White papers are publications used by companies to showcase a specific product or service more in-depth than advertising can. Usually well-written, a white paper seeks to engage the audience by showing specific examples and using clear arguments. It's more than a simple brochure, but why white? The term is an offshoot from white book, which is an official publication of the national government. Since they have their base in government publications, these docuemnts generally try to mimic the same weight and authority.
Oftentimes an industry expert will author white papers to add a desired amount of credibility. While a public audience may have no idea who this expert is, business people often become knowledgeable about the key people in their industry through trade magazines and conferences. Having a recognizable name from the industry is a sure way to get attention, and is often a very effective tactic.
Beyond the author, a common thread among these documents is the use of a problem and solution. Rather than beginning by just naming the merits of said product or service like a brochure or marketing data sheet, a white paper usually highlights a problem that is common with the target audience of the paper. The focus is on the user rather than the product or service. Then after clearly outlining a problem, the paper will show how the product or service can be used to solve the problem. Often, a real-life testimonial is used to further substantiate the benefits of the product or service.
White papers work well as a marketing tool for many reasons. Besides being very industry-specific and consumer focused, these documents make great justifications for customers looking to purchase the service or product. There is no better way for someone to explain the need for a product or service to his or her boss than presenting a well-written document by an industry expert clearly outlining the problem and benefits. It grabs attention initially and has a strong pull all the way to the point of sale.
The single industry where white papers proliferate is information technology. Professionals of this trade are flooded with these papers on a daily basis. The industry changes so fast that these workers are constantly facing new problems and solutions. White papers serve an enormous role in this industry by helping both marketers and customers.