Why write a technical white paper?
What would it take to convince you, if you were a technical buyer to purchase a product? With the vast majority of research for solutions being carried out online, before even engaging with your sales team, ensuring you have the right level of content to educate and inform potential buyers is of paramount importance. Add the long B2B sales cycle into the mix, and the large number of people involved in decision making on the technical and commercial side, then it’s not just about creating the right content for the right person, but also targeting it at the right time.
Business and technical audiences are looking for insight and credible sources of information which will help inform their decision making. Technical white papers are one option for educating your audience, showing your company’s expertise, building authority and credibility.
We have already covered Inbound Marketing and Content Marketing in earlier blogs which touch on where content fits into the customer journey. In this article, we’ll take a look in more depth at the technical white papers and offer some white paper writing tips.
What do we mean by a “technical white paper”?
Good question! Do we mean a white paper for a highly technical audience in a specific industry? Or, do we mean a white paper delivered in a technical industry to both “technical” and “commercial” buyers. The simple answer, (without getting too etymological) is “both”.
First of all, where did the term come from? In the UK, the term “White Paper” refers to a government report giving information or proposals on an issue (according to the Oxford English Dictionary). In B2B marketing, the term is applied to long form content that typically presents business or technical issues and presents a solution.
“Technical white papers” are frequently used as a tool in the B2B world where the challenge is presenting highly complex solutions to technical or business problems. The main aim of the technical white paper is to educate and inform, rather than “sell” outright.
Technical White Paper Topics and Formats
Technical white papers are authoritative reports on specific technology, solutions or industry trends. The aim is to enable and educate the reader on a specific topic, and they are used to guide and influence readers towards a specific solution, rather than an alternative. Technical white papers can take different formats, typically:
- Thought Leadership/visionary – A white paper that sets out a specific position which might be held, for example on Agile Manufacturing or the current view on IoT. It might also present the theory behind new technology, for example, to give your audience a better understanding of the technology and its context. A thought leadership white paper could also include independent market research and a view on the market you are targeting.
Working with Kimberly-Clark Professional™, we developed thought leadership content for a technical white paper which discusses the agile manufacturing framework and how cleaning quality impacts on production efficiency and product quality.
At Motion Marketing, we conducted research through an independent research organisation. Through analysis of the results we developed whitepapers tailored to the IT, engineering and manufacturing sectors which presented results and up-to-date analysis of key marketing initiatives that companies are considering.
- Business/technical issues, solutions and benefits – A business (or technical) issue white paper demonstrates how a particular problem might be solved with different solutions. In the B2B world a vendor solution is often only a small part of an overall solution to a problem, so it is presented as part of the whole. A technical white paper can help educate both a technical audience, who need to understand more of the technical details of a solution or the business decision maker, who needs to understand what the business benefits of the solution are.
We worked closely with one of our clients, Vipre, to write a white paper positioning Vipre as a leader in the area of cyber security. The white paper, presents the “Next Generation Human Firewall” and how technology solutions alongside continuous employee security awareness can help stop cyber security threats.
- Best practices / educational white paper – Further down the road to purchasing your product, you may well need to educate your technical audience or users and present a methodology on how best to use the product. For example, giving a rundown on best practices in implementing or integrating your product, or how to roll it out within your organisation.
In a technical white paper developed for Vipre in the cyber security space, we demonstrated some best practices and practical tips for employees on how to stop phishing attacks. The whitepaper was targeted at IT managers and provided them with a quick guide to give to employees on how to identify a phishing threats.
Benefits of writing technical white papers
So, why should I write a white paper? As with the different formats, there are also different objectives that can be achieved, depending on your marketing strategy and where the white paper is targeted in the customer journey.
Some key benefits of writing technical white papers include:
- Establishing thought leadership, expert knowledge and credibility – through original insights and expertise that help inform the reader.
- Lead generation – Typically, a technical white paper can be used to generate leads as well as offering content at different stages of the buying cycle, to help nurture leads or take buyers one step further down the journey.
- Self-selecting audience – The people downloading your technical white paper are already engaged in a solution for their particular business or technical needs. They will be researching your solution, along with other potential solutions.
How do technical white papers fit into the content strategy?
White papers are a good tool to use at all stages in the sales funnel and buying process. Here are a few indicators as to where you might consider using them:
- Top of the funnel: this is where in-depth education about new technology, thought leadership can gain a readers interest around a topic and your expertise in the field.
- Top/Mid funnel: as you get further down the sales funnel, and are engaging more, your audience is researching more about the issues and possible solutions. This is where the business/technical issue solutions fit in.
- Later in the funnel: at the consideration stage, the technical audience and users of the system will need practical and technical tips on how the product will be used and best practices in how it can be implemented.
