January 2016 Newsletter: Whitepaper 101

What is a whitepaper*, anyway?

A whitepaper is a downloadable, informative resource from the internet, usually offered by businesses. Whitepapers are usually in PDF format, meaning they can be downloaded and read later, on a computer or on a device (smartphone, Kindle, etc.)

Although the exact definition of a whitepaper varies depending on the source, most agree on at least two things:

1) they’re great marketing tools and
2) their main purpose is to solve a problem.

Everything else (length, tone, structure, even the download requirements) is flexible, depending only on your preferences as a business.

According to Hubspot, “Whitepapers are the academic papers of content marketing.”  Compared to other content types, like a blog post or infographic, people tend to have higher expectations of whitepapers in terms of research and usefulness- almost like an instruction manual that’s actually fun to read. This may be because whitepapers are downloaded or sent via email, while blog posts and infographics are primarily looked at online and not archived.

People are expecting a certain look, too- a whitepaper should appear more formal than a blog post. Images (diagrams, even) and footnotes are also recommended, if applicable.

When to use whitepapers

There are at least two times when a whitepaper would be a useful tool in marketing (as opposed to a blog post or newsletter, for example).

  1. Educational. If consumers frequently ask you about a certain product, including a common problem they encounter or best practices (we’ve got some examples for you in a bit), these are perfect starting points for topics. In fact, most consumers look to whitepapers as “problem solvers.” This post from MailMunch suggests creating a survey as one way of determining what your consumers are interested in or what problems they might be encountering.
  2. Sales. According to Avangate, whitepapers can also be “…effective tools in selling your products without actually focusing on sales.” As a resource with perceived value, whitepapers are a tool for building trust during sales/people at different points in the funnel-often further down than someone just lurking on social media or reading a blog post. In exchange for the information found in a whitepaper, most businesses ask for something in return, usually an email address. People who are willing to give out their contact information are typically closer to investing in a product or service than those just skimming the top of the sales funnel-downloading a whitepaper signifies a higher level of commitment.
Whitepapers aren't just for marketing ideas, you can write up a whitepaper about just about anything!

Whitepapers aren’t just for marketing ideas, you can write up a whitepaper about just about anything!

Whitepapers aren’t meant to be sales pitches. You’re educating and informing first and foremost- this doesn’t mean you can’t ask for the sale, but it shouldn’t be the primary message of your whitepaper. No one wants to download a sales flyer but, if at the end of a 25 page PDF you have a one page information sheet about your courses or want to add your URL in the footer of each page. In short, being tasteful is key.

Some Examples

We have gathered white paper examples here from various businesses.

Business: Fresh spices made to order
FlavorGod recognized the following potential point of interest for consumers: when it comes certain health food diets, some people hesitate because of the fear that eating clean and healthy means less flavor. To access this audience, FlavorGod offers this 56 page ebook of Paleo recipes. It’s worth noting the majority of these recipes do include FlavorGod products, arguably making this ebook a bit of a sales pitch. However, the central point of the ebook (i.e. a Paleo diet does not have to be boring) does not fixate on their product, but on the recipes. Remember, it’s perfectly fine to ask for the sale- just don’t make it the focus of your material.

Chalene Johnson 7 Day Eat Clean Train Mean Challenge
Business: Online fitness professional
One cool thing about this example is that it really makes sure you can opt in and get the content. Once you enter your email, you are taken to this page. An email with the content should automatically go to your inbox, but if not, you can get free instant access if for some reason it didn’t go through.

Yes, this is the entire website. Whitepaper only agenda here!

Yes, this is the entire website. Whitepaper only agenda here!

Ramit Sethi
Business: Online training programs
Ramit specializes in productivity and sells online courses, but will occasionally offer a free downloadable whitepaper or ebook (which lets people sample his work before deciding if they want to commit to a purchase). This example shares 15 life hacks. Each tip is one page long, shares a problem, solution, and a takeaway. (It was a whitepaper he offered as a link to his email list. Besides helping you collect email addresses, whitepapers can be a ‘bonus’ gift to your current subscribers as a way to make them feel special. The 15 Life Hacks paper is simple, has information valuable to people who want to increase productivity (i.e. his target audience), and introduces people to him/his brand in a low-commitment way.

Art Law Journal:
Business: Trade publication
Free ebook on the Law of Creativity for visual artists online. The landing page clearly communicates who the whitepaper is for, and offers a peek of two sample pages inside so potential consumers can preview content.


How to get people to your whitepaper

There are a few ways someone can get to your whitepaper:

  1. A landing page for downloading the whitepaper on your own website is a good start. This gives you a URL for sharing in other places, and you can easily link to it from a sidebar or other places on your site. Typically, once people give their email, they can download the whitepaper from a link that gets emailed to them. Chalene Johnson’s example above shows this landing page concept well.
  2. If you would rather reward your current subscribers, you can also put the link to the PDF in an email campaign, share it on social media, etc. This is clearly easier to set up but you aren’t collecting email addresses this way. This is a group of people who have already opted in to updates from you, so they’re likely candidates for downloading a longer form of content from you. With the FlavorGod example above, maybe this ebook was offered as part of a “Thank You for Your Purchase” follow-up email.

Some other ideas for promoting your whitepaper here.



There are lots of downloadable templates for whitepapers, including this one from Curata and this one from Marketeer. You can also build it in a program like Microsoft Word or Google Drive. Everyone has an opinion about layout. Check out the examples above, or find some in your own inbox, and get an idea of what you personally find compelling. A downloadable template will offer more guidance in terms of structure/layout, so if you find blank pages intimidating, this is probably your best bet.

Layout tips from Slideshare presentation (just because it’s dubbed “academic paper of content marketing” doesn’t mean it has to be as bland as all that).


You clearly need to make your website take an email address and once finished, send the PDF to your customer to download. Here are 3 different ways you can do so:

Option A: Integrate With Existing Form Software

Email Before Download Plugin – integrates with Contact Form 7

Download Monitor + Gravity Forms We love the Gravity Forms plugin, and in conjunction with the Download Monitor plugin, you can create an easy way for people to sign up for your whitepaper. Create a contact form (which can be as simple or complicated as you want), and people will automatically be redirected to the download link upon completion.

Option B: Use Mailchimp/ConstantContact/Leadpages/Insert-third-party-service here.

Many services will integrate with your website to send your whitepaper. If you use an email subscription service like Mailchimp for example, there is often signup forms you can make and embed right on your website to do this.

Option C: Use An Online Shopping Cart

This may be a little cumbersome if you don’t already have one. Think of a whitepaper as a free product (if you decide to offer it for free, that is). Many cart softwares, like Woocommerce, can handle what they call ‘digital products.

Use what makes sense to you because in the end, your customer gets their whitepaper delivered and you get their email address and/or gratitude and that’s a win-win, no matter how you make the geek stuff work.


So, you’ve created a valuable piece of content as a whitepaper for people and have gotten them to download (and hopefully use) it. But your work doesn’t end there, folks- following up after this offer is just as important as the initial sale itself. You may want to send a message to those who download, asking if they have any questions or potentially offering other resources.

There isn’t one thing any of us do that ‘makes’ a relationship but a whitepaper is a tool to get new people interested in new ways to what you are already knowledgeable about. And as we do more of our reading online, your customers will be doing more of theirs there as well. Make sure you are on their reading list.

*We have seen ‘whitepaper’ spelled as two words and as one. For consistency, we are just writing it in here as one word… but if you want to make it two words, we get it!

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