3 Different Types of White Papers and Why They Are Important for Your Sales Funnel
In this post, we'll cover:
A white paper can help your customers make a buying decision. In particular, B2B businesses can benefit from these types of content, as they require more complex processes. As there are different types of white papers, they can also be successfully applied to B2C sales.
Types of white papers
White papers are a type of research-based informational content. They provide reliable data with an authoritative perspective. In other words, the solutions or recommendations presented are supported by in-depth knowledge of the subject matter they cover.
But there is more than one way to present this content. Many years ago, Gordon Graham, known as the “white paper guy,” organized the types of white papers into three categories:
- Background white papers
- Numbered list
Today, this classification has been adopted by content marketers on a large-scale. Below we explain the characteristics of the different types of white papers in detail:
Background white paper
As the name implies, this type of white paper provides the context of a situation or problem. This approach allows for a more extensive study of the technical or commercial aspects of the company’s product or service.
For this reason, background white papers are particularly suitable for presenting novelties in the industry or market. They aim to explain to the reader what the product or service is about and how it works. Generally, in their drafting, factual descriptions are used to explain the origin and value of the innovation.
For example, banking books as background white papers usually include scientific studies and data from authoritative sources. This information is used to substantiate the need for and the effectiveness of the proposed solution.
These types of white papers are ideal for buyers who are at the bottom of the sales funnel (BoFu). They serve to clear all doubts and help the user make a decision. Most B2C company background white papers meet this objective.
However, you can also use this type of white papers as introductory material, especially if your market is B2C. Consider including them in your public relations campaign to help journalists understand your offer. Likewise, be sure to distribute the white papers properly, so that your audience can access them.
Although these papers generally require some research work, background white papers are a good investment. Their useful life is generally not very limited, since they will remain relevant as long as the product or service continues to be effective.
Numbered list white paper
Numbered lists respond to user preferences for absorbing schematic and concise information. There is a functional justification for this behavior, as the human brain needs to order and hierarchize data to be able to process it. The structure of the lists fits perfectly with this condition.
You can take advantage of this format to present your audience with a numbered set of recommendations, common questions and answers, or main points of a topic. This is an excellent way to improve readability. Keep in mind that users tend to make a superficial reading of the content, so you should strive to capture their attention. Once you have succeeded in arousing their interest, be sure to maintain it by providing hard-hitting and valuable data in a user-friendly and engaging manner.
This type of white paper is very versatile and can be used in both B2B and B2C sales. It is an effective tool for conveying your message to all types of audiences. Be sure to use a simple writing style and avoid technical terms that can be intimidating. The objective is that anyone interested in the subject can easily understand it.
Given these characteristics, it is not surprising that numbered lists often appeal to humor, or they are used to provoke reactions. It may even pose playful challenges or instill some fear or uncertainty. Remember that this well-known strategy is a call to action. The triad of fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) is a powerful driver of sales. It allows you to generate a sense of urgency or create awareness of a need.
Consequently, we are talking about a very versatile type of white paper, which works well at any stage of the sales funnel. Provocative content can be used in the initial stages to attract customers. However, in complex sales, you can just as easily focus on answering questions from prospects who are already in the intermediate stages. The numbered list can refer to both the most basic and general concepts of the subject as well as more specific ones.
Problem/solution white paper
Problem/solution white papers are also called improved solution. They are persuasive guides that pose a general industry challenge and position your brand as the best option.
This type of white paper addresses a topic, starting with the identification and approach to the challenge. Instead of focusing initially on the characteristics of your offering, they provide a clear definition of the need it satisfies.
Consumers are often unaware of the alternatives available to them. Moreover, they may not be able to clearly identify the root cause of the issue. Consequently, they do not know what kind of help to seek or where to look for it.
For example, someone needs to improve his company’s distribution capabilities. The answer could be the expansion of its transport fleet. Or it could benefit from the implementation of a computerized logistics and management system. A problem/solution white paper can help you pinpoint the obstacle. It will provide you with a guide to detect the flaws in the process and outline a solution, so the customer has the tools to make the best decision.
Of course, your white paper should position your product or service as the most effective solution. It is a process that covers, so to speak, the general to the particular.
