White Paper Tips & Tricks

10 Key Attributes for Successful IT-Related White Papers

By Larry Marion, Editorial Director, Triangle Publishing Services Co. Inc.

  1. Keep it short. 12 pages for business decision-makers, such as the CFO, the CEO, the COO and other senior officials, and 16 pages for technology decision-makers. The goal is to encourage a conversation, not give the target audience everything it needs to know.
  2. Focus the topic and the discussion. Don't try to boil the ocean.
  3. Avoid the hard sell. The first half of the white paper should offer valuable data/information/insights, while second half sells the sponsor's products.
  4. Lead with customer insights. The most valuable information in the first half is insights from customers. They have the most credibility and should be cited as often as possible in the first half of the white paper.
  5. Include third-party experts. Quotes and data from subject-matter experts at reputable consulting firms and in academia have almost as much credibility as customers, and these are vital components.
  6. Include the author's name if he or she has a credible background—extensive experience, etc. Avoid using product marketing managers as the authors, due to questions about their credibility.
  7. Use charts, schematics and data points extensively; it is extremely important. BDMs seek data points they can use as bullet points in their internal presentations.
  8. Be sure the tone is credible. Assume the reader knows something about the topic. Also, the author must infuse the text with his/her savvy.
  9. Make the text easy to scan, read and absorb. Everyone says a white paper should be well written, but what does that mean? Short sentences, short paragraphs and multiple subheads to break up and organize the content.
  10. Include a clear call to action—what to do if a reader wants more subject-matter information, product information, a demo or a proposal.

  IT Business Edge’s White Paper Attitudes and Preferences:
A Study of Business Technology Decision-Makers

In September 2008, IT Business Edge surveyed its audience of business technology decision-makers to explore their opinions, habits and preferences regarding the selection and use of vendor-produced white papers. The ultimate goal of the study was to channel research findings into practical advice that would help vendors produce white papers that are attractive to technology decision-makers while effectively marketing the vendors’ products and services.
Among the key findings:
  • 55% of participants said they download one to five white papers each month, while more than 40% said they download six or more.
  • White papers are especially popular sources of information at key early stages of the purchase cycle, but they are also read by a significant number at later stages when vendor selections take place.
  • Topic is the most important factor affecting the decision to download a white paper. When it comes to topics, business issues are measurably more important than technical details, while both are significantly more important than product information.
To learn more: IT Business Edge’s White Paper Attitudes and Preferences:
A Study of Business Technology Decision-Makers


Bitpipe’s Executive Survey of IT Professionals: How the industry obtains, values and uses vendor literature

The purpose of this study was to identify how IT professionals go about accessing high-tech vendor information, and the role this information plays in their purchasing decisions. Information sought included: the respondents’ prior experience with vendor white papers and case studies, and reasons for using them; how often they refer to white papers and case studies during the year; how valuable white papers and case studies are in helping them in their jobs; the points in the buying process they typically consult white papers and case studies, and how likely they are to consult them before making a critical buying decision; whether they access white papers and case studies before, or after, making contact with a vendor; how easy/difficult it is to find the white papers and case studies they are interested in; whether white papers and case studies affect their perceptions of vendors as reliable suppliers; whether or not they pass along white papers and case studies to their colleagues—and which ones; and finally, how they value Web sites like Bitpipe that provide access to major white papers and case studies on computing, networking and communications equipment and software.
Among the key findings:

  • 85% of IT professionals say they use vendor white papers and case studies to help evaluate products and technologies.
  • 87% of the respondents found them valuable in helping them do their jobs. The majority (55%) found them very or extremely valuable.
  • Only 13% found white papers and case studies somewhat valuable in helping them in their work.

To read the full report: Bitpipe’s Executive Survey of IT Professionals White_Paper.pdf


Triangle Publishing Services Presents Top 10 Lessons Learned About White Papers

The individuals who make—or at least approve—final product purchase decisions often are not the primary users of the complex products under consideration. And in fact, the individuals assigned to evaluate, implement and use these products day in and day out usually don’t fully understand them, either. Often, a vendor’s own sales force, channel partners and strategic allies may not fully understand its product. And if they don't understand it, they can't effectively communicate key messages in a consistent way.

White papers, case studies, online return on investment (ROI) calculators and other marketing tools help marketers of complex products bridge the gaps in understanding. Although the specific content and structure varies, based on the type of product or service being described, the intended audience and other factors, a white paper addresses the need of a particular audience for more information about a vendor’s product.

White papers ensure that a consistent, appropriate and accurate message gets out. They:

  • Cover a complex topic in depth.
  • Gain credibility from third parties.
  • Set the agenda and define the playing field.
  • Advance the sales cycle.
  • Engage the prospect.
  • Speak appropriately to the target audience.
  • Clarify a vendor’s strategy and positioning.

To learn more: Top 10 Lessons Learned About White Papers: Avoid the errors that reduce credibility and diminish the value of your investments in thought leadership


Interested in learning more about our portfolio or have a specific custom content project? Contact Paul Pinella at: ppinella@triangle-publishing.com