whitepaper.


Don’t forget whitepaper design

As marketing gets faster and faster with different social platforms and tactics, your whitepaper should be designed to attract and engage. Not many people would download and read an essay about something they’re looking to purchase. So the element of design should add value to the information much like a good annual report. 

The term I’ve seen used here is ‘visually rich’ and I think that’s a good term to keep in mind. Things to think about when looking at whitepaper design:

  • Charts
  • Callouts
  • Takeaways
  • Infographics

And these types of graphics can be used on your landing page and in social media to help promote your whitepaper. Just don’t let the design overpower or take over the information. 

Promoting your whitepaper

Once you have your whitepaper ready to go and they are safely in a delivery system (either delivered via email or available immediately after form submission) you then need to build out a landing page. It should be simple, clean, and its sole purpose is to have visitors opt-in to receive your whitepaper. The form should be easy to fill in and not be exhaustive in fields. Yes, I know you want to know all these things about your prospects but I don’t recommend putting them all in one form. It will drive away prospects by deterring them. And make sure your landing page can be shared socially. And best practice is to include a thumbnail of the whitepaper cover so they know what they’re getting.

Once your landing page is up and functional, then you can promote it:

  • Social posts – announce in groups, general post, put in page description, etc.
  • Email signature
  • Email your list
  • Send it to relevant bloggers (if any)
  • Post a blog about it
  • Sponsor a podcast and highlight it
  • Guest post
  • Ad campaign
  • Mention in industry newsletter
  • Etc.

What are the next steps?

B2b buyers are doing their own research online without the aid of a salesperson. In fact, most inquiries are by prospects who are more than halfway through the buying cycle! You heard me. They have already scoured your website and those of your competitors. They know about your offers and now they’re taking it to the next level by reaching out to you. Make sure you have your next steps planned.

If they download your whitepaper and have opted into your emails then craft a worthy follow-up email that will entice them to reach out. Make it easy to reach out, but not too easy. Anything ‘one-click’ tends to confuse a lot of people so take note of the user experience. 

If they reach out to you, you should have a clear process on booking a call and a few clarifying questions so you can prep for the call. I personally like Calend.ly for this purpose but sometimes a prospect simply says to call them directly and gives their phone number. If so, then do that!

In conclusion

Will whitepapers be around for a while? Or are they a thing of the past?  Well, if your whitepaper shares information that your prospects seek – then I’d say they’re safe. The look and feel as well as the promotion tactics will shift with the times but the purpose, content, and probably the delivery of the whitepaper will be around for a while yet.