The content of a white paper provides useful information for readers seeking to understand an issue, solve a problem or do their jobs better. This can include explaining a certain product, service, technology or methodology. There are no set standards for a white papers or case studies. The typical format is somewhere between six-eight pages in length, with a narrative text, is educational, practical and useful, is not a sales pitch, provides facts not just opinion and includes an introduction or executive summary.
Types of White papers:
- Business benefits: to show how buyers will benefit from a certain offering, aimed at a non-technical audience.
- Evaluator's guide: to explain the features, functions, interfaces and benefits of an offering to a prospect 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 at the launch.
- Special report: this can be almost any type of hybrid white paper aimed at any B2B audience. These can be especially effective when it's 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.
White papers and brochures: What's the difference?
White papers and brochures are almost complete opposites.
Brochures are sales documents intended to create interest and desire. Brochures push "emotional buttons" such as fear, greed, envy or vanity. They are generally colorful, flashy and filled with promises. They use the techniques of copywriting and advertising.
White papers, on the other hand, are persuasive essays about a certain product, service, technology or methodology. White papers appeal more to logic through irrefutable facts, iron-clad logic, impeccable statistics and quotes from industry opinion-makers. They are generally plain-looking, not flashy and filled with facts. They use the techniques of rhetoric and plain English. Some companies simply reformat a brochure and call the result a "white paper." This is a dangerous waste of effort. Most readers become irritated when they discover that a vendor has done this. I have heard people urge vendors to make their white papers as flashy as brochures. This is not correct. A white paper should be much more dignified, substantial and informative than a brochure. Making it look like a sales piece is the kiss of death for a white paper.
White papers and case studies: what's the difference?
White papers sometimes mention case studies for evidence of a vendor's claims. But the two are quite different in form and content.
Case studies are extended testimonials on how a product or service helped someone in the real world. They are typically between 500 and 1,500 words long, written in a journalistic style with many quotes from the actual customer.
The classic format for a case study is Before/After, Then/Now, Problem/Solution:
Before we had this terrible problem, then we found this fantastic product, and After we started using it, everything was sweetness and light.
White papers, on the other hand, are persuasive essays about a certain product, service, technology or methodology. They are generally 2,500 words or more, written in a somewhat academic style, with no direct quotes from the vendor's representatives. A white paper may be told in the Problem/Solution format, but rarely in the Before/After format.