On a gloomy day in Coruscant, Darth Vader sat in his office block, breathing more deeply than usual.
The Empire was building a second Death Star and the Emperor wanted him to monitor every phase of the construction.
He was particularly interested in the shield generator for the Death Star which was to be built on the forest moon of Endor.
It was the Death Star’s first line of defence and Darth Vader’s responsibility to make sure that it would do the job.
Knowing the reader
When the news got out about the shield generator trade federations all over the galaxy were excited. The talk went something like this-
Alien #1(manager) – A lot of Imperial credits are riding on this project. Can we bag the contract, team?
Alien #2 (engineering head)- Yes. We have the technology to build this generator and we can whip up the prototype in no time. We are the perfect vendor.
Alien #3 (salesman)- Then get me in touch with the Sith Lord’s office. I am bagging this one. I need to buy that artificial asteroid for my wife.
Alien #1- Brilliant. Prepare a holographic presentation and list out the specs. I will send it to Coruscant.
Hold on, aliens. Not so fast!
Darth Vader is no engineer. Sure, during his Anakin Skywalker days he had built custom podracers and even won a race and his freedom from slavery.
But those days are far behind him. Now he is the second most powerful person in the Empire. He is fighting a resurgent rebellion. He is losing stormtroopers everyday. He is battling Jedis and creating ripples in the Force.
You really think he cares about the Tesla rating of the superconducting magnets in the core of the power generator?
Get that bland presentation in front of him, Mr. Alien #1, and you will be lucky to get out of that office in one piece.
Rather, take some cues from the natives of a blue green planet in a galaxy far far away. They use something very similar, called whitepapers to sell complicated and technical stuff.
The different types of whitepapers
You might be developing a better shield generator, a new stormtrooper exoskeleton or an improved propulsion system for a starfighter. But the people who are responsible for buying them from you don’t know that.
You need to tell them why your solution is better than the competition’s. Full details, but without too much time. You will need a bunch of whitepapers for that.
Even though the Imperial bureaucracy is vast and different types of people are going to be involved in the decision making process you can get the job of getting your message out using three types of whitepapers.
1. The problem solution whitepaper
Let’s talk about the variant that’s perfect for the Sith Lord.
It talks about the basic problems involved around constructing shield generators and about previous and less than successful approaches used to tackle the problem.
Then your solution is unveiled in such a way that each of the hurdles mentioned gets addressed.
But you are not going to straight up praise yourself. You will keep it grounded and logical and also talk about the situations where your design might fail.
This variant lets Darth Vader understand the lay of the land without going too much into technical minutiae. You will earn the Sith Lord’s trust and hopefully be one of the favorites for bagging the contract.
2. The technical whitepaper
This is not for Darth Vader’s eyes., nor for the non technical staff. This is for the Empire’s engineers.
This whitepaper comes way later into the selection process when you know that you have got your leg into the door and you are in some kind of shortlist.
It takes a deep dive into your shield generator design and tells the engineers and physicists why your design is much better than the competition.
Use facts, specs and technical details while preparing this type. Include test benchmarks. Give your readers enough information so that they can can demonstrate full faith in your design and argue for it in front of the buying committee.
Just know that Vader is heading that committee. He will spot BS and lack of faith a mile away. And when that happens windpipes get crushed and breathing orifices get blocked.
3. The numbered list whitepaper
This is kind of an easy one to plan and create. This variant can also be shown to Vader without risk. It might even make him less grumpy than usual.
The list type has a number of bullet points around different aspects of your design. The headlines for these whitepapers might read something like
- 6 questions your shield generator designer need to answer.
- 7 best practices for minimizing radiation leaks.
- 9 considerations for choosing the location of the generator complex
This type is suited for a quick and informative read. The numbered list format also means that readers can quickly jump back and forth and skim through and read the whole thing in bite sized chunks.
Do a good enough job of them and even Han Solo can read one or two during the Kessel run, with plenty of time to spare.
Improving your whitepapers
Before I go to the Restaurant at the End of the Universe to down a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster here’s some more advice about whitepapers that you can put to good use.
Write your whitepapers well and don’t make these common mistakes.
Use case studies in your whitepapers. You might have built similar shield generators elsewhere. Talk about them and also include a quote from customer who commissioned it.
Done well, a video version of these types can also be powerful.
Mix and match your whitepapers too. A problem solution can also have numbered list. So can a technical whitepaper and a numbered list one.
Go easy on problem/solution and technical mix – they have different types of readers and end goals.
Whitepapers are not going to get you home safe. Your bid might still be rejected in favor of that other alien race with weirdly long necks. But you won’t have a snowball’s chance in a jet exhaust if you don’t have one.
Your clients might not be Darth Vader. You might not be competing for an insanely costly contract. But if you are in B2B you will need whitepapers to make your case. Lets talk.
Image courtesy TheForceUnleashed. H/t to Ed Gandia and Gordon Graham for the idea about different white paper flavors which this post is based on.