White Papers: A Gray Area
I was asked about white papers this week, and I was surprised to find that I had trouble explaining them. It was like trying to describe a boat to someone who'd never seen one...."Well, you know what a car is right? Think cars, but on the water."
It's no surprise White Papers should be so hard to pigeonhole. B2B copy is often overlooked outside of niche writing circles where specialists (often in a single sector or industry) use their staggering inside knowledge to craft professional content that is illegible nonsense to someone outside the industry, but manna from heaven for those who use that sort of jargon on a daily basis.
White papers take that B2B, insular language and take it to an even more incomprehensible level.
White papers are how businesses sell their niche product or service to the narrow (sometimes single digits) businesses who specialize in that good/service. For example, if a company crafts lenses for flashlights, they need to speak the proper lingo of flashlight manufacturers, on whose business they wholly rely.
A white paper can do that better than any other form of copy. They usually come in 3 forms:
1. A problem/solution, which proposes how they can solve a common issue that business is facing.
2. A Backgrounder, which goes over their ability to be of better use to that business than competitors.
3. A bullet list, which goes over a detailed series of points as to why they'd make a good fit for that business.
White Papers are exceptional ways to create or improve inter-business relations, establish a rapport about what is expected from both parties, and on a marketing level, is some of the most specialized, impressive copywriting you'll find. It reminds me of secret spy messages...White Papers are boring drivel, unless you're in that industry, and then its full-blown literature.