According to the 2018 Content Preferences Report, 71% of respondents have used white papers as a way to gain insight from a credible source. As B2B technology purchases grow in length and complexity, decision-makers rely more than ever on content that provides them with facts and research rather than advertising.
Today’s technical white paper walks the line between disseminating information and marketing, acting as an education and lead generation tool for technology companies. A technical white paper is not a datasheet, nor is it an advertising tool for your product. It's a piece of long-form content written to tell prospects a story about an industry problem and a solution.
More than a case study or list of features and benefits, the technical white paper helps businesses build authority and trustworthiness with their target audience and illustrate their expertise. Here, we’ve compiled a comprehensive technical white paper guide that tells you everything you need to know about this powerful marketing technique.
What is a technical white paper?
A common technical white paper definition is a document that sets out to explain a business problem and a tech-based solution to that problem. Primarily a B2B marketing tool, this type of white paper strives to make the sometimes complex ideas prevalent in the high-tech world coherent to those who aren’t experts in the field.
A well-written white paper speaks to those tasked with finding solutions as well as the decision-makers who hold the purse strings. As a top to middle-of-the-funnel piece of content, a white paper functions as a lead generator and lead nurturing collateral.
A technical white paper does not include:
- A sales pitch
- A list of features
- An explanation of how your product works
- A how-to guide for replacing the prospect’s present solution with your own
Think of a technical white paper as a mini-textbook about a specific business problem and one or more ways it can be resolved. At the end, you can present the idea that your product is one of the solutions.
The Benefits of Technical White Papers
At its best, a technical white paper establishes the thought leadership and authority of your business in the industry. By developing a white paper, you not only create an opportunity to gain information about a prospect for follow-up, but you also make the content available to share across purchasing teams and as a resource to explain issues and resolutions to non-technical team members.
A major benefit of offering a technical white paper is that the audience is self-selecting. An uninterested party is unlikely to download your paper, so you can feel confident that the information you gain is from those who are motivated to buy. With that in mind, it's crucial to aim for the correct audience. Don’t create a white paper that tries to appeal to everyone. Keep it narrowed to your ideal customer.
As white papers have become a popular marketing tool, many prospects are savvy enough to understand that you will be gathering their information. However, this is not the time to go for the hard sell. Use the data for lead nurturing and allow buyers to conduct the journey at their own pace.
How to Write a Technical White Paper
The typical technical white paper format is between six and 12 pages long, including the cover sheet. Anything shorter is unlikely to convey enough appropriate information. Anything longer may overwhelm the reader.
If your white paper is expanding past the twelve-page mark, you may need to break the subject into smaller chunks and develop a separate document for each.
Use this basic technical white paper template to guide you as you write.
1. Cover Page
The first page of your white paper is the cover page. It contains the title in an attractive design, a subtitle, and your company name and logo. If a second party sponsors the white paper along with you, that name and logo should also appear.
2. Introduction/Abstract/Executive Summary
The meat of the technical white paper begins on the second page with an introduction, abstract, or executive summary of the topic.
Your introduction should be a single paragraph that includes:
- A brief summary of the purpose of the paper
- A short explanation of the problem
- An overview of the potential solutions
The introduction is where you hook your prospects into wanting to read more. You want them to get just a taste of what’s inside. Think of this as the teaser for the rest of your story.
A technical white paper tells the story of a business problem and its solution. By articulating the business problem, you let prospects know you understand their business and industry.
Present the business problem in two or three paragraphs. Use short paragraphs and concise language to make the information readable. Be sure to include background information such as where the problem may originate or how the issue is impacting the business.
In this section, show the impact the problem has on business in lost productivity, revenues, waste, and other business metrics. Don't be afraid to get into the nitty-gritty, but try to avoid industry or technical jargon. This piece must speak to readers of various levels of technical knowledge.
4. Product Design
Without making it all about your product, show how a new technology or process can be designed to resolve the business problem. Speak about how the product works in general, then begin to apply it to the business problem you illustrated.
In this section, the technical white paper provides a solution to the problem—but don’t place too much emphasis on your product up front. Instead, take the problem apart and show how it can be solved with the right business tools.
Without turning it into a sales pitch, you can offer some detail about how your solution works. Mention why your company developed the product. Apply your product to the problem in the form of a case study or create a visual of how your offering saves time or increases productivity.
Then, start explaining your specific product and how it works better or differently from other solutions. Include information about increased revenues and the expected ROI.
6. Conclusion and Call to Action
The conclusion is where you wrap everything up in a neat bow.
