Getting Started with White Paper Marketing


A powerful way to build trust and rapport is to develop authoritative and informative white papers.

Learn what a white paper is, several techniques for marketing with white papers, and tips for getting a white paper published.

With a little work, you can connect with customers on an entirely new level than a blog or website article, even if this is only due to the perception of white papers being at a higher level of expert status.

What Is a White Paper, Anyway?

White papers range from a short, single page document to hundreds of pages, but they are generally just an authoritative, formal document on a non-fiction topic.

There is an immense degree of creative freedom in how you put the final document together, so don't think it has to follow a specific format. An exception would be that if your specific industry tends to produce white papers in a particular format.

Common Marketing Techniques Using White Papers

You can generate significant goodwill and deep interest in your products and services with white papers. This format of sales material, even though it shouldn't read like a sales piece, gives you nearly completely free reign to present data and verifiable sources that support whatever claims you are making.

The key to any marketing campaign using white papers is to make sure you are connecting with the right customers, as not everyone will take the time to read even a few pages of a website for research purposes, much less many pages of a white paper.

The Free White Paper

Giving away a free white paper can be an excellent way to reach a customer who may not have otherwise considered you.

Many organizations will publish a white paper and make it freely available to website visitors or email newsletter readers. Readers who would click on a white paper tend to know that they will be opening a multi-page document, so they are generally ready to read at least several hundred words.

Giving away a free white paper can be an excellent way to reach a customer who may not have otherwise considered you. Because white papers are designed to be a formal, research-driven product, readers are more likely to accept the claims you make.

Providing your white papers free of cost through a website or email campaign can get readers you may not have otherwise been able to reach.

The Email/Name Trade

An almost free method of marketing your white papers is to ask for a name and email address from the reader who is interested. What makes this process arguably better than a completely free white paper is that the user has to give up something for your information. This makes them more likely to take the white paper seriously since they are now somewhat vested.

Two methods are common: (1) fill out the form and download, then (2) get the link in an email. The latter process tends to yield better results since you can be sure that the email address is authentic. Either way nets you an email address and a name you can use for future marketing efforts.

Pay to Read

A last method is to charge for the white paper. This is typically reserved for extremely rigorous research or white papers that have been published in top journals. While you can charge for a white paper even if it has never been published or peer-reviewed, customers expect exceptional research when paying for white papers.

Another reason for a paid white paper is that it contains extremely timely information relevant to an industry. Within 30 days, the white paper price is either reduced or eliminated because the information is no longer as useful.

Tips for Getting a White Paper Published

If you are an industry expert, then you can always author your own white paper and self-publish on your own website. This is the most common form of white paper publishing.

Hiring an expert or experts to write or collaborate on your behalf is another common technique. However you finally get the content packaged will have to be based on your own needs and budget.

The key to getting marketing traction with your white paper is to ensure that it is written at the highest standards of English prose and research. Consider the customer: generally white paper readers have a college degree and are decision makers in their respective organizations (Stelzner, 2006). This means if your white paper includes mistakes, you immediately lose credibility, which is the primary reason for authoring a white paper to begin with!

A number of websites accept white papers without review and can host your final document. This benefits you in several ways: (1) you do not have to host the white paper on your website, (2) having the document on a 3rd party website can boost credibility, and (3) it can generate additional marketing buzz for you.

Finally, the final document should be available in Adobe's PDF format. This allows the user to easily print and share the document. Adobe provides security for white papers that are for sale, so this can help ensure that your content is not being stolen. Avoid Word or HTML-based final document formats. It's fine to edit and compose the white paper in these formats, but the version presented to the customer should always be in PDF unless your industry has specific standards.

Additional White Paper Resources

Need more information? Lots of resources are available for further research on white paper development:

  • How to Generate Leads with a White Paper - Gordan Graham offers 19 tips to guide your white paper authoring process. From waterfall techniques to sales lead handling, this discussion covers a broad array of topics.
  • Guidelines for Writing White Papers - This is a simple, straighforward guide by Klariti. Seven tips are presented that are practical and easy to follow.
  • How to Write an Industry Leading White Paper - Video training from about how to develop a white paper. This video is from the perspective of building a consultancy.
  • White Paper Outline - Need a place to start? Check out this outline from Weber State University. They have the outline on the page and as a downloadable DOC (Microsot Word) file.
  • Writing White Papers: How to Capture Readers and Keep Them Engaged - Want a thorough discussion and all the resources you will need in one spot? Michael Stelzner has literally written the book on white paper writing and marketing. This is an excellent source of information and practical advice.

Photo credit: Some rights reserved by Dan Taylr.

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