Government decision-makers have been collaborating with government contractors to learn about evolving trends, innovative technologies and best practices. In addition to in-person meetings, conferences and webinars, white papers are considered one of the most valuable assets in our industry.
It’s no surprise that government contractors continue to publish white papers designed to deliver relevant, informative and educational content to help their customers find the information they need. But not all white papers are created equal! Here are eight tips for creating highly successful GovCon white papers.
ONE: Be Sure a White Paper is the Best Option for Your Content
When it comes to creating valuable content, GovCon marketers have so many choices! Company and industry blogs. Videos. E-books. Infographics. Case studies. White papers. Each has its place, but they are all different.
White papers are most similar to blogs and e-books. Like blogs, white papers are educational. Yet blogs are much shorter, more conversational in tone and generally do not include references. Blogs are published online, and not “laid out” for printing
Like e-books, white papers are long-form content pieces that may share original research or market trends. However, e-books are meant to appeal to a wider audience, so they have less detail than white papers. E-books use lots of photos and color blocks to make the content easy to skim. In white papers, there’s limited use of photos, graphics and color blocks to support the body copy.
White papers are authoritative, detailed educational documents that address industry innovations, trends, challenges and how to solve them, or even best practices.
TWO: Select Your Subject Matter Experts and Writers
Expertise matters. An understanding of the government market matters. And writing matters.
Sometimes, it takes a team of people to develop a great white paper. A technical expert can describe the problem and possible solutions. A market expert can ensure that the content is relevant to the government market. A writer and editor are key to ensure that meaningful content is presented in an organized, engaging way – without the spelling and grammatical errors that can taint a professional presence.
Working together, your content creation team can produce a truly educational document. If you don’t have the resources in-house, consider working with an expert writer or editor. Be prepared that it can take weeks to create a strong white paper. But when you’re done, you’ll have an asset that your marketing and business development teams can use for months to even a year! It has a long shelf life.
We recently developed a white paper for a client on the Department of Defense’s Joint All-Domain Command and Control for a defense publication’s resource hub. The editor who reviewed it shared this excellent feedback, “For what it’s worth – fascinating white paper! One of the better explanations of JADC2 I’ve read.”
That’s a sign of a great white paper!
THREE: Structure Your White Paper for Success
Start with the end in mind. Before your content team starts writing, be sure you’re in agreement on the structure of the piece, so they can appropriately “chunk” the content and build in subheads throughout.
Here’s a solid outline for a GovCon white paper:
- Title Page
- Table of Contents
- Body Content
- Case Study (optional)
- About Your Company
FOUR: Strike the Right Tone and Content
Inbound marketing technology firm HubSpot refers to white papers as, “the academic papers of marketing content.” They expand, “Readers expect a high degree of expertise backed by solid research that is fully documented by references.”
Academic is a good starting point for tone. You’ll want to convey your expertise. Remember, though, that we’re serving the government community – which is built on relationships. Be sure your tone is expert, collaborative and respectful.
When it comes to content, think longevity. In their most recent “Content Marketing Review: Reaching the Public Sector” survey, federal market research firm Market Connections found that white papers are among the content assets that hold their value for more than six months.
A white paper should be at least six pages of somewhat-dense content. Beware of acronyms and jargon; instead, spell things out for those who are newer to the topic. Use the space you have to provide a clear problem definition and exploration of possible/emerging solutions.
FIVE: Avoid Sales Pitches
This (almost) goes without saying, but … a white paper is NOT a place to pitch your products or services. It should not specifically mention, advertise or endorse a company’s products or services.
SIX: Edit and Proof (Every Line)
Have a skilled proofreader review the content before handing it off to your graphics resource. Check everything. Title page. Content. Charts and graphs. Company address and contact information. Website URLs. Citations or references. Typos can pop up anywhere and they can be distracting, at best, or even reflect poorly on your company and credibility. Believe it or not, most typos are in captions under photos or graphics, headlines and subheads.
