How to Write a White Paper for an IT Audience, Part 1: How to define your target audience

A 5-part series covering all the steps required to write a quality white paper, from defining the target audience and creating a compelling package to getting it in the hands of prospects


White papers are an important part of any IT marketing strategy. They can serve as magnets to draw potential customers to your website when searching in Google for tech solutions. White papers also serve as that all-important offer for your lead-generation ad campaigns on LinkedIn and other distribution channels – the carrot that entices prospects to share their names and email addresses. Studies show customers rely on white papers as a key component of the buying process. But if you’ve been involved in producing white papers, you know the job isn’t an easy one. You can picture what you want the paper to achieve, but pulling all the appropriate resources together to get the job done, and then getting all stakeholders to sign off, can be a frustrating, time-consuming task. Too often, in the end, white papers fail to deliver on the original vision or to achieve their primary function: educating readers. It may be that they miss the mark in terms of properly explaining the technology in question. Perhaps the language used is unnecessarily dry or obtuse. Or maybe the layout fails to entice the reader because it’s missing the charts, graphics, subheads and other elements that serve to break up dense text. Whatever the case may be, if a paper suffers from any of these pitfalls, the result may be that potential prospects never read it. And that costs you money. You go to plenty of trouble and expense to produce a white paper and get it into the hands of promising prospects, such as via LinkedIn. Once in the prospect’s hands, you depend on the quality of the paper to entice the reader to want to learn more about your product or service. Every time the paper fails in that endeavor, you may well lose a promising lead.

What you’ll learn

To help you avoid that fate, we’ve come up with this multi-step guide to producing truly effective white papers for an IT audience. In the sections ahead, you’ll learn how to:
  • Define your target reader
  • Choose an appropriate topic
  • Set the right tone
  • Ensure you offer something of value
  • Create a visually compelling package
  • Decide between writing in-house or finding a third-party writer
  • Define the steps required to get the job done
  • Get the paper into the hands of prospects

Setting Your Target

In this first section, we’ll cover how to define your target audience. It’s an important question because in terms of tone and content a paper targeting a business decision-maker (BDM) will be quite different from one targeting a technology decision-maker (TDM).  For the BDM, you’ll obviously want to talk up the business benefits of the product or service and shy away from lots of technical details, while the opposite is true if you’re targeting TDMs. Even within the TDM realm, a paper targeted at a CIO will take a different tack from one aimed at an IT manager or systems administrator. In general, the higher your target reader is on the IT ladder, the less technical the paper becomes. This is especially true now that in many companies, the CIO may have more of a business background than a technology one. That said, you also have to keep in mind that you can’t ultimately control who winds up reading your paper. So it’s perfectly appropriate—and even expected—for a paper targeted at TDMs to include a section on the business benefits of the product. Ultimately, that’s what all products and services must do: benefit the business.

Picking the Topic

With the target audience in mind, the next task is deciding on the exact topic. Probably you’ll have a pretty good idea of what the topic should be or you wouldn’t have begun the white paper project in the first place. But the key is to refine it so that it’s in sync with both the target audience and your business goals. Deciding on the exact focus of the paper requires answering a series of questions, including:
  • Who is the target audience?
  • What is it about your product or service that is most important to them?
  • What is your differentiator with respect to the product or service vs. your competitors?
  • What is the key message you want to leave with the reader?
Try to resist the urge to tackle too much in one paper. If you’re coming out with a suite of products or services that address a number of different functions, you’ll likely need more than one paper to tackle them all. Perhaps you can produce one paper with an overarching view, along with a series of relatively shorter papers, which each tackling a set of related features or functions.


You’ll also likely want to time the publication of the paper to coincide with your product or service launch. White papers don’t get written overnight, so be sure to give yourself plenty of time. Producing a quality paper can easily take a good two months from start to finish —often more, depending on the schedules of everyone who has to sign off on the finished product. Read Part 2 of our series: Refining your topic, deciding on an approach and assembling supporting information Part 3: Coming up with an inviting format that’ll draw readers in Part 4: Finding the best writer and a tried-and-true approach to getting the job done Part 5: Getting your paper in front of your target audience – without breaking the budget
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