How to write high-quality B2B white papers? the question may seem trivial but is far from simple. To answer it as best we can, we have gathered 3 success factors and 3 pitfalls to avoid at all costs for writing high-quality white papers.
High-quality B2B white papers: 3 tips and 3 pitfalls to avoid
3 tips to improve the quality of your upcoming B2B white papers
Our many years of writing white papers have taught us one thing at least: white papers are a key element of a content marketing strategy in B2B. The download rates of our or even better, our clients’ books and eBooks, the informal feedback we keep having, and last but not least the constant flow of leads we and our clients receive are obvious signs of this fact.
In this post, we’ll take a step back and ask ourselves what turns a plain-vanilla B2B white paper into a high-quality B2B white paper.
No doubt there isn’t a single way of writing a book that makes an impact. But I am convinced that our white papers meet their targets because they are true books, because of the love and high-quality work it implies. More often than not, high-quality work also means hard work.
Tip #1: White paper, colourful stories
Our white papers are all based on testimonials from professionals (a minimum of ten). This is what makes them lively. All B2B experts love to tell about their field expertise, share anecdotes, tell stories. Not all of them are keen on writing though.
Their enthusiastic way of sharing their projects and analyses is welcome by all B2B readers. On the other hand, readers (and among them your prospective customers and customers), like to be told stories.
They project themselves into the stories they read, they ponder over their own pain points and potential solutions while reading the contributors’ questions and answers. What’s surprising in that? We all like to read stories and we all like the stories that tell about ourselves and relate to our own experiences.
That being said, this is not enough. Piling up testimonials has never been sufficient to produce a quality white paper. We, therefore, denounce the myth of the collaborative white paper: collaborative work is nice and should be encouraged. Yet, merely thinking you can outsource all the hard work and reap the harvest others have sown is ludicrous. All testimonials must be put into context, respond to each other, and shed light on the different aspects of a problem. High-quality B2B white papers, in our mind, incorporate an educational dimension.
Tip #2: White papers and evangelisation
A white paper should enable the reader to make a decision: Can this technology be of service to me, in my particular context? How should I approach this or that aspect of my company’s governance? This is why we recommend that a white paper should seek to give a 360-degree view of an issue. The work must be ‘problematized’ [meaning that the subject is scripted in the form of a problem and in relation to its solution].
It must not try and conceal the limits or pitfalls if they exist. Besides, the business embarking on a white paper endeavour will not be looking for a way to sell its technology or its know-how but will use the white paper to instil trust or a community feeling with its readers, through authenticity. Later on, sales will come as a reward for this work, provided it has been useful to those who read it.
It is therefore a question of conducting an investigation with a journalistic approach. Feedback will be highlighted by statistical studies, methodological boxes, explanations of technical or legal aspects. The editors might even highlight contradictions between the contributors’ testimonies. It will be up to the reader to make up his or her own mind, with the help of concrete examples from the companies that have been interviewed.
This approach is all the more important when a brand wants to capitalise on innovations or assert its legitimacy on an emerging technology when the market trends are not yet clear. What the audience expects from this white paper is that it will help them understand nascent changes.
Tip #3: The white paper, a book in its own right
Last but not least: a quality B2B white paper must be a real book, in all senses of the term. It must be structured, with a well-crafted outline. The style and spelling will need to be spotless to convey the desired image of professionalism.
Writing a quality white paper requires flawless proofreading, a task for which we resort to Gustave Flaubert’s famous “gueuloir” method (i.e. literally, the shouting writer method).
It’s a simple and obvious method that consists of reading your text in a loud voice. It is suitable for isolating typos and improving the fluidity of the style.
Lastly, punctuation is not less crucial, as it ensures that the reader will enjoy reading the book.
Graphic design is no less important: there is nothing like a diagram or a picture to convey complex ideas, such as technical architecture details or an industrial process for example.
The biopics of each of the contributors are also likely to enhance the value of their testimonials and to confer on your white paper a less corporate and more human look and feel. The layout and the choice of colours will be designed to make the white paper readable and consistent with the brand’s guidelines.
