Know Thy Audience: Business and Technical White Papers

Do you know your white paper audience? What are his/her top concerns? Are those concerns being addressed in your white papers? We asked white paper experts “How should a white paper that is addressed to a Technical Decision Maker be different from a white paper that is addressed to a Business Decision Maker? Please pick 2 white papers that you consider outstanding – 1 example of a white paper addressed to a Technical Decision Maker and 1 example of a white paper addressed to a Business Decision Maker.”

Jonathan Kantor

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Jonathan Kantor’s Bio

Jonathan Kantor is the principal and founder of The Appum Group, “The White Paper Company“, and has been producing commercial white papers for the past 11 years. He is also the author of the White Paper Pundit blog. Jonathan’s experience with white papers is also coupled with over 25 years of enterprise business experience with leading industry innovators such as Apple Computer, Microsoft, Digital Equipment Corporation, and J.D. Edwards Enterprise Software (now a division of Oracle Corporation). This experience included a variety of sales, marketing, business development, and management positions.

Jonathan Kantor’s Tip

Technical white papers employ completely different strategies from business-oriented white papers. As an example, enclosed are two white papers from the same enterprise organization, Microsoft.
Business White Paper: Microsoft – Learn and Earn: A B2B Social Media Case Study
Technical White Paper: Microsoft – Partitioned Table and Index Strategies Using SQL Server 2008

There are three key differentiators between the technical and the business white paper:

1. Reader Engagement – Typically, technical professionals seek out technical white papers to gain in-depth knowledge. As a result, these readers have a vested interest in the technical content and often will dedicate as much time as necessary to thoroughly read the information in detail to better understand their solution-oriented messages.

Most business-oriented white papers are both marketing and educational documents, and their size is much shorter when details are presented at a much higher level. Given the limited amount of time and attention that the typical business reader can devote to reading these white papers, information much be more concise, summarized, and get quickly to the bottom-line point as compared to a technical white paper.

2. Page Length – Technical white papers are not limited by any particular length or size and use as many pages as necessary to thoroughly educate the technical reader. The enclosed Microsoft technical white paper weighs in at a whopping 65 pages of content, about average for most technical white papers. Many can grow to hundreds of pages depending on the industry and topic.

In comparison, the Microsoft business white paper is only 8 pages (of content), which is considered at the top end of most papers. The average business white papers will typically fall into the 4 -8 page range with about six pages being the average. The constraints posed by a shorter size means that information must employ additional visual elements that allow bottom-line messages to be quickly delivered, such as executive and concluding summaries, bullets, or sidebar callouts. Such elements are rare in a technical white paper.

3. Format and Design – Technical white papers are primarily concerned with content accuracy, and less with look and feel. It is common for most technical white papers to use an all text format, with the exception of simple graphics that support technical content such as a network or workflow diagram. The enclosed Microsoft technical white paper employs a simple text cover and basic graphic images in support of the technical topic on Microsoft SQL Server.

On the other hand, format and design plays a very important role for the business reader since maintaining reader interest and engagement is paramount. The trend with business white papers today is to incorporate page layout, illustrations, and business/concept graphics to engage readers in a similar fashion as annual reports.

In this fashion, the enclosed Microsoft business white paper uses illustrations, color, design, callouts, text boxes, multiple font sizes, and bullets to quickly grab reader attention and draw them into critical business advantage messages.

Jonathan Kantor Recommends

  • Generating More Leads with Video White Papers
  • Free document distribution sites:,,,,, and
  • Blog sharing sites such as,, and
  • WhitePaperPundit: The Friday FREE White Paper List, a listing of free white papers from weekly Twitter Tweets that don’t require registration, posted each Friday.
  • Twitter search criteria set to keywords: “White Paper”, and “White Papers”.
  • Google Alerts set to “White Paper”, and “White Papers”.

Janice King

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Janice King’s Bio

Janice King of WriteSpark is a prominent freelance technical copywriter who creates white papers, case studies, and other sales materials for global technology companies such as Cisco, Nokia Siemens Networks, Hewlett Packard, and Sprint. Janice’s work reflects her skill for presenting highly complex and technical subject matter in clear and engaging content for both business and technical readers. In addition, Janice is the author of Copywriting That Sells High-Tech, the definitive guide to writing powerful promotional materials for technology products, services, and companies.

Janice King’s Tip

The business demands created by the global recession and the fundamental importance of technology to all business activity have changed the decision-making process for technology purchases. It’s no longer the case that business decision-makers are interested only in ROI and business impact, or that technical decision-makers can look at solution architectures and product specifications without considering their real business value.

Many white papers produced by technology companies now reflect this blended view of business and technical factors. For example:

  • Vendor-choice guidelines can be presented in a white paper, such as this example from MegaPath. These guidelines cover both business factors (e.g., cost considerations) and technical criteria (e.g., the selection worksheet).
  • New types of technology solutions offer an appealing business opportunity, but also significant challenges for the technical implementation. For these solutions, all decision-makers will need to understand the business and technical issues involved, at least at a high-level, as presented in this white paper from Cisco.

A white paper with a blended business/technical focus can address issues of common concern to the CEO and CIO (and their staffs), particularly:

  • Solving business problems that have become critical pain points or barriers to progress
  • Improving cost controls, revenue generation, and customer service
  • Enabling new business capabilities and productivity

All while:

  • Leveraging existing IT infrastructure, systems, applications, and staff expertise
  • Providing a clear and reasonable path for IT management and scalability as business conditions change

Offering flexibility to adopt to emerging technologies and to meet the expectations of increasingly tech-savvy employees and customers
Of course, it can still be appropriate to write separate white papers for the separate interests of business or technical readers. Most technology products involve many deeply technical aspects that require evaluation by a knowledgeable technologist. And if the solution’s ROI depends on multiple intertwined business factors, that analysis is best done by someone with in-depth knowledge of the company’s cost, revenue, and operational factors.

Whether your target reader is the CEO or CIO, or an IT manager or a business-line manager, look at the business and technical points they must consider in their buying decision, then decide how those points can be best addressed in one or more white papers.

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