Most people recognize white papers as an informational document issued by companies or other organizations. When writing white papers to current and prospective customers, marketers wonder about how persuasive they should be. The simple answer is very persuasive. After all, they are a type of document that is used to educate and inform potential customers about a product or service.

White papers are persuasive because they are designed to convince the target audience to buy the product or service. They do this by providing information that is relevant to prospective customers’ needs and by addressing any concerns that the customer may have. White papers also often include testimonials from satisfied customers, which can help to build trust and credibility.

White papers aren’t ads

While white papers tend to be persuasive, it’s important not to make them overtly promotional. Companies that create white papers that are blatantly promotional typically mistake white papers for advertising or brochures. In reality, they’re a very different communications channel that needs to be handled differently. When readers pick up a brochure or read an ad, they know someone is making a sales attempt, but when they read a white paper, their goal is to obtain information about an issue or a challenge from that informational document.

A white paper needs facts, not hype

The most effective white papers explore the facts related to situations, needs, or challenges to educate the readers so that they may make the right decisions. Readers see right through blatant promotion, so it compromises the credibility of the white papers. Instead of serving as a collection of helpful facts, this type of white paper is basically a sales pitch cloaked in a different appearance. The reader is less likely to believe the arguments that are being presented and won’t see the information and advice in the white paper as objective.

Of course, when writing a white paper, you get to select the facts that put your company in the best light. For example, if your veeblefetzer uses the cross-cutting process to core radishes, rather than the spiral-coring method employed by 90 percent of your competitors, your white paper can focus on the many engineering advantages of cross-cutting.

Writing white papers demands a different mindset

White papers offer a significant advantage over advertising when it comes to trying to convince customers and prospects to take action or for generating leads. That advantage is their perception of the trustworthiness of the material. Like you, your customers and prospects are hungry for good information, but they’re also busy. On top of that, like most consumers (and even the most business-focused people are also consumers), they’re suspicious of advertising and other efforts that are obviously trying to make a sale. They’re looking for information and would rather not deal with hype.

White papers are all about information and facts. Potential customers search for them because they need to know something. Maybe they want to better understand a new technology they’ve heard about. Perhaps they’re desperately seeking a solution for a problem that’s hurting their business. Or it could be that they need support for a recommendation they’re making to their bosses. Whatever the reason, white papers provide trustworthy information, improving their perception of you and your company.

White papers can present research findings related to the topic

Often, marketers create whitepapers to present research findings that will be of interest to potential customers. Unlike a research paper, a white paper typically presents that information in ways that are more accessible to customers, making them an effective marketing tool. The research findings can be part of an in-depth report from reliable sources on a particular issue, especially when they support the organization’s philosophy.

White papers improve the decision-making process

White papers are a powerful sales tool for situations in which a prospect’s decision-making process involves several individuals. If your company offers a product or service that has a high value or will significantly impact your prospect’s organization, your primary contact probably won’t have the authority to make the purchase decision on their own. A white paper can help them support their recommendation and make the case that what you offer is the best solution for their needs.

How does a white paper help?

Let’s consider a fictional example reflecting the way many companies make decisions. Suppose your company sells an expensive piece of equipment that makes users far more productive and efficient. In fact, most buyers see a complete return on their investment within the first year.

Although the equipment is innovative and impressive, it represents a significant capital expense, so the decision-making process and sales cycle is always long and complicated. Your primary sales contact is one of the production engineers, and she’s convinced your company has the right solution to the company’s particular issue. Unfortunately, she’s not the primary decision-maker. She’ll have to convince the operations manager and the plant manager that your solution has merit. And because of the investment required, the CFO and the CEO will also have to bless the idea.

Innovators must be educators

The process is even more of a challenge than usual, because your equipment is built around an innovative approach that’s drastically different from what your competitors have sold for decades. So all the decision-makers not only have to be sold on your company’s equipment; you’ll need to convince them to take a gamble on something brand-new to their in-house experience.

That’s why you’ll create a white paper that compares the traditional approach to your innovative solution. You include a detailed description of the processes involved to help people like the engineer and the plant manager. You also include a simple diagram to help non-technical decision-makers like the CFO and CEO with visualizing data and seeing the advantages, along with tables comparing efficiency of both approaches. Instead of using sales messages, you share facts and details.

Now the production engineer can use your white paper to help her make her case. When she shares her recommendations with all the decision-makers, she can attach the white paper to help them understand it. She can also give copies of the white paper to the operations team so they can see the advantages and add their support. By using a white paper, you’ve provided the information all the decision-makers need, helping them reach the purchase decision far more quickly.

