Killer Questions to Ask Before Starting a White Paper Project

How can you create a white paper that serves it purpose – create high quality leads, provide useful information to potential customers etc. Well, like Stephen Covey said, “You begin with the end in mind”. We asked our panel of white paper experts “What are the 3 key questions you ask before starting a white paper project?“.

Jonathan Kantor

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 “Who is the Target Reader?

Jonathan Kantor’s Bio

Jonathan Kantor is 14-year white paper marketing veteran. He’s is the author of the widely acclaimed book, Crafting White Paper 2.0, and the founder of The White Paper Company and the White Paper Pundit blog.

Jonathan Kantor’s Tip

This is certainly a question that every white paper writer asks, but such a question can be taken in one of two different directions: Either questions to ask yourself before starting a white paper project or questions to ask of your subject matter expert (SME) as part of the white paper development process.

So taking into consideration both situations, here are my three questions:

Question #1: Who is the Target Reader?
This question is a natural for every white paper writer because if you don’t know every aspect about your target audience, it becomes impossible to craft an effective paper that will achieve your designated marketing goals.

When I say, “target reader” I’m referring to more than just the title and the position of that individual. A writer must obtain as many details about that target reader in order to develop a truly exceptional and highly effective paper. Some additional details besides title and position might include:

  • Age: provides guidance to the most effective format of the white paper. Older audiences tend to devote more time to reading and prefer text documents. Younger readers tend to prefer reading online and as a result, prefer a greater number of visual enhancements and design in their white papers.
  • Gender: provides guidance as to whether you should include a case study in your white paper. Male readers tend to prefer facts and statistics to backup solution claims, while female readers tend to prefer case studies and real life examples to reinforce solution advantages and business concepts.
  • Organizational Hierarchy: provides guidance as to the total number of individuals involved in the decision making process within the organization and the number of additional readers needed beyond the primary target reader to elicit a decision.
  • Division: which may be an indication of whether you will need to reference the parent organization in order to build credibility within the white paper.

By asking your SME these additional questions as part of your content interview process, you can craft a more effective white paper that fully engages your designated target audience.

Question #2: What are the primary ‘take away’ points in your white paper?
Take away points are critical to a successful white paper because they supplant in your reader’s mind the final points you want that reader to retain when they finish the last page of the paper.

Similar to the concept of building a cobblestone path, one must know the final destination before you can decide where and how to place the cobbles in that path.

By determining the final ‘take away’ points that will end the white paper, you can work backwards to the beginning and build each section of your primary content so you end up at your ultimate destination with clear and well understood marketing messages.

For example, if your ‘take away’ points are:

  • Greater Profitability, you will need to build your primary content around how your solution specifically contributes to, and generates profits. If..
  • Greater Productivity, you will need to focus your primary content around the specific aspects that contribute to achieving productivity gains, and if..
  • Lower Cost, you should focus your primary content on the specific aspects that reduce operating costs within the production/development cycle.

Question #3: Who will be involved in the Review Process?

The old adage, “too many cooks spoil the broth” applies here. The greater the number of reviewers involved in providing input and making edits to drafts, the longer the review cycle and the further out the final white paper publication date will be.

In addition, given the busy travel and meeting schedules with executive management, the greater number of executives involved in the review process, the longer the delay will be for publishing the white paper.

To facilitate the review process, I suggest the following points to consider:

  • Designate a project leader: a project leader within the sponsoring organization can gather support and facilitate the review cycle much better than an outside contract writer.
  • Minimize the number of reviewers: limit yourself to 3 SME reviewers, with preference going to those previously involved in the content interview process and those who are intimately familiar with the content that was provided to the contract writer.
  • Show executives near final, not first drafts: by showing executives near final content that has the approval of lower management, there will be a lower probability of broad sweeping changes that will dramatically delay and push out the publication date of the white paper.

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