Today, most white papers are sales/marketing documents used to help sell or advocate something.
White papers come in three main types:
- Backgrounder: Describes a specific product or offering from a company, often used at time of product launch. Usually 2-4 pages
- Numbered list/tip sheet/Q&A: Quick view of product or offering. Often provocative. Often used to cast doubt on competition. Usually 1-2 pages.
- Problem/Solution: Presents problem common to target audience, shows how current solutions are inadequate, then presents “new and improved” solution. Usually 6-12 pages.
A white paper usually looks at the market segment, analyzing current offerings and positioning your product/service favorably.
The most effective white papers serve to educate the potential client about the segment.
A white paper should clearly lay the current problem and solutions.
White papers that are too thinly disguised as sales brochures usually don’t have the same “trust factor” as white papers that take a more academic tone and present the range of options available to buyers.
White papers should be well-researched and include industry-leading best-practices and methods – and not just the opinions of your marketing team.
White papers are unique in that they are designed to persuade while still using a “just the facts” mentality.
White papers are primarily used at the beginning stage of a sales cycle when prospects are still gathering information and comparing options.
White papers are commonly used to help position and explain complex, expensive, or new-category products or services.
White papers got their name in Britain, and began life as political documents outlining policies.
The term “white paper” is generally traced by to a document written by Winston Churchill and titled “The British White Paper of 1922.”