A white paper is an authoritative report or guide that informs readers concisely about a complex issue and presents the issuing body’s philosophy on the matter. It is meant to help readers understand an issue, solve a problem, or make a decision. The initial British term concerning a type of government-issued document has proliferated—taking a somewhat new meaning in business. In business, a white paper is closer to a form of marketing presentation, a tool meant to persuade customers and partners and promote a product or viewpoint.
There are, essentially, three main types of commercial white papers:
- Backgrounder: Describes the technical or business benefits of a certain vendor’s offering, either a product, service, or methodology. This type of white paper is best used to supplement a product launch, argue a business case, or support a technical evaluation at the bottom of the sales funnel.
- Numbered list: Presents a set of tips, questions, or points about a certain business issue. This type is best used to get attention with new or provocative views, or cast aspersions on competitors, especially by using FUD.
- Problem/solution: Recommends a new, improved solution to a nagging business problem. This type is best used to generate leads at the top of the sales funnel, build mind share, or inform and persuade stakeholders.