How To Define Your White Paper Audience

A white paper that isn’t irrelevant to a large part of your industry is too general. This is a scary idea to marketers. Especially those (read: everyone) that is trying to get the most reach for their content spend.

Instead, the paper should be mega relevant to a narrow audience. These readers will need the information you’re sharing. Your paper may unlock a sticking point in their research, or educate them on a problem that looms large. Whatever it does, it will matter to some and not all. And that’s good.

In a white paper writing plan, an ideal audience must be defined. This is because audience affects every writing and promotional decision moving forward.

Here’s how I encourage my clients (mostly B2B SaaS companies) to define their audience.

If you could only hand this paper out to one person at a target customer’s office, who would it be?

The CTO, the head of Procurement, the Finance Director?

We call these marketing personas.

Here’s how Buffer defines a persona: A composite sketch of a key segment of your audience.

This persona should include basic demographics and information on attitudes. Define elements like: role details, location, age, education, salary, background, goals and challenges, values, and reporting structure.   

These need to be top of mind because your message framing will take them into account. For example, a white paper should never just state a problem (e.g., AI content bots will make marketers irrelevant). It should state the problem with a target audience’s context in mind. (e.g., AI content bots are getting smarter, making unsophisticated marketers less valuable). 

To define your target audience, jot down ideas in each of these areas:

Demographics:

  • Role or job title
  • Size of team
  • Size of company
  • Industry
  • Geography
  • Gender
  • Experience level
  • Career path / past experiences
  • Education

 

Then, layer is psychographic information. This defines likely attitudes or perspectives around a problem, solution or product. Notes here can include:

  • Product familiarity
  • Level or interest or ambivalence
  • Urgency
  • Motivations
  • Problems (what worries do they share with their spouse at dinner?!)

 

The assumption is that a white paper is being written to ultimately sell something. This is true even in an educational paper without an urgent call to action. So consider where your target is in the education and buying process.

  • Are they early, middle or late in the sales cycle?
  • Where do they primarily do big decision research?
  • Who are their trusted sources for information? (Try to mimic style and tone!)
  • Are they the ultimate decision maker? (Consider what supporting data you may need if a decision is cross-departmental). 

 

Rarely can a white paper have more than two audiences. Even with two, they must be reasonably connected. Otherwise, the paper has to do too much to meet the demands of distinct readers. This leaves it too weak or too long. 

However, once you define the target, the white paper writing and planning process is smoother. Writers, editors, designers and marketers agree about what is being written, for whom and why.