White papers are a cornerstone content type for thought leadership content to technical audiences. According to a 2019 engineering.com study, 41% of senior leadership would request an RFP based solely on thought leadership. Although the study shows that white papers comprise only about 20% of decision makers’ content consumption, they faithfully turn to this form when needing to be educated about a decision. As a result, creating a compelling white paper is the key to winning the decision authority’s trust. Here is the recipe for creating an expert-caliber white paper.
1.) Create an Outline
A critical component of any research paper is a clear road-map to the destination. The goal is thought leadership, so the outline is where you script the journey:
Outline: Define topic → Problem to solve → Solution candidates → Preferred path
2.) Select Impactful Images
Engineers are highly analytical and love to draw their own conclusions and trends to confirm comprehension of a new idea (rule of thumb is one image or visual aid per main section). We know engineers love graphs; the two-pronged strategy aims to both hold the reader’s attention and to craft a table or plot that allows engineers to arrive at a trend on their own. This method is a great way to cement their understanding of a point while aligning you as a thought leader.
3.) Be [fully] Objective with the Counterpoint
It is tempting to use the whole ~2,000-word white paper to hammer home your point. To demonstrate authentic thought leadership, though, it is essential to anticipate the engineers [inherently skeptical] counterargument and to raise the points clearly. Engineers love to uncover gaps and pitfalls in a technical position paper, as it builds confidence that they have thought through all reasonable options upon concluding. The better job you can do at making the counterpoint, the more confident the reader becomes with your authority on the subject.
4.) Win the Argument (or break the tie)
So many times, I read excellent quality white papers that omit the most critical part. Once you define the topic, articulate the problem to solve, and present solution paths, it is critical to conclude with a recommendation supported by airtight data. When you have established yourself as the authority on a topic through the first three parts, the readers are with you: they want you to tell them your opinion of the best solution. By this point, you have established technical credibility and trust, the main goals of the white paper.
5.) Finishing Touches and CTA
Creating an exciting design for the white paper format and adding backlinks to other content are crucial steps to take before submitting the white paper. It is smart to avoid sales pitches until the very end (if they need to be there at all), to reinforce the purpose of the study – thought leadership. But before you leave the reader, make sure you give them a CTA to move them further down the marketing funnel. Point them to a backlinked case study or recent blog post, or direct them to another relevant page on your website to keep them learning from you.
Writing a great white paper is challenging, but well worth the effort to put the engineering-minded decision-maker’s mind at ease that you’ve thought through the issues before presenting your winning argument. Crafting a white paper with this process will keep your reader engaged and confident in your content, your technical expertise, and ultimately, your firm.