How to Choose the Right White Paper Flavor

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Want to write a white paper for your business, but don’t know what direction to take the project in? A white paper is a piece of marketing literature sponsored by an organization to describe a new or better way to solve a serious problem. Style-wise its content reads like a persuasive essay and is formatted to look similar to a magazine article, which is more visually appealing than a technical manual, yet not as busy as a sales brochure.

There are many different types of white papers out there and most white papers can be divided into three main types: technical backgrounder focused on technical benefits;  business paper focused on business benefits; or a hybrid paper, which is some combination of both.

Beyond these three types there are many flavors of white papers. Each different white paper flavor is  appropriate for delivering a certain set of information to a certain audience. Below I’ve shown a breakdown of each type of paper and what it’s best used for. If you are trying to nail-down a working structure for your company’s white paper, look for your audience or business proposition within the white paper flavors below.

Any of these flavors can be combined together as well.  For shorthand, I’ve used the word “offering” to represent any product, service, technology or methodology described in the white paper.

• Business benefits: to show how buyers will benefit from a certain offering, aimed at a non-technical audience.

• Competitive review: to show the relative strengths and weaknesses of competing offerings, generally to position one vendor as the best choice for a prospect.

• Evaluator’s guide: to explain the features, functions, interfaces and benefits of an offering to a prospect who is fairly advanced in the buying process.

• Executive briefing: to provide a short, high-level summary of a certain offering, market or problem in terms that a top executive can appreciate.

• Hybrid technical/business paper: to combine both technical details and business benefits for a mixed audience.

• Market overview: to provide an overview of a certain market, or to redefine a market niche in terms favorable to a certain vendor.

• Position paper: to argue for a certain approach to solving a particular problem, rather like an opinion piece.

• Product briefing: to explain the high-level features and functions of an offering, often for journalists and analysts during a product launch.

• Special report: this can be almost any type of hybrid white paper aimed at any B-to-B audience. These can be especially effective
when explicitly aimed at people in a certain role, such as “A Special Report for Supply Chain Managers.”

• Technical backgrounder: to explain a unique, unfamiliar or misunderstood offering to a technical audience.

• Thought leader: to define a market space or set out a particular agenda, generally to help a vendor claim leadership in a certain market niche.

• Modular Tips: to give industry best practices as a set of more-or-less standalone points, usually assembled in a numbered list. For example, “Seven Things Every IT Manager Must Know about Security” or “Six Ways to Build Profits Using CRM.”

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