In an era marked by digitisation, making your book available in pdf or eBook format is of course likely to encourage its circulation. However, a proper soft-cover book will work wonders with your prospective customers. Not only can it be handed out during a sales meeting or any other commercial occasion, but it will also prove your value the person you are meeting. Not to mention the ease with which a proper paperback can be read in public transport, for example.
In addition, it is possible to turn this book into an enhanced book or eBook, with online transcripts of some of your online interviews and/or a blog that allows for further reading.
By meeting these three criteria, you give your white paper every chance of playing its role in generating leads. Provided, however, that you avoid certain pitfalls, which we describe in the second part of this post.
A final recommendation: the project does not end with the publication of the white paper. The strength of a white paper is that its impact can be amplified over multiple channels: company blog, social, publishing excerpts on sites such as Slideshare**, infographics… Once you have done all that, you will be able to leverage your white paper for the benefit of your brand’s content marketing strategy.
** Note that Slideshare was sadly left unattended by LinkedIn, which eventually led to its sale to Scribd. Other options, including that of Slideshare’s The B2B purchasing process is the result of a long life cycle often linked to a contract as there are many people to convince., exist.
3 pitfalls to avoid in your white paper project
Trap #1: Trivial statements that turn your white paper into a non-position paper
“Customers today are more and more…”, “The Market definition in B2B and B2C - The very notion of "market" is at the heart of any marketing approach. A market can be defined... is less and less…”, “The pace of innovation has accelerated in recent years…” etc. are all meaningless statements, useless phrases that won’t teach anything to anyone and aren’t likely to be shared. Good white papers are full of numbers, quotes, original methodologies, sound advice and anecdotes.
For a document to be circulated and shared, it must be unique, its content must stand out, it must offer nuggets of wisdom. A good way to make your white paper unique and interesting is to combine it with a survey.
In this case, remember that it is a substantial investment and that proper research requires expertise and methodology** (which must be described to enable the study to be evaluated by readers).
If you do not have the skills, the budget or the time to carry out the study, you should consider seeking professional help.
Trap #2: C orporate-speak will not do
A white paper must be frank and honest, meaningful and must have an angle, a point of view that makes it stand out. Corporate-speak will not do, definitely.
Corporate-speak — one could even call it newspeak — makes potential customers run away. Your white paper must really document your topic and avoid sales pitches at all costs.
Customers trust companies that know how to give advice, and from this trust, which the white paper also helps you to build, a business contact can then be established.
It is therefore not a question of communication for communication’s sake, but of upsetting the order of priorities without losing sight of the objective however.
It’s a bit like walking on a high-wire, a difficult exercise to be honest. Newbies will always try and sell their wares too quickly or try and write about their products where they don’t fit or conversely, write about the weather and forget about the business entirely. A high-quality B2B white paper is always a matter of balance: it never sells but at the same time, people who have read it must understand what you do and could do for them. Some sort of yin and yang as it were.
Trap #3: Making up things you don’t know how to do
However obvious, a trap one often falls into. The everything-washing trend is never-ending these days, and there is no lack of businesses trying to jump on bandwagons.
Whether it is outsourced or not, a white paper must clearly, sincerely and authentically show the competence and expertise of the company that has embarked on the project. When writing this quality white paper, which is our objective, we must therefore ensure that this expertise is put forward. Without bragging or exaggeration, but with the confidence of business professionals who know their job. In B2B, it’s hard to make-believe you’re a top-notch expert. Either you’re skilled or you’re not, and people can tell the difference very easily.
Bragging about things your business can’t do will end up costing you your reputation, rather sooner than later.
Avoid the all-white, slick, impersonal white paper
Often, the mistakes described in the previous points, when made, leave you with standardised and impersonal branded content assets, lacking cultural context and imagination, disconnected from the reality of your business.
In other words, a tick-in-the-box mentality white paper. An all-white white paper.
Oh, don’t worry, it will be downloaded by a few people … after all, there are so many Web readers. Well, maybe. If not, you can always buy some keywords from Google as all lazy marketers do.
For the rest of us, and all those who really want to succeed, just get down to business, either on your own or with someone else, and follow our advice f or writing quality B2B white papers that will maximise your expertise and know-how and make you stand out from the crowd.