Are you incorporating whitepapers in your content marketing strategy? If not, you should be — whitepapers can deliver value long after they’re published. But it’s critical that you do them right.

A whitepaper is a type of long-form content that addresses a problem or issue in some depth. The term was originally applied to reports issued by the British government that had white covers.

In the early 1990s, businesses adopted the term to describe marketing and sales documents that promote a product or service as the solution to a particular problem. Lengthy product descriptions, technical evaluations and discussions of business issues may also be called whitepapers.

However, a whitepaper should not be a product pitch. The objective is to inform and educate readers and persuade them based upon facts and evidence. If your product or service is the answer, the whitepaper should lead readers to that conclusion in a logical and meaningful way.

There are a lot of really bad whitepapers out there. Many of them are simply product data sheets with a bit of industry data thrown in. Some do include actual research, but many times the data does not seem to support the conclusion. Often, authors use tortured logic to try to correlate the product to an industry buzzword or important business trend.

How can you avoid these mistakes?

  • Choose a topic that will help your customers and prospects gain new insight or solve a business problem. Fairly narrow topics are ideal — you want to go deep rather than wide.
  • Research carefully. Data points often find their way onto the Internet devoid of context. Old information is presented as if it’s current. Whitepapers published by industry analysts are generally your best bet if you’re not able to conduct your own survey or experiment.
  • Write clearly and precisely in a professional, serious tone. Structurally, the document should include an executive summary, an introduction explaining why the issue deserves analysis, several pages discussing the problem, several pages offering a solution and a conclusion. When put into layout, the document should be at least four pages but could be 20 pages or more if the topic warrants.
  • Devote some time developing a good title. The title should reflect what the document is about in a compelling way but avoid misleading “clickbait” language.
  • Include one or more case studies if possible. Real-world examples help to validate your conclusion.
  • Create a professional layout for your whitepapers. If it’s only four pages, the text can start on page 1. Longer documents should have a title page and a table of contents. Include charts and graphs and sidebars explaining the data points for visual interest.

Why is a high-quality whitepaper the content gift that keeps on giving? Whitepapers deliver immediate value as downloadable assets to support marketing campaigns. But long after the campaign is over, the whitepaper lives on your website, boosting SEO and enticing people to give up their name and email address in exchange for the information. Whitepapers make great trade show handouts and leave-behinds for customers and prospects. A whitepaper with useful reference information could linger on a customer’s desk indefinitely.

The data within your whitepaper can be the source of multiple blog posts, infographics and presentations. You can also reference your whitepaper when developing articles for third-party publications.

Whitepapers can take several weeks to research and write, so it often makes sense to engage a writer with expertise in your industry. It’s an investment that will continue to pay dividends for a long time to come.

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