What’s the Best Topic for a White Paper?

iStock_000002500075SmallI got a somewhat desperate call from a CEO the other day. “We want to get a white paper done,” he explained, “but there are so many out there. How do we come up with a topic that’s going to stand out?”

Good question.

The topic of your white paper is crucial. Get that right and there’s an excellent chance you’ll end up with a marketing piece that’ll boost thought-leadership, leads and sales. Get the topic wrong, however, and – ouch! – you’ll have squandered hours and dollars on something that’s more akin to a white elephant than a white paper.

Fortunately, there’s a proven criteria for selecting an ideal topic. Here it is…

Criterion #1. The topic must be “high interest” to your prospects

The topic of your white paper needs to be so relevant and helpful that prospects will drop what they’re doing, fill out the request form, and download that baby right away.

What does “high interest” mean?

For some prospects, it means solid information that helps them make a buying decision. For example, if your new line of forklift trucks has a fancy technology that makes them safer, then a prospect will want to be convinced before buying. He will not want to make a six-figure purchasing mistake!

By the way, just because a technology is new and innovative doesn’t necessarily mean prospects will be interested. You need to position that technology as a big benefit. For example, “Lowering Insurance Costs With COB Forklift Technology.”

Of course, a white paper isn’t always about the marvels of a new technology or innovation. Sometimes it’s more “how to” in nature. Say, for example, your company trains real estate professionals in selling skills. A high interest topic for a white paper might be, “A 7-Step System for Getting More Listings on Facebook.”

Criterion #2. The topic must position your company as the best solution

There’s a joke I tell in workshops about a company that created a white paper on getting cheap vacations in the Bahamas. The company is a management consulting firm. Was that topic of high interest to their prospects? Perhaps. But it had nothing to do with what the company offers! (Had they been a travel agency however…)

You want your white paper to ultimately lead to your product or service being positioned in the prospect’s mind as the best solution. So the topic must be the kick-start of that journey.

For example, if your product is a software that helps industrial workplaces comply with health and safety regulations, don’t create a white paper on time management! Sure, that topic may interest your prospects — busy warehouse directors – but it won’t tie back to your product. A better topic might be: 5 Keys to Cutting Downtime by 18%.

Yes, getting the topic right takes some brainstorming and evaluating… and then brainstorming some more. But the effort is worth it. Just remember: you can never create a winning white paper on a poor topic, no matter how hard you try.


  1. Hi Steve.

    Great article. Do you have any suggestions to help B2B businesses figure out what topics are of high interest to their prospects?


    • Hi Simon. One method I use is creating a Buyer Persona for my clients. This is a simple list of characteristics of the buyer. (My Buyer Personas are typically simple; usually a bullet list.) For example, if a businesses target market is warehouse managers that one characteristic on that list would be “Dealing with multiple, often competing, priorities every day.”

  2. Thanks, Steve. As always, you get right to the heart of the matter. As I am interested in writing B2B white papers in my business, this article has given me lots to think about and add into my “how to” file.


    • The world needs more good white paper writers, Helene. Go for it!

  3. Thanks Steve. As always, great insights. I am seeing more and more interest in white papers from clients and with all the innovation going on in my industry (and so many others), it is an exciting time to be doing this work. White papers and feature articles (long case studies) are my favorites!

    One problem I often see with clients is narrowing the topic to just one or two key points – so many problems and issues overlap and collide, and they want to cover them all in one article. I have recommended splitting them up into separate, shorter pieces, with admittedly limited success.

    • Hi Janet. Yes, I sometimes have the same problem. Clients want to stuff a book into a white paper. I tell them that the most effective white papers (special reports, ebooks) are narrowly focused.

  4. Through AWAI I noticed that you had a pricing guide for B2B marketing…and I was interested, however when I stopped on the web page, I couldn’t access it. So do you still have it available?


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