These are not hard and fast rules. Providing different types of white paper content along with other content, such as e-books, blogs, etc. should be determined as part of your inbound content marketing strategy and lead nurturing, as a whole. Find out more about Inbound Content Marketing here.
White paper versus e-book?
As we’re talking about content…what is the difference between a white paper and an e-book? Is there a difference? The two terms do seem to be used fairly interchangeably and both e-books and white papers are forms of content marketing. Quizzing ChatGPT, for example, provides the following answer:
“In summary, the main difference between a whitepaper and an ebook is that a whitepaper is a more serious, technical, and persuasive document focused on promoting a specific idea or product, while an ebook is a more general, accessible, and informative publication designed to provide value to the reader.”
It is a matter of depth of content. E-books and white papers might start with the same information, but a white paper is more in-depth and readers expect technical expertise backed up by solid research references. An e-book can be a lighter weight version of your white paper content, an executive summary, or highlights, for example. Determining which to use will be dictated by your content marketing strategy or a specific marketing campaign.
Determining Content for your Technical White Paper
When writing a technical white paper, there is always a fine line to be trod between marketing and delivering thought leadership and technical information.
- What should inform a white paper first and foremost is that it should be an authoritative and written with expert back up from research or technical experts within your organisation.
- The second step is to determine the purpose of the content and where it fits in the content strategy and inbound content marketing strategy. Have a clear goal in mind for your white paper. Consider the outcome of the white paper and the audience you are writing for.
- The content should be targeted to a specific persona/or personas within a typical buying group for your product. Provide content that educates the reader about the topic.
- Do your research. Robust research, from primary research you have conducted or up-to-date secondary research from industry reports and academic papers should be used to support any arguments you provide.
- Speak the same language as your customer (different types of personas). Use industry terminology your audience is used to, but keep your copy clear and easy to read
- Provide a clear sense of urgency and call to action, especially if you are using your white paper to gather leads. See How to create B2B white papers for lead generation.
Technical Whitepaper Writing Tips
Our first white paper writing tip covers how technical white papers can be structured.
Typical Technical White Paper Content and Structure
As an example, here we look at a issues white paper and the different sections that would be covered:
- Executive Overview – Start with a brief overview of the topic being covered, including a summary of the issues, the purpose and objectives of the whitepaper.
- Table of Contents – Keep this short and to the point.
- Background information – Provide an explanation of the problem or issue white paper is about to discuss and why it is important.
- Business/Technical Issues – In this section, it is good to examine the problem and challenges in more detail, before presenting the solution.
- Solution/s – Introduce possible solutions to the issue. You might want to consider offering an overall solution, which encompasses other offerings including your own, to show where your product fits in.
- Technical details – A opportunity to go through more specific aspects of the solution, including the architecture, functionality, and implementation.
- Real-world Examples – Use cases, customer stories and scenarios that demonstrate how the solution can be applied to solve the problem being discussed.
- Evaluation – Solution comparison, including its key features, benefits, and advantages. You can discuss in more detail how your solution might solve these issues and how it compares with other options.
- Conclusion – Summarise the key points made in the white paper, implications and future benefits of the solution.
- Call to action – Provide a clear indication of what action you would like the reader to make after reading the white paper, such as contacting your organisation for more information, arranging a solutions demo or downloading a product.
Technical White Paper Design
Now you have an idea of the content headings our next important white paper writing tip considers how to layout the design of your white paper.
- White paper length – As a long-form piece of content, you can expect that a white paper should be longer than other pieces of content. You will need to get down to detail and make sure that statistics and quotes are fully referenced. Our recommendation is around 1000 to 2000 words. Although a very technical white paper might require more copy. It is most important that the content and layout of the white paper establish you as a thought leader or technically skilled organisation.
- An eye-catching title and memorable title – Make sure that the title resonates with the audience you are targeting and leads them to downloading your white paper.
- Sprinkle your content with highlights of useful statistics and quotes that illustrate the text.
- Link to other appropriate resources that illustrate pieces of your copy that you are not able to detail in the white paper.
- Branding – as a thought leader, you do need your audience to know that you wrote the white paper, but traditionally a technical white paper is not heavily branded. Include your logo and leave the last page for information about your organisation and contact details.
- Illustrate – a picture is worth a 1000 words, and providing useful illustrations of concepts and solution architecture will help your audience get to grips with the content. Don’t overlook spending time on illustrations and visuals.
Technical white papers are excellent content to add to your portfolio. Buying teams are researching online and crying out for information to inform their decisions. Writing a technical white paper requires thorough research and attention to detail, but done well, with content that really resonates with your audience, it will be time worth investing. If you have a highly complex product to sell, white papers provide the ideal opportunity to showcase your organisation’s knowledge and build a reputation as a go-to brand and a leader in your industry.
Get in touch with the team if you would like more information on white paper writing tips for your industry, or click here to find out more about how to get started with your next white paper.