White papers still matter. They may not be called white papers anymore, and they may take different formats. However, they’re still white papers: a problem that your ideal customer has, how they’ve historically solved it (and struggled), where the technology landscape is heading, and the solution – which dovetails into your specific solution. The papers themselves may not follow the same outline, but the concept is the same: an in-depth dive into how your customers can solve their problems.

But white papers can quickly take a turn for the worse if you’re not careful. All too often, companies hire a writer without really knowing what they want from their white paper. As a result, they end up with something that they’re not entirely happy with and shy away from white papers until the CEO says, “Hey, why don’t we have a white paper about the new WidgetWare CXM module?”

Questions to Ask Before You Commission a White Paper

Don’t let this be you. Before you hire a white paper writer, ask yourself these six questions:

  • Who is my audience? Please tell me you have personas for your white paper, and you know which one you’re using. A white paper aimed at a developer will include different terminology and take a different angle than one aimed toward the CIO. Take the time to build out the personas. You’ll have a lot less trouble later when the white paper goes through review and the sales representative says, “Yeah, my points of contact won’t understand homogenizing Python and Ruby on Rails for a Kubernetes cluster.”
  • What are my goals for the white paper? The primary goal of a white paper isn’t to hard sell your product. In fact, if you’re leading with the product, you’re doing it wrong. White papers are meant to educate customers, maybe on a problem they weren’t able to fully articulate. So consider what you want out of the white paper: sales qualified leads as a goal looks very different than warm leads that you plan to nurture with other content.
  • How will I describe my solution? Remember that you’re not leading off with your company or your product. In a white paper, you’ll start with what your customer’s problems are: time-consuming reporting, difficult integrations, or monitoring workflows, for example. Once you’ve identified what the problems are, identify how you’ll generically describe your solution. Come up with a short term for it, like “comprehensive workflow monitoring platform,” as well as a longer description.
  • What is unique about the benefits of my solution? Every software company will claim that their solution generates more accurate reports, delivers real-time insights, or simplifies the accounting process, depending on what they offer. Instead of focusing on the same benefits everyone else does, plan on including what might be different from your competitors, and highlight that.
  • Who are my subject matter experts? If you’re going to write a white paper, you’ll need knowledgeable subject matter experts within your organization for the writer to interview. A good rule of thumb is to limit the number of subject matter experts to three: one from sales or product marketing to explain the customer challenges and what’s unique about the product, one from product development to explain how the product works, and one more if necessary to fill in any information gaps.
  • Who is writing my white paper? And now the fun begins! You’ll need to assign the white paper to a writer, and you might not have the capacity in-house to do it. Maybe you’re the entire marketing team, or maybe your marketing team doesn’t have the bandwidth. If that’s the case, you’ll want to hire a freelance content marketing writer, ideally one with a journalism background to handle the researching and interviewing, as well as the writing.

If you still need help with the last question, contact me today to set up a no-sweat intro call.