What makes a white paper authoritative? Is it the person writing it? Perhaps it is the content of the white paper itself. Or could it be the organization that is publishing the paper? In this blog post, I will explore the four key components that go into making a white paper–any white paper–an authoritative document and why you should be excited to publish a high quality white paper that speaks to your audience about solving a common problem.
In a nutshell, here are the four key components of white paper authority:
- Purpose – What is the purpose for your white paper? For what reason are you publishing it? A white paper with no purpose is like a business with no mission.
- Research – A white paper written off the top of your head is no white paper. It may be a very well crafted article, but in order to present expert, authoritative information on your topic, you’ve got to infuse your own ideas with solid research. In short, you need data to back up your claims.
- Objectivity – Your reader should be able to lose himself in your white paper. She should forget it has an author. In fact, if your reader can get to the end of your white paper and not detect the voice of any particular human being–as if anyone could have written the white paper–then you’ve achieved a level of objectivity that is necessary for an authoritative white paper on your subject.
- Reputation – The reputation of the author and the publisher is paramount.
Now, I’d like to expand on each of these components one by one. Let’s talk about them in more detail.
Your White Paper’s Purpose
Why do you want to write a white paper? What is the purpose for publishing this white paper at this time? These are critical questions.
Any white paper must have a critical reason for being. Your main goal is to address a problem that a lot of people experience, but your white paper must go beyond identifying the problem. It’s got to point toward a workable, achievable solution. That is your white paper’s purpose–to offer a solution to a common problem.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. Identifying a problem isn’t all that difficult. If you talk to enough people in your industry or sector, you’ll undoubtedly hear a few common themes. Rather than simply note what people are saying, however, try to listen to how they are saying it. In other words, listen to the tone of the message as well as the content. Let’s explore an example.
If your company serves the fintech sector–more specifically, let’s say equity crowdfunding–you might hear something like, “How can an average guy get in on the ground floor of a great opportunity without risking his entire investment portfolio?”
That’s a great question, but what’s at the heart of it? Is this inquirer asking about investment strategies, portfolio risk assessment analysis, or something more basic like where to go for information about investment opportunities? The same question asked by hundreds of potential non-accredited investors might yield different motivations behind the inquiry. Your task as the publisher of a white paper addressing the problem is to identify those motivations and decide whether you want to address each motivation in a single white paper or address them with separate white papers. But how do you make that decision?
One way is to assess the commonality of the motivations. If the number of people seeking information about investment opportunities is disproportionate to the number of people who are interested in actual investment strategies, then you may address the question that has the greatest prevalence.
Another way to identify a solid purpose for your next white paper is to weigh the motivations of those in your audience against your organization’s mission and the problems-solutions associated with your products or services. In other words, if you don’t provide portfolio risk assessment services for non-accredited investors seeking equity crowdfunding opportunities, then it makes no sense for you to publish a white paper on that subject. Stick to your own core business strategy, but do it in such a way that you are being helpful to your audience.
The purpose of any white paper is to address a common problem and to offer a solution to that problem that will satisfy the greatest number of people with that problem. To do that well, you must put your ear to the ground and hear what the marketplace is saying in terms of content and in terms of sentiment, or motivations, behind that content.Where those two meet–content and sentiment–with your business’s core mission, that’s where you’ll find the clear purpose for your next white paper.
Why Research is Critical to a White Paper’s Success
Flesh out your problem and your solution more clearly with solid research.
Research is necessary for two reasons:
- It can flesh out the problem more clearly; and
- It can throw some punch behind the meat of your proposed solution.
In other words, your white paper should ask, “Why is this problem such a problem and why does it need a solution?” Nothing can answer that question better than good research, which might mean citing academic papers, gathering data from a number of polls and/or surveys, or summarizing current events and news reports that shed light on the problem. Using third-party sources to bolster your arguments–even if those sources are your competition–will show your readers that you have done more than identify a problem and expressed an opinion on it. You are approaching the problem-solution discussion with factual information.
By the same token, if you can cite case studies or reports that show your proposed solution is credible and noteworthy, that will do more for increasing the authority perception of your white paper than anything else. Proper research is a necessary foundation for authoritative communication in any format, especially white papers.
