The white paper is an integral part of any content marketer’s arsenal, and many technology or engineering companies will tell you they have written white papers: fewer will tell you that the process was smooth.
White papers can have any type of topic, form factor, detail, length or colour scheme, depending on the sector, the objective and the audience. A few cardinal rules of process do need to be adhered to, to avoid multiple drafts, frustration and ultimately a product that nobody in the organisation is quite happy with.
Write a brief. Even if you’re going to be writing the white paper content; even if your agency should be familiar with the spec; even if your sales manager is in charge of it. The content and output of the white paper should only be reviewed against the brief.
Secure agreement on the brief: This is the most important part of the process, and in my experience getting the brief right helps both the writer and the reviewer clarify their thinking and removes too much subjectiveness from tainting the writing and review process.
At a minimum the brief should include the objective, target audience and key message.
Be specific about the objective. Is the aim of the paper to provide an overview of DDoS attacks, or provide deep-dive insights about it? Is it an educational piece, or a sales enablement tool? Note that the industry in general reads white papers to educate themselves – while being aware that the approach recommended will be coloured by the author’s own technical approach. However they will push back if there is very obvious marketing in a white paper. So, while promoting crowdsourcing as an approach is OK, promoting an individual product that uses crowdsourcing is not.
Provide a nuanced definition of the target audience. How familiar are they with the technology? Where are they? How well do they understand it? What are their concerns? Why would they read the white paper? Will they look at it on their screens, or print it out in B&W? Resist the temptation to provide a target audience that roughly means ‘anyone in my industry, anywhere’. No white paper can ever cater to a very broad audience.
What is the key message? Do not provide fifteen presentations and expect the writer to absorb the key message through osmosis. What are the three key takeaways that the reader should have from the piece? – And ‘XYZ is a great company with terrific products’ is not acceptable as a key message.
One last thing – define the approval process clearly. Who does first review, who provides final approval? Establishing one owner helps speed up and streamline the process.