The white paper is one of the most influential pieces of content that you can create for your business. A study by DemandGen found that 83 percent of B2B buyers used white papers to research a purchasing decision, more than any other content type.
But many people struggle with creating white papers. The point of a white paper is to highlight your expertise and enhance customer confidence in your problem-solving ability. So your white paper needs to meet high standards for quality and usefulness.
Not to mention, you don’t want to bore your reader to death, a common problem with B2B white papers. So make it engaging and on point.
(Given those challenges, many companies discover that hiring a professional white paper writer like me achieves a better result for lower cost. But that’s a topic for another post. We’ll assume here that you have good reason to write your own white paper and discuss how you can make it more effective.)
There are five common mistakes I see that sabotage white papers. Avoid these at all costs.
- Weak topic –Some topics are too broad and could be an entire book. But a very narrow topic is also not compelling enough to warrant white paper treatment. A third big problem is a topic not focused on something your audience cares about. To get prospects to read it, your white paper needs to address a problem or challenge that they face. Just because there is an innovation in your industry, it doesn’t mean your audience will care unless you show them the benefit. Think about the questions you get most frequently. Check to see what competitors and industry publications have covered. You need a fresh angle.
- Too promotional – The white paper is not a sales pitch, and if you make it overtly promotional, you will instantly lose credibility. Adopt an objective tone and discuss your solutions to the problem in a factual way toward the end of the paper. The white paper’s primary aims are to help the reader gain insight into an issue, solve a problem or make a decision. By sharing your expertise and information, you build your authority subtly. The white paper is a low-pressure approach to nurturing a lead, not a shock and awe campaign.
- Lacking solid data – To give your white paper authority, you need to have strong evidence backing up your conclusions. Some of that can be anecdotal, especially in the form of real-world customer stories. But you also need to gather data — from your own metrics and also from third-party resources. Use high-quality sources like top-tier industry associations, government reports, academic studies and the like. If you aren’t backing up your claims, how can the reader know you are trustworthy?
- Lame visuals – As mentioned earlier, some white papers are a real snooze-fest. Incorporate interesting imagery and professional, uniform typography and graphics. These communicate your professionalism and keep the reader engaged. But don’t go overboard. You want to avoid a white paper that could be mistaken for advertising. Get a graphic designer to pull the project together for you. Fiddling to get things lined up and looking clean can be a huge time drain, so the money is well spent. If your budget is tight, you can also use templates in Word that will help organize and showcase your work. (Search under “business reports.”) Replicate charts and graphs yourself so they are in the same color theme.
- Weak title – Just as with article headlines and blog titles, you need a strong, captivating title to make your white paper attractive. Keep titles short and punchy, and avoid jargon. Make sure the title conveys why it’s worth the reader’s time to read your white paper by identifying the benefit they will receive. (“5 Best Practices for Telling Great Data Stories – And Why It Will Make You a Better Analyst”) You might even mention the target reader’s job role or niche. (“The Importance of Data Security for Small Healthcare Practices”) Make sure your title is optimized to your search keywords. Play around with a few potential titles and bounce them off other people to see what clicks.
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