7 Special Ingredients that Add Extra Power to White Papers

February 12, 2014 by

In our last two articles, we talked about the various "species" of white papers. Specifically, we looked at the three principal white paper archetypes, and the best hybrid combinations of the same.

Examining those archetypes and hybrids, we saw that their basic content is pretty much what you'd expect. The Backgrounder focuses on the features and benefits of a product or service. The Problem/Solution explores a nagging industry problem and makes the case for a new and better solution. And the Numbered List presents a small number of concise, key points on an important topic.

Putting together a top-notch white paper isn't a cut-and-dried process, however. And there are a many "special ingredients" that can be added to give your white paper some extra "oomph" – make it more attractive, more compelling, and thus, more effective with your target audience.

In this essay, we'll examine seven of the most common and reliable of those special ingredients – what they are, what they do, and where they go in your white paper.

1. The Positioning Blurb

A positioning blurb is a short, one- or two-sentence statement that sums up what a product, service or company does for its customers. It helps prospects understand where your company or offering fits in its market space, so they can better understand your marketing messages.

Companies who fail to develop an effective positioning blurb often struggle to separate their technology from the competition. So a good positioning blurb is an indispensable part of the introduction to every backgrounder. It's a reference for readers who may not have been previously familiar with your offering.

Positioning blurbs can also be used effectively in the "About Us" section of a problem/solution or numbered list white paper, where they position your company as a top supplier of the solution you've just described.

If you need to develop a positioning blurb, my colleague Gordon Graham, author of White Papers for Dummies, offers the following formula as a starting point:

[Name of product or service] is a [down-to-earth adjective] [recognized niche, category or genre] that [active verb, such as provides, delivers, or performs] [number-one benefit covered in white paper] to/for [primary target market]

Applying this formula for a particular offering will yield a concise positioning blurb suitable for use in a white paper or other marketing communication, as in the following example:

The Acme Model 3620 is a flexible, modular wiring tester that provides instrumentation and/or power to any circuit connected to the system, simplifying harness, panel and final assembly functional testing for aerospace manufacturers

2. The Executive Summary

An executive summary is a single-page-or-less synopsis of your white paper, intended to give busy executives a helpful overview of its content.

It helps decision makers in two ways.

First, it gives them just enough information to immediately decide whether your white paper is relevant to their organization. It quickly tells them whether they should read your white paper themselves or forward it to someone else, and whom they should forward it to.

Second, it provides executives with a good overall framework for understanding the arguments you're going to present. In other words, it "tells them what you're going to tell them."

Another benefit of the executive summary, Graham says, is that it provides fans of your solution with a concise piece of content they can repurpose to build support in the selection committee. {1}

An executive summary should be used as the introduction to any problem/solution white paper, including numbered list hybrids. It's optional for other formats, but it can be quite helpful for summarizing long backgrounders.

3. Numbered Lists

Numbered lists of key points on a specific topic don't just make good white papers in and of themselves. They're also a great way to provide information within a white paper, in a concise, easy-to-read and easy-to-remember format.

As such, numbered (or bulleted) lists can go almost anywhere in your white paper. Use them to present:

  • Market drivers
  • Factors or sub-problems that make up the main problem
  • Traditional solutions and their drawbacks
  • Features and/or benefits of your recommended solution
  • And any other information that can be enumerated in a list

Using numbered lists also increases the amount of white space on the page. This gives your white paper a friendlier look, which encourages prospects to start reading, and keep reading.

4. The Buyer's Guide

There's one special type of numbered list that almost every problem/solution white paper should contain: the buyer's guide.

A buyer's guide – or "what to look for" list – is a numbered list of must-have features the reader should look for when shopping for your proposed solution.

By including a buyer's guide in your white paper, you're in effect handing your readers a specification – a specification they can use in evaluating solution candidates.And since you wrote the spec, this gives your product or service a distinct advantage.