Once the paper is laid out, proof it all again. So many errors are introduced in the last stages of fixing the content or layout. You’ll want to be sure the final asset is pristine.
SEVEN: Have it Professionally Designed
White papers are company assets, and you certainly want them to be “on brand” visually, using your logo, color palette and type fonts. They should resemble your website, the foundation of your brand, so when you post the assets online, you’ll keep a consistent look. In our GovCon industry, they also should look like a GovCon resource. It’s not a B2B or B2C resource.
White papers are not as colorful as a marketing brochure or an e-book. Too much color or too many graphics will distract your reader and make them think they are reading a marketing piece.
If you don’t have an excellent internal graphics resource, it may be worth having a graphic design professional – who has government contractor experience – do the work for you.
Remember, the average age of federal workers is 46 – including many military personnel who move to government as a second career.
A good GovCon designer will follow these best practices:
- Use a serif type for body copy, for readability. Sans serif may be used for headlines and subheads.
- Line length should not be full width. One column that takes up 65- to 70-percent of the page can work well and allow for callouts in the margins. Two-column copy also works.
- Limit any horizontal line of type to 12 words, or about 60 to 66 characters. That applies both on screen and on paper.
- Use a dark type in the body copy. Though lighter type is fashionable in consumer publications, it slows down the reader.
- Keep a straight left edge. If you use center alignment, your readers will work harder to find where each line begins to continue reading.
- AVOID ALL CAPS, condensed type and/or reverse type. They are all more difficult to read. According to research, reverse type slows readers by 10%. It should be used sparingly, such as for callouts or headlines.
- Use text organizers such as bullets, boxes, shading, sidebars or callouts. These visual breaks can help highlight the key message of each page and provide some welcome eye relief. Callouts are best included as graphic elements, rather than sentences within the body of the text.
- Include a copyright line in the footer of your white paper.
EIGHT: Publish and Promote the Final White Paper
In the same Market Connections “Content Marketing …” study mentioned above, federal buyers consistently rated white papers as one of the top three most valuable content resources.
As valuable, expert resources, white papers are often used for lead generation. To download a good white paper, most people expect to provide at least an email address – and usually even more contact information.
Once your white paper is written, proofed, laid out – and proofed again – you’re ready to start sharing it with others:
- Website: post it on your website as “gated” content. Invite visitors to download the PDF file once they provide their contact details on your web form.
- Social media posts: can direct your social community to this valuable content. Plan to promote the white paper for at least six months – or more!
- LinkedIn ads: LinkedIn advertising has taken off in the past couple of years, as the number of people on the social platform escalated during the pandemic. And LinkedIn targeting has dramatically improved. One important element to a successful BD or capability ad is the “hook” – and a relevant white paper can be just the right asset to support your campaign.
- Business development team: share the white paper with your BD team, so they can become familiar with the content. Encourage them to share it with select customers and prospective clients, to help build relationships and advance sales conversations.
- Media: whether you issue a press release or email your tight circle of media contacts, many journalists and editors are excited to review timely, well-written white papers that may serve as background information for upcoming articles. NOTE: don’t make reporters use a web form to get to the white paper. Send via email attachment or a non-gated web link, instead.
- Third-party websites: many industry associations and content aggregators are eager for good white paper content. For free placements, you can’t expect to get any leads. Instead, your goal would be brand exposure. Work with the associations and aggregators to coordinate your own promotion of the content on their sites.
- Paid placements, for lead generation: There are some cost-effective options for paid white paper placements, where you pay a flat fee for a guaranteed minimum number of leads. (There are also some expensive options!) If it’s in your budget, using your white paper to generate leads can be a win-win.
Creating a winning white paper will take time and resources – especially if you pay for outside writers, editors, designers and/or lead generation. However, the end result will be a solid content piece that’s timely and relevant for at least the next six months to a year. It can be the perfect asset to support the sales conversations that are happening now – and create new ones that will fuel your pipeline.
If you need help with any part of your white paper strategy, development or placement, just let us know. We’d be happy to help!