It’s not a research paper

While a white paper may address a particular methodology, the entire document is not intended to serve as the type of research paper you might present at an industry conference. To make your white paper an effective marketing tool and generate leads, you need to use a white paper format and marketing content that explains things in terms your readers will understand.

For example, let’s say you market a car wash detergent that produces more suds because you’ve added a chemical that softens the water. Instead of mentioning your product by name at this point or pointing to its superiority, you might say something along the lines of: “One approach that has been successful is to blend in small amounts of chemicals that reduce the natural hardness of the water. Because water hardness interferes with the effectiveness of detergents, this approach reduces the hardness, so the detergents produce a higher level of suds.” Rather than promote your product at this point, you’re stating the facts, which provides greater credibility for your message.

Keep outright promotion out of white papers

When you’re developing a web page, an ad, or a sales email, you probably choose language that’s highly promotional, along with comments that support what you’re selling. That kind of messaging is inappropriate for white papers, because it interferes with the impression of objectivity you’re trying to promote. Remember, the purpose of a white paper is to share information.

Instead of talking about how much better your product is in specific terms, consider summarizing by pointing out its advantages in general terms, such as: “Car wash operators have found the use of water softening agents can dramatically increase the suds produced by each gallon of water, allowing them to wash the same number of vehicles with less water and detergent.”

Then, in the next paragraph, you can mention — just mention — the fact your product uses that superior approach, as in: “The evidence from research into the advantages of softer water is what led Amalgamated Industries to incorporate softening agents into the formulation of Sudzo Car Wash Detergent.” No sales pitch, no flowery language — just an explanation that allows the reader to draw their own conclusion based upon the evidence you’ve provided.

Creating white paper titles for generating leads

White paper titles may well be the most important component of all types of white papers, because it determines whether the audience you wish to reach will actually read it. We’re all increasingly busy these days, and we have little patience for the items competing for our time. When we glance at a social media feed or a search engine’s results, we do little more than take a quick look to determine if anything intrigues us enough to warrant a longer look. If it doesn’t, we move on to something else. It’s like that old saying that you never get a second chance to make a first impression … if you don’t make that immediate impression with a potential reader, you’ll lose out.

White paper titles must capture interest

The white paper titles you use must draw the reader in by providing something that’s interesting and intriguing. They should be written to your reader’s experience and knowledge levels. For example you probably wouldn’t use the same title when trying to reach accounting clerks as you would when talking to CPAs. One thing that can help is to make sure your titles appeal to the reader’s emotions. While white papers are intended to convey facts, people act more frequently on the basis of their emotional responses.

White paper titles and SEO

Having the right white paper titles can also improve your performance with search engines. That’s why it’s a good idea to test your titles to see how search engines are likely to respond to them. Some blogging platforms allow you to test sample headlines to see how well they can be expected to catch the attention of search engines and testing your white paper titles that way can be helpful.

White paper titles and keywords

Including keywords in the title will make it easier for potential readers to find your white paper, because search engines will look for those keywords. However, be careful that using keywords doesn’t make your title difficult to read. Often, forcing a keyword into a white paper title can make it sound like it’s a bad translation of a foreign-language document. Also try to avoid stuffing multiple keywords into a single white paper title.

White paper titles are generally serious

When writing brochures and ads, companies often try to become creative and clever, but that can be counterproductive with white paper titles. The most effective white paper format uses titles that are serious and straightforward. In a product brochure, you might use a headline such as “Process three times as many radishes with our veeblefetzers,” but something that promotional won’t appeal to someone looking for objective information. Titles such as “Evaluating processing alternatives for radish production” or “Cross-cutting and spiral-coring: an engineering comparison” will suggest that your white paper offers a more balanced approach.

White paper titles shouldn’t be lengthy

It’s generally a good idea to keep white paper titles no longer than 10 words. If your topic demands a longer title, one approach is to use a shorter statement with a colon and then a more descriptive phrase, such as “Better radish production: how spiral coring approaches boost profitability.”

White paper titles should not be promotional

When creating white paper titles, it’s tempting to include your company’s name or to mention your product or service by name. However, that can interfere with the perception that your white paper offers a balanced look at the topic. Similarly, avoid the use of slogans or marketing taglines within the title. It’s okay to have them appear at the bottom of the page but weaving them into your title can impair your credibility. Remember that readers are looking for sound information and not a marketing pitch that’s full of hype. You can also use your white paper to bring prospects to a landing page.