Your conclusion should:
- Briefly recap the business problem
- Summarize how your product solves the problem
- Provide a call to action to guide the lead to the next step in the buyer’s journey
Your technical white paper shouldn’t exist in a vacuum. Develop everything you need to nurture the lead from the top of the funnel to the bottom. Maybe your next step is an email drip sequence that continues to provide small bits of knowledge about the industry, offers contact information, or simply shows that the door is open when the lead is ready.
Complex technical products were never meant to be sold by cold-calling, and almost never will you be able to wrap up one of these sales after a single pitch. Smart marketers and salespeople understand that it takes time to educate leads, provide information without pushing for a sale, and allow the lead to come to you.
Leads who come to you are motivated buyers more likely to end in a sale as well as a satisfying long-term relationship where future sales are possible.
The first and last sections of your technical white paper should be the shortest, and both should offer overviews or summaries of the business problem and solution. These sections should take up no more than one-third of your white paper combined. Reserve the remaining two-thirds of the white paper for the problem and solution.
What to Include in a Technical White Paper
There are several ways to support your story and help your white paper effectively, including:
- Case studies
- Links and sources for further information
Support your findings with statistics to simplify the problem/solution presentation. Statistics from well-respected resources provide authority and objectivity to your discussion. Industry analysts, independent organizations, government agencies, and experts in the field are all excellent sources of statistics.
Always cite the source of your information to increase your authority and to avoid copyright issues.
Use case studies to illustrate how your product or solution helped another customer. Case studies are easily consumed stories about how and why your solution is essential and useful. They are more compelling than a list of statistics or instructions alone.
Quotes from industry influencers and thought leaders add a human voice to your white paper. You may choose to provide quotes from your company’s leadership as well.
Finally, provide a list of helpful links or sources so your readers can go deeper if they wish. Some of these may be resources you used for statistics or case studies. Others can be links to industry or trade websites, books about the industry, and news articles.
4 Tips for Developing and Promoting a Technical White Paper
The most important tip is that a technical white paper shouldn’t be used as a direct sales tactic. You are building awareness, not selling, so be subtle and thoughtful during the development process.
1. Find Your Purpose
Before the first draft, determine the purpose of your white paper. Discuss the concept with key stakeholders in your company. To narrow topics, look to data analytics and research industry trends. Ask customer-facing salespeople about the questions they receive as they speak with leads. Use a tool to generate topics.
2. Communicate the Topic
Once you’ve decided on your purpose, you need to communicate it effectively to everyone involved. If you have several stakeholders and subject matter experts, create a synopsis to ensure everyone understands the purpose and subject of the paper. Now is the time for everyone to voice any objections or ask for changes.
3. Be Methodical When Writing
Take the white paper a piece at a time. It’s a complex project, so break it down into parts. Do your homework before sitting down to write, because the more time you spend planning and preparing, the faster the paper comes together.
Also, don’t aim for perfection on your first attempt. Go for good enough and smooth out rough spots in future drafts. Create blocks of uninterrupted time to focus on writing and eliminate distractions that can introduce errors and slow you down.
4. Revise Thoroughly
Ask for feedback on your drafts. Does the content make sense? Is the language appropriate? Are you using too much jargon or too many acronyms?
When you get closer to a final draft, be sure to proofread every line as well. Nothing turns prospects away like content riddled with errors.
A few other helpful tips to keep in mind:
- Know your audience: Look to your buyer personas and develop the paper to answer specific questions. Who are the decision-makers and other key stakeholders at the prospect’s company?
- Keep it concise: Don’t overload the paper with history or other content. Use just enough to lend context and set the stage.
- Be honest: Presenting honest, actionable information is more effective than hyperbole at drawing leads further down the funnel.
How to Distribute Your Technical White Paper
To get your technical white paper out there to the right audience, take advantage of all the different channels you have at your disposal.
- Place it on your website behind a landing page
- Offer it in an email as part of a nurture campaign
- Promote it through your social media page
- Offer it through a third party site
Once your white paper is out there, measure relevant metrics. If you don’t measure, you can’t determine effectiveness. Measure by channel to learn if you are in the right place and gather data on those who download your white paper. Ask for information and create calls to action (CTAs) that help you propel them farther into their journey according to their place in the funnel.
Technical white papers are powerful marketing tools to showcase not just your product, but also your industry expertise and trustworthiness. A well-written white paper generates relevant leads for nurturing and builds your prospect and customer list.
Articulate a challenging business problem, discuss solutions, then show how your product meets those business needs. Give your prospective buyers what they need to support their choice to other stakeholders. By allowing the lead to come to you, you increase your chances of converting that lead to a customer.
This article was written by Compose.ly writer Jody Pellerin.