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Get Your White Paper Project Done Faster

by | Mar 14, 2017 | Collateral, White Papers, Content Marketing | 0 comments

Get your white paper flying faster

White papers are among the most difficult and time-intensive of all content marketing projects. Last month, we looked at five reasons why.

But a white paper doesn’t have to take longer that it should. In this article, I’ll offer you six tips, which you, the marketing manager, can use to help your writer complete your white paper in record time.

Step 1: Determine your primary marketing objective

Setting an objective for your white paper is critical to its development and to the success of your campaign. Your marketing objective will determine everything you do – and save you time – in the subsequent steps I’ll describe below. But you must do this first.

Of course, you may have several goals you’d like to accomplish. That’s only natural, given the expense involved in creating a white paper. But bear in mind that a single white paper probably won’t accomplish all your goals. White papers come in different flavors, or “species” as I like to call them. Each species is best suited for certain objectives, less effective or even unsuitable for others. You’ll need to prioritize your needs and identify your top priority.

What one thing do you MOST need your white paper to do? Do you want to:

  • Generate new leads?
  • Build mindshare for your company among prospects and industry influencers?
  • Support the launch of a new product?
  • Educate prospects on a new solution to a nagging industry problem?
  • Get attention on social media?
  • Nurture leads through the middle of the sales funnel?
  • Cast doubt on competitors’ offerings?
  • Support technical evaluations by prospects at the end of the sales process?

Choose your primary objective. This important first step will help determine your target audience, type of white paper, topic, and everything else that comes afterward.

Step 2: Define your target audience

Defining you target audience is closely linked to determining your objective. Doing so will clarify your objective and help you choose a format and topic for your white paper.

Once again, you need to prioritize. You need to identify a primary audience: your ideal reader for this white paper. What is her job title? What is her persona? What are her needs, fears and desires. Be as specific as you can. This is who your writer will “speak to” when he’s writing your white paper.

Also, be sure to identify important secondary audiences that need to be considered. Your writer won’t speak to them directly, but he should address their concerns within the context of writing to the ideal reader. Limit this list no more than two, or you’ll risk losing the laser-like focus a good white paper needs.

Step 3: Choose the right “species” of white paper

Once you’ve established your objective and target audience, you’re ready to select the type of white paper your writer will craft for you. Ideally, your writer should help you make your final decision here, but making a preliminary choice will help you with the steps that follow.

There are three basic archetypes, or “species” of white paper. They are: (1) the problem/solution, (2) the numbered list, and (3) the backgrounder. And as I mentioned earlier, each of these species is better suited for certain goals than for others. Here, I’ll offer some guidance on how to choose which is right for your current project.

The problem/solution species is the best type of white paper to use at the beginning of a complex sale. It takes on a big industry problem or issue, and builds a case to show that a specific solution – your solution – is the best one currently available to solve it. Problem/solution white papers are the preferred species for an executive audience, because they are designed to help the reader (1) understand an issue, (2) solve a problem or (3) make a decision. This makes the problem/solution the best type of white paper for lead generation, building mindshare and redefining a market space.

Problem/solution white papers are also useful for educating your sales team and channel partners on the problem your product was built to solve, and what makes your solution superior to its competitors.

Numbered list white papers consist of a numbered set of points, issues, tips, questions or answers on a specific topic. This species promises a lighter, quicker read than the problem/solution or backgrounder, because the numbered list format breaks the material into bite-sized chunks. This makes the numbered list ideal for nurturing leads through the middle of the sales cycle. By providing easily-digested portions of useful information at regular intervals, you continue to build trust with your target prospects.

Numbered lists are also well suited to getting attention via social media with provocative views on industry issues, and for casting doubt on competitors by revealing hidden “gotchas” and providing probing questions to ask.

A numbered list is also relatively quick and easy to produce. This makes it your best bet when you need valuable content, fast, to promote in your blog, newsletter or social media accounts.

White papers of the backgrounder species provide detailed information on your product’s features and benefits, the rationale behind its design, and how to use the product to achieve a given objective. This makes the backgrounder the ideal choice to support a product launch – when you need to educate trade journalists, bloggers and other industry influencers, as well as your sales team and channel partners, on what your new product can do, and how it does it.

Backgrounders are also the best choice for providing prospects with detailed information for technical evaluations in the final stages of the sales process.

Section summary: Choosing the right species of white paper for your chosen marketing objective

A problem/solution white paper is usually your best choice when you want to:

  • Generate leads
  • Build mindshare
  • Redefine a market space

Choose a numbered list white paper when you want to:

  • Nurture leads through the middle of the sales process
  • Get attention with a provocative view (while still providing useful info)
  • Cast doubt on competitors
  • Create useful content quickly

Create a backgrounder white paper when you need to:

  • Support a product launch
  • Support prospects’ technical evaluations at the end of the sales process

You may also want to consider a hybrid between two of the basic species. Click here to learn about hybrid white papers. If you’d like more information on the basic three white paper species, click here.

