White papers have been an effective tool in B2B sales for decades. In the finance industry, a robust white paper can introduce new investors to your company. And it provides them the confidence to invest with you.
However, writing a financial white paper isn’t like writing a long blog post. If you are a marketing director, you know that white papers are expensive to produce. If you assign it to an in-house writer, you recognize there are multiple stages of development before the final white paper is approved.
And if you hire a freelancer, they will charge anywhere from $600 – $1000 a page.
A compelling financial white paper has the ability instantly build credibility with cold audiences and direct them towards your brand. That makes your white paper a valuable investment.
What happens if you use the wrong structure for your white paper?
You risk readers ignoring it.
Or worse, tossing it into the trash.
The 11 Million Dollar Investment Washed Down the River
When you invest in a financial white paper, you need to ensure that it is structurally sound. Is it capable of bridging the gap between your leads and your promotion campaigns?
Without sound structure, your investment is washed down the river like Galloping Gerdie.
In 1940, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Washington state opened to the public. Drivers were now able to cross the almost mile-wide Puget River to get to the Olympic Peninsula.
The Tacoma Narrows Bridge was an 11 Million dollar project. At the time it was the 3rd longest suspension bridge in existence.
It is also one of the most significant civil engineering failures in history.
On November 7th, 1940, just four months after the bridge was built, high winds up to 42 miles per hour started to shake the bridge. The wind began to shake the flexible bridge in wavy motions.
The swaying resembled a sine graph, rising and falling until the bridge collapsed.
Fortunately, no lives were lost to the collapsing bridge.
The bridge was nicknamed Gallopin’ Gertie. Reports found that the plate girders in the bridge could not handle the turbulence of the wind. You see, the original engineer intended to use a sturdier design.
However, the project managers took a cheaper alternative instead due to high costs.
A financial white paper, like a bridge, follows a specific set of industry guidelines. Taking shortcuts can be the catalyst for a collapse in your marketing funnel. That is why structure is so important.
You wouldn’t drive down a bridge bowing with the wind, right? Likewise, investors will not buy from you if they do not trust your financial white paper.
As a financial copywriter, one of the most common things I see in financial white papers is several shortcuts that compromise their integrity. Cutting corners might make the project cheaper. However, cheaper does not always mean high quality either.
I have studied how to write white papers under some of the biggest names in the copywriting industry. Through mentorship with Gordon Graham, aka That White Paper Guy (who wrote over 300 white papers in his career), I learned the importance of every section of a white paper, regardless of industry.
How to Construct Your Financial White Paper
Add Your Heading Text Here
Growing up at the tail end of the millennial generation resulted in me hearing many of the typical conventional pearls of wisdom regarding video games, social media, and the internet. One of the most common quibbles mentioned is people’s attention span today. It seems like no one can sit still anymore.
Whether our phones are pinging with notifications or the thousands of unread emails, there is a vast competition for our most valuable asset: our time.
Society often laments its loss of focus. Most people forget that they traded hyper-focus for hyper-processing information. Thanks to the internet, The abundance of information has bombarded everyone with flashy videos and zinger articles. People will often bounce from article to article, skipping anything that does not hold their attention.
Business executives are no different.
Your executive summary is the first thing your audience will see once they open your financial white paper. When your audience reads your executive summary, they filter your white paper by asking a few questions.
Is this financial white paper worth my time, or does it belong in the trash?
Does this white paper address an issue that relates to me?
Is a solution provided, or is this a sales pitch?
Will I be able to take actionable steps after reading this paper?
Some marketing executives might argue that an executive summary is optional. However, they forget to put themselves in the shoes of their target audience. The reader will determine if the white paper is worth their time, regardless of whether there is an executive summary.
The difference lies in how they find their answer.
With an executive summary, the reader can read a short 200-word abstract. They can decide if they are the intended audience. If they are not, they can still hand your white paper to someone they know who would benefit from it.
A white paper without an executive summary forces the reader to determine whether they even want to commit to reading the full white paper. White papers are, on average, 5 – 12 pages long. And most business executives value their time. If they cannot quickly see the value, they will not read the white paper.
Remember, you are writing for very busy people.
When you write your executive summary, you want to distill the essence of your financial white paper into a short 200 – 300 word summary. Highlight the main points and build intrigue for the reader.
Don’t give away your solution immediately. You do not want to show your hand too quickly.
But the ultimate piece of advice I can offer is this.
Be succinct. At the very least, you will earn the respect of very busy people.
And of those time-crunched executives, many will know that you can solve a problem they have.
One night in December of 2021, I went down to my basement, and my heart sank.
After a heavy rain, there was about an inch of water on my basement floor. I try not to panic. I slow my breathing; then, I run through a series of questions in my head.
- Is anything damaged?
- Why didn’t the sump pump work?
- Where did the water come from?
I called my friend Dennis, a home contractor, to help me figure out what happened. Dennis came over the following day to take a look.
In less than 5 minutes, he says, “Andrew, this is not a rainwater problem… this is a sewage problem. The pipes must have gotten backed up, and it got pushed through your floor drain. Now it has back flowed into your basement.”
