What is a 'White Paper'

A white paper is an informational document issued by a company to promote or highlight the features of a solution, product or service. White papers are sales and marketing documents used to entice or persuade potential customers to learn more about or purchase a particular product, service, technology or methodology. White papers are designed to be used as a marketing tool before a sale, and not as a user manual or other technical document developed to provide support to the user after making a purchase.

BREAKING DOWN 'White Paper'

The purpose of a white paper is to promote a certain product, service, technology or methodology, and to influence current and prospective customers' decisions. Many white papers are designed for B2B (business to business) marketing purposes, such as between a manufacturer and a wholesaler, or between a wholesaler and a retailer. The white paper is used to inform and persuade the other company that a certain offering (such as a product or technology) is superior for solving a particular business problem or addressing a certain challenge.

In relation to B2B marketing, there are three main types of white papers: backgrounders, which explain the technical features of a particular offering; numbered lists, which highlight tips or points regarding an offering; and problem/solution white papers, which introduce an improved solution to a common business or technical challenge.

While white papers are useful marketing tools, they differ from other marketing materials such as brochures. Where brochures and other materials might be flashy and include obvious sales pitches, a white paper is intended to provide persuasive and factual evidence that a particular offering is a superior method of approaching or solving a problem or challenge. In general, white papers are at least 2,500 words in length and are written in a more academic (and less flashy) style than other marketing materials.

White papers are also used for government purposes as a method of presenting government policies and legislation, and gauging public reaction.

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