How to Draw Readers into Your White Paper

people reading a white paperOne of my clients believes that most B2B marketers just “throw shit against the wall” and hope that it sticks. This may keep you busy, but it won’t bring you great results.

When you’re putting a ton of time and effort into creating a white paper, you don’t want to throw random content out there and hope that it resonates with your audience. That’s why it’s important to get clear on who your audience is and what their key pain points are – as well as how you want to address their concerns in your white paper – before you begin to write. Once you have this information, you can use it to draft your white paper’s introduction.

Get Clear on Your White Paper’s Audience

When you completed the white paper creative brief (links to a Word file), you answered a number of questions about your target audience, such as:

  • Who are they? What are their roles within their companies?
  • What are their key challenges?
  • How are these challenges impacting their typical workday?
  • Are these challenges impacting their personal lives? If so, how?
  • How will your white paper help them solve these challenges?

These are just a few of the questions you can ask. If you have trouble answering these questions, then you may need to do more background work. Be sure to check out “15 Ways to Get to Know Your Target Audience” for ideas that will help you connect with your ideal customers.

How to Write a White Paper Introduction that Compels Your Target Audience to Read More

Once you have a good grasp of your target audience, you’re ready to start writing.

When I start to write a new white paper, I begin by drafting the introduction or executive summary. Doing this first ensures that I stay focused on the target audience, their key challenge and what’s needed to solve the challenge as I write the rest of the white paper.

The introduction of a white paper can be anywhere from a few paragraphs to a page in length. It serves as a teaser that gives readers an overview of what they can expect in the rest of the white paper and compels them to read more.

I base my white paper introductions on a process that I learned through Michael Stelzner’s book Writing White Papers. I highly recommend this resource if you want to learn more about writing white papers. Stelzner recommends that your introduction identifies your target audience, summarizes their challenge, summarizes the solution and states the white paper’s goal.

Here’s a breakdown of what you must do in your white paper’s introduction:

  • Describe your target audience. You can mention your target audience directly by their role (i.e. “If you’re a CIO at a mid-sized business or enterprise that handles customer records, you face the challenges of …”). However, you don’t need to call them by title. Whatever you choose to do in the introduction, your ideal readers must instantly know that this white paper is meant for them.  

When I draft the introduction of a white paper, I always mention the target audience by their role, even if this doesn’t go into the final draft. I find that referring back to this helps me stay on track.

  • Discuss your target audience’s biggest challenge. From the moment your ideal customers glance at your white paper, you want them to know that you understand their key challenges. Lots of white papers miss out on the opportunity to connect with readers on the first page by instead launching into a discussion about the product. Don’t mention your product or your company name in the introduction. Your readers can smell a sales pitch a mile away and will stop reading.

You can include a statistic or compelling piece of research that highlights the scale of the problem. For example, if you’re talking about network security, you can say something like, “Did you know that a company loses $300 for every customer record that is compromised? At $300,000 for every 1,000 records, – the hard costs alone can add up fast.” (This isn’t a real statistic, so please don’t quote me!)

  • Summarize the solution. Your white paper’s introduction can highlight reasons why the old solution is not working and tell readers what they need to solve their key challenge. However, don’t mention your product or service at this point. You’ll save that discussion for the end of the white paper. Here’s an example of how to mention a solution in a network security white paper:

 “While your old technologies may have worked in the past, they do not stand up against today’s sophisticated global hackers. That’s why you need a network security solution that allows you to …”

  • State the white paper’s goal. Finally, your introduction should state the white paper’s goal, or the key benefit your target audience will gain by reading the white paper. For example, “By the end of this white paper, you will know the five steps you must take to protect your customer data from hackers.”

And finally, remember that this is just a draft. It doesn’t need to be perfect and will probably change as you dive deeper into the white paper. At this stage of the writing process, it’s just important to have guidelines that you can refer back to as you continue writing.

If you have any comments or questions about this lesson, please post them in the comments section below or message me directly.

Do You Want to Know More About Writing Better White Papers?

This post is part of a series that outlines how to write white papers, as well as how to promote them to reach the widest possible audience. If you would like this series emailed to you for easy reference, please sign up for the No More Boring White Papers! e-course.

Join the Conversation

2 Comments

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *