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Frame your white paper around a nasty problem (part 1 of 4)

In your next white paper, why not go back to square one?

Why not start by describing the problem your offering was designed to solve?

“It’s often effective to start by describing a predicament experienced by your target market,” agrees Marcia Yudkin in a recent edition of her Marketing Minute newsletter.

“This creates rapport and sets up the value in your way of solving the problem.”

In many companies, this problem “goes without saying…” because everyone is  familiar with the oft-repeated pain points of their prospects. SO they tend to skip quickly over those to get to talking about their product.

But if your document simply describes your offering in glowing terms, it’s not a white paper. It’s a brochure or an advertisement or a product brief.

A problem/solution white paper is different.

A compelling white paper provides useful, educational content that helps a prospective buyer understand an issue, solve a problem or make a decision.

Stuck In The Mud


Many white paper experts and I all agree: It helps to frame your white paper around a nagging industry problem.

This approach accomplishes several things.

Gets people’s attention: Bad news travels fast, as we all know. Remember when Apollo 13 called Mission Control?

Builds credibility: Starting with an acknowledged problem shows your prospects that you understand their industry.

Proceeds in logical order: There can’t be any “solution” without a problem. This approach presents material in logical sequence: problem, then solution.

And it provides a logical framework for the educational content that you are going to provide, including some business or technical background, and a context for locating your solution in a certain market space.

Slows down the sales pitch: Many marketing and sales personnel feel an irresistible temptation to jump into their offering on the very first page of a white paper.

But survey after survey shows that anyone who downloads a white paper doesn’t want a sales pitch.

Framing your white paper around a problem—not your offering—slows down any tendency to make a sales pitch.

Are you convinced by now that this is the right way to go?

Then here are some tips on how to frame a white paper around a problem.

Step 1. Choose a big, acknowledged problem

This should be industry-wide, perennial, costly and tough to solve. It should cause your prospects a lot of pain and keep them awake at night. It should be a problem so bad that if they don’t solve it, it can threaten the company’s survival.

And of course, it must be a problem that your company can solve, ideally, in a very innovative or effective way.

For example, here are some problems I’ve written about recently:

  • Companies lose their best staff because they can’t tell if they’re happy
  • Contractors with good safety records pay too much for insurance
  • Virtualization makes performance-monitoring software obsolete
  • Artists and writers are going broke because the web doesn’t protect creators
  • Fewer people buy life insurance today

As you can see, a white paper problem can be either business or technical, or a little of both.

Step 2. Elaborate on the problem in detail

Detail the problem on a page or two. Don’t avoid the gruesome details. Paint a picture using shocking statistics, awful anecdotes, and blood-curdling quotes.

Make it like the climax of a novel where the good guy (your prospect) is in a hopeless situation, faced with insurmountable forces that threaten to pound him to smithereens.

Believe me, you’ll have your reader’s attention!

Then you’ll be in a better position to slowly, gradually, tactfully begin to introduce your own particular solution to that problem.

But first, you have to demolish all your competitors.

Part 2 of this series shows you how.

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About Gordon Graham

Worked on 320+ white papers for clients from Silicon Valley to Switzerland, on everything from choosing enterprise software to designing virtual worlds for kids, for clients from tiny startups to 3M, Google, and Verizon. Wrote White Papers for Dummies which earned 60+ 5-star ratings on Amazon. Won 16 awards from the Society for Technical Communication. Named AWAI 2019 Copywriter of the Year.

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