What Is a White Paper? [Hint: It's Not a Sales Pitch]

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For B2B buyers, information is everything.

According to DemandGen, 41% of B2B buyers consume three to five pieces of content before engaging with a sales rep. One of the best ways to establish your company’s authority in your space and provide detailed insight found nowhere else is through the creation of white papers.

White papers are high-value pieces of content and are not simple to produce, but they have a crucial role to play in B2B lead gen. 63% of B2B buyers say they are willing to share information to access webinars, with white papers trailing closely behind at 49%.

63% of B2B buyers say they are willing to share information to access webinars, with white papers trailing closely behind at 49%.

One thing to note: white papers are NOT sales pitches. They are helpful, educational, and in-depth reports chock full of insights, stats, graphs, and charts. Another thing to note: white papers don’t have to be yawn-worthy. Follow the best practices of any content you create, and you’ll have an engaging, well-written, beautifully designed, and compelling piece to feature on your website, use in paid campaigns, break down into social campaigns, get cited in industry news sites — you get the gist.

In this guide, we explain the difference between sell sheets and white papers and how best to use them in your sales and marketing campaigns.

What Is a Sell Sheet?

A sell sheet, also referred to as a product sheet, tear sheet, or data sheet, is a brief product-oriented marketing piece that's meant to make a great first impression and grab a prospective customer's interest in your service or product. The one-page advertisement contains some relevant information that prospects need to decide whether they want to learn more about your business, and how they can do so. A good sales sheet should include:

  • A high-quality photo of your product or an image of your concept,
  • Your key selling features and concisely-worded benefits,
  • A specific call-to-action, such as "Visit our website" or "Contact Us,"
  • Your contact information, such as phone number, website address, email address, etc.

What Is a White Paper?

A white paper is a detailed look at a specific issue or problem with the intent to help a reader solve (or better understand) their problem with original quantitative or qualitative data. Quantitative data can mean analysis of survey data, or analysis of your own customer behaviors and experiences. In contrast, qualitative data can mean interviews with your customers and prospects that have not been published elsewhere.

A good white paper should:

  • Validate why the problem needs to be solved,
  • Impartially highlight alternative ways to solve the problem,
  • Reasonably lead the reader to the conclusion that your company has what it takes to solve the problem or play a role in solving their problem.

What are the Average Costs of Creating Sell Sheets and White Papers?

For white papers, the costs can vary based on the amount of original research and analysis that is included. Often a specialty research firm is involved in surveying a particular audience or helping provide statistical analysis that stands up to academic standards -- research partners may include Gartner, Forrester, The Economist Research Unit, Frost and Sullivan, or a specific firm relevant to your industry. 

The length of white papers vary from brief 4-5 pages up to 15 or 20 pages. Sell-sheets by contrast are most often 1-2 pages.

Other factors can affect cost including the length of the white paper, the amount of research or time needed, design requirements, and the experience or expertise of the research firm or marketing agency you're outsourcing to.

But white papers don't have to be such an expensive undertaking as those that involve third party specialty research firms to conduct quantitative survey-based studies. Creating white papers based on internal company data and qualitative interview data can be faster and much less expensive -- and just as valuable to your prospective buyer.

In our experience, costs of white papers could look something like this -- with all agency, design and research costs included: 

  • White paper leveraging a third-party partner-led effort with original qualitative and quantitative data (Gartner, Forrester, etc): $10k to $150k;
  • Internally produced white paper based on quantitative interviews and internal data: $3k to to $10k;
  • Sell sheets, in contrast, are based on subjective information, and can be written effectively by internal and agency teams for a much lower cost.

Pros of Sell Sheets

Sell sheets are efficient to produce

Owing to their short length, sell sheets are easier to write and more efficient to produce. If you're creating sell sheets for one product or service, you will find them easier to produce.

Sell sheets are flexible to change

Unlike white papers that can take a lot more time to edit when information goes out of date, sell sheets can be simply edited and updated.

Sell sheets are efficient in engaging readers

As attention spans of readers grow shorter, you need copy that will capture and hold the attention of prospective customers fast. Unlike white papers, sell sheets promise a faster read that engages prospects more effectively.

Sell sheets are a cost-effective option

Since they are easier to write and produce, sell sheets are much cheaper to produce than white papers. If you're on a budget, sell sheets are the most cost-effect option for your company.

Cons of Sell Sheets

Sell sheets should be produced for different products

While sell sheets can be produced faster than white papers, they may be tedious to produce if you have many product offerings. This is because you may need to prepare different sheets not just for different products, but also for specific market segments.

Sell sheets lack convincing purchase arguments

Due to their short and brief nature, sell sheets fail to provide the detailed, convincing purchase arguments that prospective buyers may be looking for. As such, sell sheets may fail to generate as many leads as white papers. 

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Pros of White Papers

One research affirms that 64% of B2B marketers use white papers, and with good reason. Here are the benefits of white papers.

White papers have more convincing power

Since white papers are more detailed, they offer readers more of the information they may need to make buying decisions. Prospects see them as problem-solvers. Compared to sell sheets, white papers are more likely to generate leads.

White papers are recyclable

White papers can be repurposed into blog posts, infographics, videos and more. The repurposed content can be used to drive more traffic to your white paper landing page.

White papers set a company apart from the competition

Prospects would rather buy from a company that went through the trouble of creating long and in-depth reports that walks them through a solution than those that only have brief sell sheets. Also, they help build credibility and trust with readers because they are detailed, informative, authoritative, and written by industry experts.

Cons of White Papers

  • They are more costly to produce compared to sell sheets.
  • They are long and detailed, which may turn off prospects with short attention spans.
  • They are harder to edit when the information becomes outdated or irrelevant.

Conclusion

Creating quality marketing material is a vital investment for your business. Once you find something that works, the money, time, and effort you put into projects such as white papers and sell sheets will certainly pay off immensely. Be sure to weigh the pros and cons of the marketing materials you decide to produce first to determine which resource best fits in your budget and goals.

Megan Moore

Megan Moore

Megan creates content and messaging strategy and writes copy that resonates with our clients’ target audiences. She specializes in writing for digital, social and emerging tech platforms, with proven success creating content for large scale social campaigns. Most recently Megan was a Senior Copywriter at VaynerMedia in NYC where she supported some of the agency’s major B2B accounts.