What is a White Paper? And do you need one?

White papers are becoming more and more common in the business world, but what are they? In this article, Crowdholding will look into what a whitepaper is, what are the reasons to have one in your company, and some guidelines on how to start writing one.

What is a white paper?

The term whitepaper was first coined in British politics back in the 20th century, originally white papers were a legislative document explaining governmental proposals for new policies. They were structured in a way that explained an issue, the proposal and the expected outcomes.

Although, since the early 1990’s they have become another tool for businesses especially for business to business companies (B2B). Due to their success they have been implemented into a variety of different industries from IT companies to banking and any other organisations focused on selling to other companies. Recently with the boom of ICO’s, white papers are coming back with vengeance. Every cryptocurrency / blockchain company will produce a white paper for investors.

A white paper essentially is a report / informational document that is produced by a company to promote or highlight the features of a solution, product or service. Although this does differ depending on the industry.

Why do you need one?

There are multiple important reasons why you should consider creating a white paper for your startup / company. The first is the popularity of the white paper. According to a study from The Content Marketing Institute back in 2013, sixty one percent of businesses involved in B2B marketing already use white papers. Even in 2017, they play an important role especially as white papers are implemented in more industries. Another study by the same company listed white papers in the top five strategies for marketing.

Secondly, they can be extremely influential as a marketing tool to investors or potential buyers of your product / service. White papers by their very nature are extremely detailed and can go into great depth that a ad or a blog post might not be able to achieve. IDG’s 2011 survey of IT professionals stated that 72% of respondents stated that they found that white papers were extremely useful in their decision making process. Only 1% thought it wasn’t useful. On top of that, snippets of the white paper can be used as a great marketing source, you can create more articles from a great in depth white paper and so can be recycled into a marketing strategy.

Thirdly, it gives your business an authority in your industry. It is very simple, if your business knows what it is doing / talking about, the more likely customers will trust you and purchase your product / service. A lack of trust usually means that clients are less likely to part with their hard earned income. A well written white paper solves this issue.

White paper do’s and don’t’s

Although there are no set rules because white papers vary depending on their industry, there are a set of guidelines that will steer you in the right direction.

  • Do follow a linear, logical structure — A white paper should be educational and not focused solely on selling. It is to educate readers of an issue and how your idea will elevate that issue.
  • Don’t scrimp on the length— Although there is no set word count, a white paper should be at least 6/7 pages. Remember it is an in-depth analysis of your concept and how it solves an issue.
  • Do keep the layout simple — A white paper does not need to be full of pictures, backgrounds and bright colours. The reader is supposed to focus on the text. Graphs and flowcharts are fine, as long as they serve a purpose.
  • Don’t try to be comical / gripping — A white paper will entice its audience due to the fact they have an general interest in that industry. Although it is a marketing tool, it is a serious document that should be in depth and full of articulate / industry based language, but keep the puns or symbolism out of your white paper.
  • Do use stats and figures to back up your claims — Showing clear knowledge and research of your industry is a great way to show you are a industry leader, meaning that readers are more likely to gain trust. There is no point claiming something if you cannot back it up.
  • Don’t have a generic title — Because white papers have become universal, a different title can make your white paper stand out. Also avoid using jargon / other company names in the title.

If you follow these guidelines, you should be able to create a decent white paper, another point is to have people critique your white paper. Does it read well? Is it too complex? Feedback is vital. If you would like to see an example of a full white paper, click here to read Crowdholding’s white paper.