21 July 2015

Marketing to Reach the Military: White Papers

David Yoo, RallyPoint Civilian Careers.

What is a white paper?

For a long time, defense contractors that sell their products and services to the government have been leveraging the power of white papers to educate and attract attention. Because of their usefulness to other businesses and governments, white papers have been an invaluable channel, especially to those who want to be involved in marketing to the military. 

A white paper is simply a persuasive and informative essay that uses facts, logic, and reason to promote a certain product, service, or viewpoint. The type of content that a white paper provides focuses on useful information in order to allow businesses and consumers to understand an issue and the best way to solve a particular problem or to arrive at a good decision. 

Marcelina Hardy from Content Writers writes, "If you’ve been in business for a while, you probably know what one is, but things have changed. White papers are not what they used to be. The goal is to still promote a business’ products and services, but they go above and beyond just that. They provide consumers with valuable information that they will love to share with their friends, family and acquaintances."

Here's a short video interview with Senior Writer Dave Bolton about white papers: 

Gordon Graham goes into more detail about some of the specific types of commercial white papers:

  • Backgrounder: Describes the technical or business benefits of a certain vendor's offering, either a product, service, or methodology. This type of white paper is best used to supplement a product launch, argue a business case, or support a technical evaluation at the bottom of the sales funnel.
  • Numbered list: Presents a set of tips, questions, or points about a certain business issue. This type is best used to get attention with new or provocative views, or cast aspersions on competitors, especially by using FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt).
  • Problem/solution: Recommends a new, improved solution to a nagging business problem. This type is best used to generate leads at the top of the sales funnel, build mind share, or inform and persuade stakeholders.

It's clear that white papers are multi-purpose marketing tactics. The popularity of this medium is echoed by a study that was conducted by MarketingProfs and the Content Marketing Institute, in association with the Business Marketing Association and American Business Media, that revealed that 42% of the content created by companies who market with content are white papers. Defense contractors as well as other businesses attempting to reach the military audience have relied on this crucial content in order to diversify their overall marketing strategy and to create valuable substance to attract prospective customers.

Check out the Walt Disney Company's white papers on its veteran hiring initiative. Each section is a white paper on a particular subject about hiring veterans and the benefits of having former military work in your office. 

What Does a White Paper Look Like? 

Typically, a white paper looks like a cross between an academic paper written in a university for a short study and a report with recommendations for how to proceed to answer a question or solve a problem. 

There are no real industry standards or established best practices for writing a white paper, but there are some commonalities that distinguish white papers from, say, a brochure or pamphlet. 

  • Generally, a white paper is a PDF document ranging from 6 to 10 pages in length. 
  • White papers generally employ visually appealing cover pages and many images and nifty designs to attract the target audience and to provide some breaks in between lengthy reading blocks with informative depictions of the arguments being presented. 
  • Sometimes infographics, charts, or just visual representations of the information being presented is used in order to captivate the reader's attention. 
  • Titles of white papers often lead the reader to want to learn more about the content or the study being presented, a key signifier that the written material is of value to the consumer. 
  • Text is usually broken up with different subheadings or images in order to make the material easier to digest.  
  • It uses logic and facts to inform and educate the reader. It helps people understand what the current problem or situation is, and allows the reader to see the need for a change to the status quo.  It presents objective research, counterarguments, rebuttals, and provides studies, surveys, and other useful information to support the claims and positions. 
  • Readers view the white papers because they can relate to the problem that they face or they believe is afflicting some part of their world. The white paper should not only incorporate elements of informative and analysis, but also seems like a guide. 
  • Near the conclusion of the white paper, the document should begin to discuss the business and the business products or services that it offers. This should be well aligned with the problem and the research that was presented throughout the paper. 
  • Remember that even near the end of the conclusion, the discussion on the business' product is not overtly promotional.
To see a great example of the use of graphics/images with texts in order to communicate valuable content to readers, check out this white paper written by Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose from the Content Marketing Institute. 

A Quick Review/Rundown On Format Mentioned Above

Here's a short breakdown of what the general format looks like:
-Cover page with provocative and enticing title
-A table of contents (if necessary)
-Identification and introduction of the problem or issue being discussed
-Evidence, research, studies, surveys, academic papers, etc.
-Recommendations and solutions
-Blurb about company and the product or service being offered
-Don't forget images/infographics/subheadings to space out the text and provide some rest

When in doubt, consult with the white paper FAQs (Frequently Asked Question), which identifies key characteristics for a white paper as the following:

  • A document containing narrative text
  • At least 5-6 pages long, in portrait format
  • Educational, practical and useful, NOT a sales pitch
  • Used BEFORE a sale, not AFTER a sale 
  • Provides facts, NOT just opinion 
  • Includes an introduction or executive summary 
Also consult the white paper FAQs if you have more questions, such as the difference between case studies and white papers or the difference between press releases and white papers. 

Questions To Ask Yourself

The Content Marketing Institute suggest you ask yourself the following questions when you begin to consider writing or improving your writing.

The origin story of this white paper holds valuable lessons about creating white papers, overall; but it’s likely that it has also sparked some questions in your mind about your own firm’s white paper processes, such as:
  • Editorial calendars: Does your firm have an editorial calendar that leaves enough time for creating white papers without interfering with other projects and responsibilities?
  • Writing processes: Do you stress the importance of planning before you write? Regardless of who writes your white papers, do you encourage them to start with a mind map or outline based on your market’s personas, the message you want to communicate, and the way you’re going to use the white paper? In particular, do you encourage your firm’s top voices to partner on projects, with each one creating his or her own drafts, then rewriting and building upon each other’s ideas, until a richer viewpoint emerges — one that goes beyond what either alone could accomplish?
  • Collaboration: Most important, does your business or association — regardless of size — have a dependable team of writers and designers to create your white papers, plus established communication procedures to engage everyone involved in your content marketing success?

Additional questions provided by Anjana Srikanth from the Internet Writing Journal to consider include the following: 

  • Do you want your article to send readers off the site? 
  • Would you want it to be the exit page on a site? 
  • What kind of business articles does your company need? 
  • What kind of brand do you want to portray? 
  • As far as credibility goes, how do your articles fare? 
  • Do you have what it takes to get a site like Yahoo, Bit Pipe or Forrester to list them? Articles of a certain caliber, we mean!

For more information about creating valuable content for marketing to general audiences as well as for specific military audiences, check out some of previous blog posts about content marketing and using video campaigns.

Check out some of RallyPoint's unique Business Services here and have access to more than 740,000 members of the military and former military on our social network.


  1. A marketing white paper is a piece of advertising material that explains in detail the benefits of a particular product. It’s more of a report than a brochure, and is usually multiple pages long.

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