What is a White Paper?

For something that initially brings nothing exciting to mind when first heard, white papers are documents that have really had a large impact on the way people do business, especially when it comes to Business to Business (B2B) consuming. Initially a British term for a government issued document, white papers have become a staple in the business world. Believe it or not, they have had an influence on most marketing materials you may have come across when shopping around the business world. But what exactly is a white paper?

To break it down to the basics, a white paper is a persuasive essay that uses facts and logic to promote a certain product, service or viewpoint. [1] Another basic way to look at them are as handy documents that can act as the basis of most of an organization’s marketing materials.

While they can theoretically come in a plethora of different forms for different situations, there are three principle types that can stand alone or be combined.

Backgrounder - Focusing on a specific product or service from one organization, this white paper highlights and defines the key features, functions, benefits, and returns thereof. Since it is usually focused on a particular product or service, a Backgrounder can be easily re-purposed as a press release, slide deck, product demo or even a webinar. Great for the bottom of the sales funnel. They can also be combined with Numbered Lists easily.

Numbered List - Focusing on a specific topic, this paper incorporates a lively set of questions, points, issues or tips. Being easy to read and digest, Numbered Lists can be re-purposed into a press release, articles and even blog posts. Great for the center of the sales funnel. Since Numbered Lists are so easy to work with, they can be combined with Backgrounders and Problem & Solution white papers.

Problem & Solution - Taking a step back to focus on an industry as a whole, this paper presents and analyzes a problem and proposed solutions. It utilizes facts and logic to present a new solution to a serious problem. Great for the top of the sales funnel. Since they are filled with good thought provoking content, Problem & Solution white papers can be re-purposed into blog posts, articles, slide decks, webinars, and even for conference presentations as handouts or used as a basis for a video highlighting the content. They can also be combined with Numbered Lists easily.

White papers have a multitude of uses. They can be used for generating leads, educating salespeople and partners, redefining a market space, building mindshare, nurturing business prospects (B2B in particular), casting fear, uncertainty and doubt on the competition, and for closing sales.

Some people think that white papers are becoming a thing of the past. That they’re becoming old fashioned and losing ground to new things such as infographics and videos. However, we would argue that they are simply adapting. We'll will cover that in a later blog however.


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