Step 4: Brainstorm topic ideas

Now that you’ve chosen the species of white paper your writer is going to produce for you, you’re ready to start thinking about topics. Your marketing objective and the species you’ve selected will dictate your approach to this step. Below, you will find a list of thought-starters, sorted by white paper species, which you can use to kick off the topic brainstorming process.


If you’re planning a problem/solution white paper, start your topic exploration by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What nagging problem does our solution address?
  • Why should our prospect be concerned about this problem?
    • What are the problem’s implications?
    • What damage could it do to the prospect’s business?
    • Why does the prospect need to act now?
  • How might we state the problem to make it both clear and compelling?
  • What are the limitations or drawbacks of previous solutions?
  • How does our solution better address the problem?
  • What’s unique or different about our product?
    • Why are those differences important?
  • What hope do we offer customers that they’ll have trouble finding elsewhere?

Your answers to these questions should lead you to your white paper topic. If your product happens to address more than one nagging industry problem, you’ll have to choose which one to address in this white paper. Trying to address more than one problem in a single white paper is almost always a grave mistake. Doing so tends to confuse your white paper’s focus, which distracts readers.

Numbered List

Numbered list white papers often take the form of a useful guide. The type of numbered list you choose will depend on your objective.

If your objective is lead nurturing, consider these types of numbered lists:

  • Tips
  • Secrets
  • Best practices
  • Common mistakes

On the other hand, if your objective is to draw attention on social media or cast doubt on competitors, you’ll probably want a more “edgy” numbered list, like the following:

  • Questions to ask
  • Things you MUST know
  • Things [somebody] doesn’t want you to know
  • “Myths” surrounding a specific issue (which you will debunk in the white paper)


Choosing a topic for a backgrounder is mostly a matter of deciding where you need to focus your reader’s attention.

If your objective is to support a product launch, for example, you’ll probably want to focus rather broadly on the product: what it is, what it does, why your company has brought it to market, it’s features and benefits, etc.

If your goal is to support a technical evaluation, on the other hand, you may want to narrow your focus to cater to a specific target audience. You could zoom in on the use of the product for a certain application, or in a particular industry. You may even want to shift the focus away from the product itself and onto an unfamiliar technology that gives your product a decisive advantage.

In all cases, of course, you’re looking for a topic that highlights the strengths of your offering.


Be sure to keep notes on your topic ideas during this brainstorming process. You’ll want to have these on hand for the subsequent steps.

Step 5: Gather input from SMEs and stakeholders

Once you have your objective, target audience and type of white paper selected, and you’ve compiled a short list of topic ideas, discuss those ideas with your subject matter experts (SMEs) and important stakeholders.

Ask for their help. Which topics inspire them? What ideas do they have to add to your concept? What resources can they direct you to, to support a given topic? What points need to be made that you might have overlooked?

Use the input you receive to narrow down your choices to the best one or two. Then refine your top ideas. Look for your story angle. What will appeal most to your target audience? What will best meet your marketing objective?

Once you’ve got it polished, go back to your SMEs and potential reviewers for buy-in. Having all your reviewers on-board with your concept will help you avoid problems and save time during the review process, once the white paper has been written.

At the end of this step, you’ll be ready to discuss your white paper concept with your writer. But there’s one more thing you can do, before he begins work, to save him some time in the development process.

Step 6: Gather supporting materials

Once you’ve decided on your topic, gather whatever materials you have available to support your writer’s research. You can do much of this in parallel with the previous two steps, as you brainstorm topic ideas and discuss them with your SMEs.

Collect links to online resources in a single document. Put that document in a folder along with any PDFs or Word documents you or your SMEs may have collected. You might type up a brief guide to the assembled materials to help your writer sort through them, but that’s optional.

The idea here is to present your writer with a launch package that will help him get up to speed quickly, shorten his research time, and get him writing your first draft faster. And if you’ve gotten your SMEs and reviewers on board with your concept, the rest of the development process will go quicker as well.

Take-away Points

With a bit of planning before the start of a white paper project, you can help your writer produce your white paper faster, and help assure both its quick approval and its effectiveness. Six steps you can take to do this – even before you hire or assign a writer – are:

  1. Determine your primary marketing objective for the project
  2. Define the target audience for the white paper
  3. Choose the right “species” of white paper for the objective
  4. Brainstorm topic ideas
  5. Gather input from SMEs and stakeholders
  6. Gather supporting materials for the writer

Next Steps

Once you’ve discussed your concept with your chosen writer, you may want to have him or her put together a “white paper plan,” to keep the project on track and all your SMEs, reviewers and stakeholders on the same page. To learn more about building a white paper plan, click here.

Need to get a new white paper project done on time, and want help with planning or writing it? Call CopyEngineer at (+39) 011 569 4951. Or email me at

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