A successful white paper needs careful planning if it’s to achieve your business goals. Here we outline eight key steps to pain-free white paper copywriting.
Step 1: Identify your audience
All good communication is tailored to its audience, so you need to know who you’re writing for.
This may sound simple but you have to be precise. Even people working for the same organisation can have very different viewpoints.
A chief technology officer might be most concerned with how easy a new system is to implement. The chief financial officer might care most about how it improves efficiency. Identify which role you’re targeting. This will have a major influence on how you write your paper.
Step 2: Identify the problem the paper will address
A successful white paper has to address a significant problem, which your prospects are facing and your product or service can solve.
This problem is both the hook to get your prospects to read the paper and the justification for your sales pitch at the end. It could be something that’s holding their business back, changes to their industry or an opportunity they don’t know how to take.
It’s best if your paper addresses only one problem, as this focuses your argument and keeps your paper concise. If you have more problems to cover, think about a series of papers.
Step 3: Prove you understand the problem thoroughly
Showing your prospects that you know what they’re going through builds trust and an emotional connection with them. These are both vital factors for getting your paper read and for your sales pitch to work.
Gather the evidence you’ll need to show this understanding. Points you can reference include:
- how your prospect will suffer if they don’t solve the problem, whether that’s lost sales, higher costs or a damaged reputation
- any third-party statistics or quotes that support your claims
- an analysis of trends that show the problem’s significance, and
- the solutions people have tried so far and why they’re ineffective.
This isn’t an exhaustive list. If there’s something specific to your industry that helps you make your case, such as a legal ruling or new regulations, then use it.
Step 4: Figure out the problem’s emotional impact
If the problem you’ve identified is genuinely significant to your prospects, they’ll be feeling powerful emotions about it. These will probably be variations of fear or greed.
Your prospects may be scared of:
- making a mistake that will cost their company money or attract bad publicity
- getting into trouble with their boss or the company board
- losing the respect of their peers and their team
- missing out on a bonus, pay rise or promotion, or
- losing their job.
If they solve the problem, your prospects might get more money or a better job. It could even increase their company’s value.
If you analyse your prospects’ emotions, you can subtly acknowledge them in your paper. This helps your prospects to identify with what you’re saying and to see you as a way to fix their problem.
Step 5: Work out the solution to your prospect’s problem
If your prospects are going to value and trust your paper, they have to see it as an educational piece and not a sales brochure. When you explain how to solve their problem, you therefore need to set out a generic solution. This will, of course, be remarkably similar to your product or service, but this isn’t the place to make your pitch.
Instead, you need to make the case that this generic solution is what your prospects are looking for. This includes:
- the reasons this solution fixes the lost sales, increased costs or other issue they’re facing
- any statistics or quotes, particularly from third parties, that show the solution is effective, and
- why this solution is better than the alternatives
Don’t forget to consider how this solution will meet your prospects’ emotional needs, which you identified in step 4.
Step 6: Work out your sales pitch
At the end of your paper, it’s fine to set out a brief explanation of why you’re the real answer to the problem. You need to make clear that your product or service offers all the benefits of the idealised solution you created in step 5.
Show that your solution works, through a short case study or statistics that demonstrate your customers’ successes. This ‘social proof’ is a powerful way of reassuring your prospects that you provide what they need.
Step 7: Decide what you want them to do next
When they’ve finished the paper, you want your prospects to take action. This could be to contact you to discuss their needs or to ask for a quote.
Whatever you want them to do, think how you can make it as easy as possible for them. They have to perceive that the value of taking that next step is greater than the effort of doing so. Don’t make them fill in a huge contact form with dozens of compulsory fields. And don’t make them commit to a meeting or a sales call, unless that’s what they want.
Step 8: Write your paper
You should now have everything you need to write an effective white paper, which naturally fits into the following structure:
- the problem
- the solution
- the sales pitch
- call to action
Think about how to make this work best for you. For example, lists are powerful ways of presenting information, so setting out the problem as ‘three reasons X isn’t working’ or the solution as ‘five steps you should take to fix X’ can be very effective.
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Image credit: Tomasz Stasiuk