White Papers - A Great Promotional Tool


Would you like to be known as an expert in your field? Are you looking for a way to add to your permission based mailing lists? Do you have a product or service that can be seen as a solution to a business problem? The answer is the “white paper”.


According to Michael Stelzner, the leading expert on writing white papers and the author of Writing White Papers: How to Capture Readers and Keep Them Engaged: “Well-written white papers help people make decisions, such as buy a product, sign a contract or follow a new initiative. Often, white papers go viral and have a big influence on an industry.”

Exactly, what are white papers?


You probably are familiar with white papers from reading trade magazines where a shortened version appears as an “advertorial.” Used to create a positive image of a company in the eyes of its readership, white papers are documents that are fact-driven and contain useful information, expert opinions and present a solution to a problem. They are formatted to present the features of products or services and translate them into business advantages. They logically present information, beginning with challenges and ending with a strategy to resolve issues.

They can also can be written as an educational tool. Stelzner describes in his book how white papers are also used to perform a soft sale through education. This means avoiding the mention of your product and company name until the last pages of the document, yet selling readers nonetheless. The selling is really covert.

How was the white paper format started?


White papers started as public policy documents. The British White Paper of 1922 (also known as the Churchill White Paper) is one of the most famous white papers.  The term white paper is an offshoot of the term white book, referring to the substitution of a formal binding for a white sheet of paper.

In the 1970s, white papers were internal corporate documents that revealed strategy and tactical plans, and were referred to as marketing requirement documents. The technology industry then adopted the format as the definitive marketing vehicle for promoting their products to corporation CIOs and purchasers of corporate technology solutions. 

As both electronic printing and distribution through the internet lowered production costs for white papers, more diverse industries began to see the white paper as another effective piece to add to their marketing mix.


So how can a producing a white paper benefit my business?


A white paper is a great method through which to promote your business. It can be used as online collateral, as handouts to support live presentations, as email attachments in business correspondence, as incentive offers within advertisements and as a core ingredient within a direct mail campaign.


Stelzner says  "Good white papers are prospect magnets. They are able to fly under the radar and penetrate most organizations' anti-marketing defenses because they are sought after and brought into the organization by decision-makers. This means leads for the sponsoring company and ultimately sales."


As people request your white papers, they become a great way to fulfill  “permission-based marketing” requirements, helping your business expand its e-mail lists for future marketing campaigns and mailings.


Lastly, a well written and researched white paper can position you as an expert, a “thought leader” in your field.

Seven white paper essentials


If by now your wondering “But I’ve never read a ‘white paper’!” that is because you may be more accustomed to the term “guide” rather than white paper.


  1. Determine your audience and their needs – also whether you will call it a white paper or a guide (this does not change your contents or your structure!)

  2. Chose a topic that promotes you as an expert and provides an opportunity to present a solution to your reader’s pressing problem.

  3. Come up with a catchy title -
    Compelling titles make people WANT to read it.

  4. Make sure the first page of the paper is written to produce a high impact on your reader.

  5. End the paper with a strong call to action, or an offer.

  6. Be sure to provide your contact information prominently on the cover and inside. List real people to talk to. Have an e-mail address that has a person’s name in it not the infamous “info” email address (as in info@smallcompany.com) Catch-all email addresses are seem as black holes to a prospect - they wanted to talk to knowledgeable individuals who could expand on the white paper's points. They are also suspicious of contact information that lacks a phone number.

  7. Develop your marketing strategy for the white paper. (read Stelzner’s book for great advice on marketing tactics for white papers – see side bar for book information)


Some white paper factoids


Research indicates that executives examine an average of 30 white papers each year and more than half claimed white papers influence their buying decisions. Source: Bitpipe. (February 2004). Bitpipe network user study: Readership usage of white papers in the IT buying process.

Research revealed that white papers are more likely to be read than reviews, analyst reports, product literature, websites, articles or case studies. Source: CMO Council and KnowledgeStorm. (September 2005). Define what's valued online.

White papers are more effective for lead generation than webinars, free trials, seminars and newsletters. Source: MarketingSherpa. (2005). IT marketing benchmark guide 2005-2006.

                                                                                                                         © 2006 Leona M Seufert
























Michael A. Stelzner is one of the leading authorities on the topic of writing and marketing white papers. He has written nearly 100 white papers for many of the world's most recognized companies, including Microsoft, FedEx, Motorola, Monster, Hewlett-Packard and SAP.

Michael is the founder and executive editor of the 20,000-reader WhitePaperSource Newsletter, a monthly publication dedicated to helping writers and marketing professionals master the art of white papers. He also founded WhitePaperSource.com, the first and only portal dedicated to the topic of white papers.

Click here to take a look at a sample chapter of Michael's new book