The financial services industry is awash in whitepapers: short ones, long ones, engaging ones, boring ones. We’ve all come across them in the course of our professional work, but what exactly is a whitepaper anyway, and what makes for a great one in the finance industry?
Setting the stage
Broadly speaking, a whitepaper is a lengthier in-depth report no shorter than six pages. The subject matter may vary widely, but in finance these pieces often take the form of case studies on specific products or product categories, or persuasive reports on a specific point-of-view.
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The correct tone: serious, neutral, and engaging
Whitepapers are defined by their density, their authoritativeness, their length, and their thoroughness. They are almost always directed at specialized, professional audiences who already have a firm grasp of the specialized vocabulary of the industry in question (in this case, finance).
All of these parameters dictate a serious tone, but it need not be a boring one. In spite of their density, great whitepapers are engaging—even witty. “Engaging” is of course in the eye of the beholder, but in general we find that writing engaging copy means writing with the reader on the other end in mind, and even addressing them directly. Respect your reader with quality writing and a lively voice, and they’ll reward you with their attention and maybe even their business.
You may have an axe to grind or a point you’re seeking to prove in your whitepaper, and that’s all fine-and-good, but you should always make sure your assertions are grounded in rigorously-sourced facts and that your language never strays into “salesy” territory. This is an authoritative report seeking to communicate important information to specialized professionals, not a sales pitch for your latest product; save that for your marketing materials.
The right subject
What should your whitepaper be about? It depends very much on the goal of your piece and who you are as a company. Your whitepaper should certainly lean heavily on your strengths, specialties, and experience, and speak to your core competencies. Your mastery of the topic in question should be readily apparent to readers.
In finance, the goal of many whitepapers is to demonstrate the superiority of an asset manager’s investment strategy or to provide a more rigorous academic rationale for a new or existing financial product. Tread lightly here. If your whitepaper is too overtly aimed at making a sale instead of communicating critical information, you may lose your audience. The focus should never stray from the whitepaper’s thesis. Be honest; do not selectively exclude information that doesn’t support your argument. You should also make sure your arguments are couched in logic, rigorously sourced, and delivered unemotionally.
Whitepapers are undoubtedly some of the most text-heavy documents that financial services companies produce, but that doesn’t mean they should be ugly, lifeless slabs of black-and-white. If there are charts and graphs that support your thesis or help bring your whitepaper to life, don’t hesitate to include them! Colorful graphics are a wonderful way to break up formidable-looking walls of text into more approachable chunks. Pull-quotes featuring particularly memorable or important snippets of text are another great way to add some visual interest to your whitepaper.
Whitepapers may not be the most exciting marketing tools in your toolbox, but they’re important nonetheless—particularly in finance. By using the right tone, carefully choosing your whitepaper’s subject, and ensuring that the final product is well-designed, you’ll have gone a long way towards ensuring that the whitepapers you’ve worked so long and hard on actually get read!