In this type of white paper, the reader is taken through logical reasoning steps, from the current situation to the resolution of the issue. This determines its style, which tends to be more formal and requires a lot of data to support the initial premise.
Problem/solution white papers are therefore educational in nature and are often rich in technical data. They use powerful and convincing arguments and provide innovative responses. For you, they are also a means to demonstrate to your target audience that you have extensive knowledge of the industry.
The problem/solution white paper is a particularly effective type of white paper for the top of the sales funnel. By capturing the audience’s interest and facilitating their purchase decisions, these white papers can generate new leads. In addition, they work well in the action stages of the funnel. In fact, they are widely used by sales teams to convince potential customers.
With respect to the shelf life of this type of white paper, the problem/ solution is evergreen content. Thus, they are considered perennial materials, as they will continue to be valid as long as the challenge remains a concern for the customers. And, as you well know, this translates into a higher return on investment.
Why produce a white paper?
Whatever type of white paper you decide to create, it is sure to have an impact on your business. Certain content has a greater effect on lead generation, while other content is aimed at building authority. Nevertheless, these are not isolated facts because, in the long run, they all contribute to the overall performance of your company.
The main benefits of using white papers in your content that you will be able to obtain are related to:
Brand authority and thought leadership
If there is one thing the different types of white papers have in common, it is their ability to build brand authority. These content pieces will allow you to demonstrate your subject matter knowledge and industry expertise.
Your potential customers will perceive you as an expert and feel that you fully understand their needs and circumstances. In this way, you can establish your thought leadership and position yourself as a benchmark player in your industry.
Regardless of what type of white paper you develop, make sure the content is robust. Keep in mind that this type of content often provides great brand exposure. This not only refers to what you can get organically, but also through referrals.
This is very relevant for B2B companies as their customers are not very prone to share information. However, research indicates that nearly 80% of respondents would be willing to share a white paper they consider meaningful on social media or with acquaintances. This substantially increases the potential of this content to attract prospective customers.
Attraction and maturation of prospective customers
One of the greatest strengths of white papers is their ability to generate leads. Because they provide valuable information, users are willing to share their contact information to access the content. By definition, the white paper is one of the main resources for generating sales leads. Additionally, it also effectively nurtures the relationship with your prospective customers, so the ROI will be very favorable.
Sales pitch support
The ultimate goal of any type of white paper is to provide solutions for its audience. By virtue of this, these pieces are usually supported by consistent and reliable data. These features make them a valuable tool for B2B sales representatives.
The technical specifications, statistics, tables and graphs included in the white paper can be used to support your sales arguments. Please note that these types of negotiations are very demanding. You will need to equip your team with the high-level information they need to answer questions from prospective customers.
When a potential B2B customer is faced with a purchasing decision, simplifying the process will help them evaluate their options. A white paper can help pinpoint their need and narrow down the solution.
In this respect, one type of white paper stands out. These are numbered lists, since they can function as an evaluation tool. In the solution research phase, the B2B buyer can draw on this content to establish the parameters to be considered.
One of the main advantages of any type of white paper is that it is targeted to a highly segmented audience. This allows you to develop a specific message that will resonate with your potential customers.
At the end of the day, when customers download a white paper, it is because they have an interest in the topic. In this sense, these individuals have great potential to become effective customers.
In B2B sales, however, there is still an additional difficulty to overcome. Often, several decision-makers are involved in these processes. You must ensure that the type of white paper you offer addresses all of their needs. For a procurement professional, commercial terms and conditions may be the most relevant. In contrast, the chief technology officer will require more technical information. Consider creating different types of white papers to address the specific concerns of each prospective decision-maker in the audience.
The challenge of creating a successful white paper
To create any of these three types of white papers described above, you will need to collect a lot of information. You must ensure that the piece provides accurate and useful data, presented in a way that appeals to your audience. This involves extensive research and analysis that must be supported by expert opinions. It also incorporates the work of designers and content creators.
Undoubtedly, the production of these materials is a complex process that requires time and dedication. However, the return on investment will compensate for these sacrifices. An effective alternative is to delegate this work to third parties. Fortunately, there are content writing companies with teams of specialists in different industries.
By hiring such a service, you will be sure to offer your potential customers quality technical documents. At the same time, you’ll get content that answers your audience’s specific questions precisely.