What is Objectivity and Why Is It a Necessary Component for Your White Paper?
In journalism, objectivity is commonly understood as that quality that causes a reporter to take a set of facts, analyze them, and parse them to arrive at a logical conclusion. Impartiality, by contrast, is the ability to listen to opposing sides of an argument and not take sides. Both have their place, but when it comes to supporting solutions that in fact address real problems, objectivity is more valuable. As the publisher of a white paper addressing a problem related to your niche, you certainly don’t want to be impartial. You hope your potential customer sees the value in the solution you are offering and realizes that you can provide that solution. However, that does not mean that you can’t be objective.
In a way, objectivity is a direct extension of well-conducted research. If you have solid data to assess and analyze, then you can study it and arrive at a reasonable conclusion. The less hard data and information you have at your disposal, the more difficult it is to be objective regarding the problem and solution.
Objectivity demands that you chart a path to retrieving information–hard data–regarding the problem you want to address, but it also requires that you use that information to analyze potential solutions to the problem you are addressing. In the end, you want to walk your reader through a thought process that helps them arrive at the proper conclusion, as well. To do that effectively, you should line up your white paper’s purpose with solid research and an objective stance as you communicate with your reader.
Your Reputation and Your Authority
Online, as in real life, your reputation is everything. But there are really two aspects of reputation as it pertains to your white paper.
- Writer Reputation – Readers of white papers care less about who its writer is than they do its publisher, or, for that matter, the information being shared, but you should consider whether or not to disclose the name, or names, of your white paper author(s). I’d caution you against making those prominent (as in on the cover of your white paper) because you don’t want the authors to overshadow the information or the purpose of the white paper, especially if the authors are celebrities within your niche. However, well-known experts can often boost the perceived authority of a white paper simply by their names. There are two ways to do this:
- You could give a byline to the author on the title page of the white paper. This is the less preferred method unless your white paper’s authority is directly tied to the authority of the author. If that is the case, you don’t want to draw undue attention to the author, but mentioning the author by name could add instant credibility to your white paper.
- The more preferred method is a bio at the end of the white paper itself. It is generally accepted that white papers include information about the publisher at the end so that readers interested in pursuing a relationship with the company producing the paper have that information readily available. The author’s bio can be a part of that and sit on the same page, or it could precede the publisher’s information. Again, a simple bio in the same vein as the bio on a trade journal article should be sufficient.
- A third option is simply not to list an author at all. Many white papers can get by and achieve a level of perceived authority without an author’s name attached as long as the publisher’s reputation can carry that white paper.
- Publisher Reputation – The company that produces the white paper is the publisher. In a sense, the white paper contributes to the perceived authority and reputation of the publisher. On the other hand, a publisher with a questionable reputation will have a difficult time overcoming that reputation with a white paper, so it’s important to protect your reputation–online and off line–before you start publishing white papers.
Who Should Publish White Papers?
Hopefully, you have a better understanding of how a white paper can contribute to your company being perceived as an authority in your niche. But not every company necessarily needs to publish a white paper.
Generally speaking, technology companies do well with white papers. Other sectors and niches can benefit from them, as well. If you have a large number of competitors in your niche that publish white papers, it could be that customers in that niche expect them. If that is the case, then a white paper addressing a common problem facing people in that sector would certainly contribute to your company being perceived as an authority.
If your niche is fairly new, as is the case with the fintech sector, then a white paper can easily set the standard for the rest of the pack trying to get the same slice of pie. You could position your company as a trendsetter or thought leader with the right white paper at the right time.
The key to publishing white papers is to have a good understanding of your niche, the competition, the market, your potential customers and their expectations, and your products and services. White papers do well, generally, in a business-to-business setting where professionals within a niche are accustomed to reading authoritative documents to gain a better understanding of the problems and challenges they face. If you think a white paper is what your company needs to position your brand as an authority in your niche, give me a call at 717-253-2306 for a free white paper consultation.
Are you ready to boost your authority? Looking for ways to expand your reach and deliver the best content for your niche audience? Download my free report, “7 Types of Authority Content“. Learn the seven types of content that will keep your audience coming back for more and instantly make you an authority they can rely on.