Most white papers are boring, badly laid out and don’t keep the reader beyond the first paragraph.
In fact, once the company has added the obligatory cover page and probably an equally obligatory last page with contact details, there is a fair chance the reader will glance at that cover page and close the document down there and then.
The next problem is that most white papers are created by subject matter experts from the technical side of the business. They have become used to being the go-to people for their area of expertise and when they sit down to create a white paper they have that same, sermon mentality, that ends up with a highly technical demonstration of their subject knowledge. Very occasionally the resulting paper will be themed around some actual customer need but usually dives straight in to the interesting stuff.
If any or all of this is sounding familiar and you are in need of a way to break this cycle then read on.
So, you may have noticed that this isn’t much of a template at the moment; the bad news is it isn’t going to be. The good news is that it is going to tell you how to create your own templates with enough flexibility to meet whatever needs your white paper will be addressing.
Let’s get started.
This is THE most important part of the paper. It is what will attract people in the first place and it is what will convince them to read a few more lines to see if it really delivers what they are looking for. Write your title first, create several and socialise them around the organisation to see which ones attract the most interest, that is after all what the title is going to have to do once the paper is sent out into the world to do its job.
No really, you have to give this as much love and attention as you gave the title, if you don’t then a lot of your prospects will fall at this very first hurdle. OK, if the title is the first hurdle then tis is the second one, but you get the point, hopefully. The title and first sentence work together to draw the reader into the subject matter of the paper. It doesn’t actually matter if the first sentence has anything at all to do with the later content, its job is to find synergy with the reader, let them know they are going to get something great out of the time and effort they put into reading this paper. It’s your first impression and we all know you only get one shot at that.
However you choose to spend your first sentence, by the end of the first paragraph you need to have told your reader what they will gain from reading the paper. You need to do it in a way that captures their interest and keeps their attention. This is where you attach their leash so you can lead them through the rest of your words and get them all the way to the conclusion and call-to-action.
ALL the keys areas to be covered in the white paper should be included on the first page. If your white paper is going to be a novella, then rethink it. Eight pages maximum. Assuming you think more is more and you grudgingly hold it back to eight pages then use page one as a summary introduction. Tell readers what they will find in the white paper and how useful it is going to be to them. If you are wise beyond your years and can convey your message in just a few pages then you will need to use page one to deliver content. Put the most important information on page one and use tactics like ‘more on this later,’ to keep people reading to the end. DO NOT overuse any one technique or you start to lose credibility.
Multi-page white papers
In most cases, people either read a white paper in one sitting or they never return to the remaining content. Consider creating multiple, short white papers that each cover a key element of your subject. If you really want it all under one cover then rinse and repeat the advice above. Each page should be treated to the same process used for the first page: Title | First sentence | First paragraph. Why? It is the only way to keep the reader engrossed, otherwise.
Your reader is probably at their desk in the office. They have their email client telling them that they have mail, their phone might be ringing and their colleagues might drop by for a chat. They have proven themselves willing to give your white paper a try, you have to help them stay focused on your content.
Call to Action
It is highly unlikely that you are writing white papers for the benefit of your fellow man, not impossible just very unlikely. You hope to inspire them to do something, usually something that ends up with some of their cash in your company bank account.
It is quite a result if the reader gets all the way to the end of your diatribe, says “that was well worth reading,” and then casts it to the virtual bin and goes back to their day job.
If you did your job well they might be willing to follow a link. Entice them with more content, or with an offer they CAN refuse or ask them to rate your white paper. Get them to do something that lets you know they read as far as your call to action.
A good white paper is a key sales tool. It may be used at the ‘cold’ end of the selling cycle but it will be part of the warming up process. Sometimes it will attempt to be the step that creates direct communication.
Your call to action should be clearly defined BEFORE you start writing the white paper, because it is the reason the paper will exist. Know what you want the reader to do, seed your paper with action links and use the content to create a desire in the reader to follow your call.
If you are going for a mammoth production then don’t wait until the end of the white paper to issue your call to action. No matter how good your content, not all your readers will get that far. Look for logical places where they might lose the will to read on, go on be honest with yourself. Having said that, don’t overuse the call to action or it can have a negative effect and drive the reader away.
Call to action samples:
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