An effective white paper begins and ends with the right topic. If your white paper topic isn’t something your audience needs, appreciates, or cares about, no amount of promotional effort is going to work.

When working with clients on their white paper plans, I help them to pick the right topics for their white paper strategy. Here’s how we cut out the good from the bad.

1. Think of Your Business

The purpose of content marketing is to uphold your broader business goals. By thinking through some of your business objectives, the white paper topic can start to appear.

Do you have a product or service that needs special attention?

If you’re launching a product, or have a more profitable service offering that just isn’t getting enough traction in the market, think about topics related to the problem solved by your product or service.

Do you have a vertical you want to grow?

If filling up one of your verticals is the objective, consider focusing in on topics relevant to that audience.

Do you have a strategic initiative that needs momentum?

White papers can be used for more than lead generation and customer acquisition. If you have a customer retention initiative and want current customers to buy related products, brainstorm a white paper topic that relates to the products you wish to cross-sell.

2. Think of Your Audience

Of course, you can’t get to a good white paper topic without having thought of your audience first. Your white paper must suit your customer or prospect’s needs and the topic should be appropriate for where your customer is at in the sales cycle.

What tactical problems does your audience encounter that you could solve?

These tactical problems should relate somehow to the product or service you’re marketing, but don’t make the white paper all about your solution.

A good example is how nonprofit fundraising consultant Pursuant wrote about Integrated Fundraising in this white paper. While they could certainly help the reader integrate their fundraising channels, the reader can implement what they learn even if they don’t hire Pursuant.

What complicated process could you make simple and easy for them?

“…knowledge is easy to him who understands.” – Hebrew Proverb

You understand how it all works because you’re the professional. But your audience may not find your field of expertise easy to grasp.

Find the complicated topics that come easy for you and break them down for your audience.

What big picture problems worry them?

Your audience has a lot on their minds. They’re thinking of where their industries or sectors are going. They’re thinking of how their career will be affected by those massive changes in the market.

Analyze a big picture problem and give your solution.

3. Think of Yourself

Don’t forget about you!

  • What are you passionate about?
  • What are you interested in?
  • What expertise does your executive team have to offer?
  • What about your staff in general?

You’ll find plenty of inspiration for your white paper topic within the realm of your own interests and that of your teammates to choose from.

What Next?

Work your way through these three major areas and start listing out the possible topics that come to mind.

You’ll find that some of the topics will fit perfectly for your business goals, audience needs, and your personal interests. These are the winners!

Go with them. Invest in the white paper and analyze the results. Repeat with the next white paper topic on your list.

Remember, a good white paper strategy doesn’t stop with one white paper.

Depending on how big of an operation you run or how many vertical you have, you may need to produce several to dozens of them to fit your marketing goals.