How to Make Your White Paper ‘Good to the Last Drop’…

By Apryl Parcher

Reading a good white paper can be like experiencing a great cappuccino. There are two basic components to each, which depend on one another for success.

Two Ingredients—What’s the Right Blend?

For cappuccino lovers, those components are the coffee and the milk (skillfully blended together by the barrista). While the coffee flavor takes center stage, it is sipped through the frothy cap of steamed milk, and getting the combination right is critical for the best experience.

Following that analogy in white papers, the essential components are education and marketing. But which should be more prominent?

Statistics show that people like to read white papers when they’re actively searching for information on solving a specific problem, and they don’t want to be “sold.” They’re thirsty for concrete facts and third-party evidence, and their “I’m being sold” meter is set to “high.” They’re on the lookout for sales verbiage and may abandon your piece the moment they find any.

So the answer is obvious: the educational component should be more prominent.

But just as a cappuccino is only an espresso without the milk—a white paper is only an article without the marketing element. If you want to generate leads with your white paper and have your reader take a specific action after reading it, there has to be a balance between education and marketing. This can be a bit tricky because it involves wearing two hats when writing the white paper—the journalist hat and the copywriting hat.

Like a skilled barrista, the writer has to be able to get just the right amount of both flavors without one overpowering the other. Think of the marketing component as the “milk froth” on a cappuccino. The educational element is sipped “through” it. The marketing is there, but it adds more texture than flavor.

The Tricky Part: Don’t Let Marketing Overpower the Mix

So how do you add the persuasion element without using obvious marketing language? That’s where knowing how to use the copywriter’s “motivating sequence” comes in handy. Just keep the elements of persuasion in mind as you organize your white paper and use the AIDA principle (attention, interest, desire and action) not in words, but in how you structure your white paper. That means employing the motivating sequence from the headline through the problem/solution, history and call to action—even when selecting and positioning your call-outs and graphics.

A good resource to use when you’re thinking about incorporating the marketing element is my friend Bob Bly’s The Copywriter’s Handbook. It’s an easy-to-use guide for writing copy that sells, and is full of practical tips for writing headlines, subheads, uncovering a company’s unique selling proposition, and many other copywriting techniques that can be used “in the background” when organizing your white paper.

Harmony is the Key

No doubt about it—keeping that journalist hat on firmly is important. But white paper success depends on letting the marketing component sing quietly in the background, adding just enough structure to guide your reader to the conclusions you want him to reach while satisfying his desire for quality information—much like a knowledgeable barrista marries just the right amount of milk and coffee to pull a rich, full-bodied cappuccino.

It takes a bit of finesse to make the perfect educational/marketing blend. What challenges have you faced in getting the right mix?

About the Author: Apryl Parcher is Michael A. Stelzner’s apprentice. You can learn more about her at

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  • robert dickman

    Hello Michael,

    I enjoyed your blog. Actually I co-authored a book on how stories can influence and persuade us called The Elements of Persuasion. If you read it, I would love to know what you think.


    robert dickman’s last blog post..Brain vs. Brawn

  • Michael Stelzner

    Thanks Robert

  • Joyce Dierschke

    An insightful article that makes me even more excited about writing white papers – it is clearly an art as well as a skill.

  • Jacques Snyman | 3Quotes

    Apryl, you are a worthy apprentice to Michael. Your own writing skills, as well as language skills definitely rate as superior. I thoroughly enjoyed the analogy of cappucino, as our coffee-shop generation sure can relate to that!

  • Apryl

    Why, thank you, Jacques! I’m glad you enjoyed the “cuppa” analogy–it was fun to write. Brings back memories of my old barrista days (once owned a coffee shop). I’m also very excited about working with Michael to brew up some great white papers.

    Took a look at your website, too. Interesting positioning on your company! If you’re following the Social Media Summit, let’s hook up through Twitter or LinkedIn.

    Thanks again,

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