White papers are a B2B staple that can add a lot of value to your overall strategy, but they can be a double edged sword. They are an effective tool, but they require a higher time expenditure than most other marketing projects. When you add in the complexity and average knowledge levels within a specialized industry like engineering, energy generation, or aerospace, the stakes are even higher. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for organizations to outlay thousands of dollars – and too many valuable stakeholder hours – for white papers that do not end up serving their intended purpose.

Over the years, we’ve intervened to fix several examples of white papers that were doomed to fail. Some of the main culprits include boring, text-heavy pieces that fail to engage the reader, papers that are mostly opinion without cited sources or value-added insights, or glorified case studies that have been overstretched and don’t have enough context or content to fit the white paper medium. To impress technically savvy audiences and contribute to an overall thought leadership push, a white paper has to offer more than just generalities or a sales pitch.

White paper drawing

Achieving Thought Leadership in Energy, Engineering, Aerospace, and Other Specialized Verticals

Thought leadership gets thrown around by a lot of organizations as something to aspire to, but efforts to attain thought leadership are not always successful. According to a 2021 survey, 71% of sales and marketing professionals say the majority of thought leadership content – regardless of type – offers no valuable insights.1 When those insights are present, however, thought leadership content can be very effective. 64% of the same surveyed professionals noted that thought leadership content helps them reliably assess the capabilities of a company much better than conventional marketing materials or product sheets.

Demonstrating deep domain knowledge and conveying genuinely interesting and relevant information to the reader is how a white paper supports thought leadership. To achieve both of those objectives for a highly technical audience, here are some tips:

  1. Get your SMEs involved, but don’t let them write the whole thing.

While it’s important for your technical subject matter experts and leadership to be known in the field as thought leaders, their expertise isn’t necessarily in writing the most compelling copy. Getting SMEs involved early in the white paper-writing process – whether it’s with an interview, a rough draft of their thoughts, or an ongoing email discussion – will help creative professionals who have experience writing for specialized audiences to come up with an angle for content that puts expert knowledge to fullest use. Circling back after the piece has been written and letting experts put their own finishing touches to the piece will ensure that a consistent voice is present across pieces.

  1. If you can’t provide original data, include eye-opening context and synthesize outside sources to add value.

The easiest way to get someone interested in a new white paper is to provide original data from never-before seen research that gives insights into your industry. Sometimes, however, it’s not feasible to conduct original research. That’s okay! Instead, you can research external data and resources and couple that information with the commentary and know-how of your experts to a) construct a narrative to illustrate recent industry trends, b) provoke discussion and provide a new view of a widely discussed concept, or c) explain complex principles in a way that is easy to understand.

  1. Stop selling and start sharing.

White papers are not overt selling tools. They should be an attempt to share your knowledge and expertise with your audience in order to build a trust relationship. This lays the groundwork for future sales. The moment a white paper starts doing a hard sell for a specific product or service is the moment many readers will tune out entirely. Some writers will attempt to get around that by saving the sales pitch until the very end, but even a small pitch can interfere with the ethos of the genre. Instead of selling, just leave space at the end of your white paper to introduce your expert(s) and your organization. If you’ve truly added value with the information you’ve shared, readers will know where to reach you for more information.

Thinking about bolstering your push for thought leadership with some quality content? Make sure to find an advertising partner with professionals who have experience reaching – and engaging – specialized audiences. Get in touch to see how bfw can help.


  1. https://business.linkedin.com/marketing-solutions/b2b-thought-leadership-research