The buyer's guide should appear late in your problem/solution white paper, after you've thoroughly explored the problem and presented the benefits of your solution. And as with your solution, the features listed in your buyer's guide should be described generically – without any brand names.

If your white paper is convincing, and you've built up credibility in your discussion of the problem and solution, a buyer's guide can tilt the playing field, subtly, in your favor.

5. Case Studies

In the context of a white paper, case studies are short, real-world examples of how your solution can be applied and the results that can be achieved. They're usually abbreviated versions of the same customer success stories you publish as stand-alone collateral.

But they don't have to be.

A case study can also describe a turnkey solution you've developed for a common customer application, or a hypothetical ROI calculation using verifiable data.

Needless to say, if you have a real customer example, so much the better. After all, the purpose of a case study is to provide compelling proof that your solution will do what you say it does. And unbiased, third-party evidence – testimony of customer satisfaction – is the most credible proof you can provide.

Case studies should be placed near the end a problem/solution white paper, following the solution description and buyer's guide. They can be appear as a full-length sidebar, a text box, or within the main body text. In a backgrounder, they can be used practically anywhere to illustrate specific benefits.

In white papers, it's best to keep case studies as short as possible in. Provide links to the full-length versions, if available, for those who want more detail.

6. Conclusions

It's almost always a good idea to end your white paper with a set of conclusions – a few brief sentences that sum up the argument for your solution. By "telling them what you told them" you give readers a recap of the key take-aways from your white paper, making it more likely they'll remember them.

The one exception to this rule is a short, pure numbered list, where the list itself amounts to a set of take-away points.

Your conclusions section should be placed after the close of your argument, but before your call to action and "about us" blurb.

7. The Call to Action

Like every other piece of marketing communication, a white paper should conclude with a call to action: a brief paragraph – even a single sentence – that tells prospects what they should do next.

Whether it's downloading a trial version of your software, going to a special web page for more information, or picking up the phone to talk to a sales rep, you must give your prospects their next step – and ask them to take it – if you want to pull them further into your sales funnel.

For most problem/solution white papers, I recommend a "double" call to action. This consists of one call to action for prospects with an urgent need, and a second for prospects who have no immediate need but who may be interested in your offering in the future.

For prospects with an urgent need, the natural next step is to make an appointment with a sales rep, so they can discuss their needs and what you can do for them. Obviously, you want to tell that group to call your sales number and make that appointment.

Prospects without an immediate need, on the other hand, won't want to spend time on the phone with a salesperson at this point. For them, you want a "soft" offer – one that doesn't involve any direct human contact. Most soft offers involve some interaction with a specific page of your website, a page where the prospect can view a related video, download trial software or related case studies, take a survey, or plug data into an ROI calculator.

Be as creative as you like (within reason, of course). One of my clients invites readers to sign up for a monthly drawing to win a free evaluation kit. Entries are used to further qualify prospects by calling to find out which kit would best suit their needs.

Take-Away Points

While those listed above are not the only "special ingredients" that can make a white paper more powerful, they are the most common and widely effective. It makes sense to keep a checklist of them, to apply to all your white papers.

So, here's your Checklist of White Paper Special Ingredients and where they go:

1. Positioning Blurb (start of backgrounders, end of problem/solutions or numbered lists)

2. Executive Summary (intro to problem/solutions and longer backgrounders)

3. Numbered Lists (practically anywhere in any white paper)

4. Buyer's Guide (after you've made your case for your solution in a problem/solution)

5. Case Studies (towards the end of a problem/solution or backgrounder)

6. Conclusions (At the close of any white paper, save short numbered lists)

7. Call to Action (At the end of every white paper, following the Conclusions)

Next Steps...

Need some help pulling together a new white paper? Call CopyEngineer at (+39) 011 569 4951. Or drop me an email at info@copyengineer.com.


{1} Graham, Gordon, White Papers for Dummies, John Wiley and Sons, 2013.

{2} ibid.

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