What is a 'White Paper'

A white paper is an informational document, issued by a company or not-for-profit organization, 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.

White papers differ from other marketing materials, such as brochures. While 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 style.

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

Examples of White Papers

The following titles are all white papers for Microsoft Azure: “Azure Onboarding Guide for IT Organizations,” “Mesh and hub-and-spoke networks on Azure,” “Backup and recovery overview for Azure users,” “Backup and recovery overview for users new to Azure,” and “Cloud Skills and Organization Influence.” All of these documents, publicly available on Microsoft’s website, focus on aspects of the Microsoft Azure suite of cloud services.

In contrast with brochures, these white papers don’t have as clear of a sales pitch; instead, they dig into relevant topics, such as cloud security, hybrid clouds, and the economic benefits of adopting cloud computing. Through reading these white papers, potential customers could come to better understand the rationale for using Azure in the context of the larger cloud computing ecosystem.

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