All I could do was give a heavy sigh. I was literally and figuratively standing in deep doo-doo (though I used stronger words at the time).
When addressing the core problem, remember that your reader is also standing in deep doo-doo.
Introducing the core problem in your white paper takes tact. It is critical to remember that white papers are educational by nature. When you present your problem, avoid using emotional language. Instead, use facts, graphs, and statistics to drive home the pain of the issue at hand.
Ultimately, your goal is to highlight the gravity of the problem. You can show the reader that you know exactly what the problem is through intense research. Be thorough in highlighting the issue.
Your target reader is standing in deep doo-doo. They have a problem and are not sure why. Perhaps there are clogs in their systems. Or they are lacking information. Regardless, they will be one step closer to trusting your brand when they know you understand the problem.
Currently Used Methods
Everyone wants to be a part of the next big innovation. The experience is riveting. If you present your solution too quickly, you lose the chance to build excitement. Present your solution as a significant innovation.
It is not enough to highlight the problem in explicit detail. You haven’t quite earned the trust of the audience yet. Before the reader can jump on board with your brand, they need to know whether you are the expert.
That is when you explain to them in detail the current methodologies.
When you discuss currently used methods, you are setting a standard. This standard shows the failures and successes in handling the core problem. It demonstrates that your company is proactively working to solve the issue at hand.
But more importantly, it helps you elevate your solution as the next innovative breakthrough.
Marketing directors might remember how Steve Jobs constructed his speeches. Before diving into new Apple products, Steve Jobs would hammer down on where the industry was currently standing.
He would frame other products as good but not good enough. When Steve Jobs finished talking about the current standards, the audience gripped their seats in excitement.
Highlighting current methodologies builds intrigue. If the currently used methods are good but not good enough, what solution could be that much better?
Revealing the solution to the core problem can feel like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat.
The reader will be in awe during the grand reveal. Their admiration will elevate their perception of your company. And that makes them warm up to buy from you eventually.
However, now is not the time to sell your product or service.
The solution section should still adhere to the rules of a white paper. Detracting from the educational tone to sell your product will betray the reader.
The reader is not looking for a product to solve the problem. They are looking for a new method they can use to solve their problem.
This distinction keeps your financial white paper out of the trash can.
It sounds counterintuitive. In other scenarios, this is the moment where you present your product or service. But not in a white paper.
White papers are educational. Instead of offering a specific solution, provide a general resolution. When you craft your financial white paper, you want to teach the reader the new approach to the core problem.
So how do you find this new, innovative, but general solution?
Look at your product features. But wait, didn’t you say not to feature the product?
Do not state your product is the solution. Promote one of the main benefits of your product as a general solution. By keeping your solution general, you can focus on how the proposed approach surpasses the current methods.
If done correctly, your reader will be intrigued. The reader might think, “What else might they know that could help me?”
And that leads them to learn more about your brand.
Citations and Biography
The final section of a compelling financial white paper is the citations and your company biography.
Citations are another way to demonstrate your brand integrity. As a general rule of thumb, never cite any statistics or information without being able to cite the source. Otherwise, the reader might chalk up your white paper as hearsay.
Remember, your readers are very busy people. They don’t have time to fact-check everything. However, they also don’t want to look foolish for reading false material! Citations are an easy way to prove to your reader that your financial white paper is well structured and accurate.
A white paper without citations looks like a wobbly bridge.
The reader will not trust it.
You will likely cite your financial white paper in the Chicago manual style. It is improbable that you will cite your white paper in APA unless you work in the scientific field.
There are two effective ways to cite your research. The first is to use footnotes at the bottom of each page. While this might be distracting to the reader, it shows them the amount of research into producing this white paper. The other way is to use endnotes. Endnotes ensure the reader can read your white paper without distractions. However, the reader cannot see how much research went into your paper.
Both methods work well depending on your company’s needs.
After your citations will be your company’s 1 – 3 page biography.
Your company bio is the only acceptable space to promote your company. When you draft your biography, you want to ensure that you highlight how your company can solve the core problem.
Encourage the reader to learn more about your company with a clear call to action. Move the reader to the next step. Avoid generic CTA’s like visiting your company home page.
Instead, offer a free consultation where interested executives can learn more about your product. A white paper is not the end of the marketing funnel. You are building a bridge for cold audiences to your brand.
Don’t bottleneck your leads. Integrate your white paper into your marketing funnel.
Use your biography section to show the reader the next step to take.
Bridging Cold Leads to Your Company
Writing a financial white paper does not need to be intimidating.
It can be an invaluable tool for guiding your leads towards your products. However, to ensure the success of your white paper, you want to pay attention to the structure. Without a clear frame, your reader will toss the white paper in the trash.
Remember to start with your executive summary. Be succinct and highlight what your white paper will discuss.
Then, discuss the core problem. Dive deep into the pain caused by this challenge.
Next, discuss the currently used methods. Show their successes and failures.
After that, you present the solution. Be generic and avoid any salesy promotions.
And finally, cite your sources and provide a clear call to action in your biography.
Follow these steps, and you will have a solid financial white paper with impeccable structure.