White papers fit perfectly into modern cannabis marketing. More in-depth and research-forward than blogs, social media posts or other B2C content marketing categories, cannabis white papers are a tool businesses can use to demonstrate their value to potential clients and partners, as well as part of a lead-generating strategy with gated content.
The term “white paper” is at least a hundred years old, but it’s only recently become relevant to cannabis brands as legal markets expand. Back in the day, white papers served a different purpose. The Merriam-Webster definition of a white paper harkens back to the term’s bureaucratic origins: “a government report on any subject, especially: a British publication that is usually less extensive than a blue book; a detailed or authoritative report.”
But white papers are no longer just for policy wonks—today, these deep dives are a key component of business communications. According to Investopedia, “A white paper promotes a certain product, service, or methodology to influence current and prospective customer or investor decisions.”
Cannabis White Papers and the Research Gap
Cannabis companies can reap the benefits of white papers in a number of ways. Brands boost their credibility when they share detailed technical knowledge and expertise as part of broader marketing and business development efforts. But cannabis companies do have a key difference from other business sectors—the cannabis research gap.
Other industries have been able to conduct decades of research into best practices, consumer trends and scientific findings concerning their primary products and services. Even brands in relatively new niches like cryptocurrency can draw on a deep pool of research into cryptography, digital security and finance to speak to their unique approach to timestamps, digital signatures and decentralized currency exchange.
Because of federal prohibition, however, cannabis research has largely been stalled since 1970. Only fairly recently has funding and approval for cannabis cultivation and cannabinoid research gained traction at laboratories, academic research institutions and private enterprises. While fresh scientific attention has turned to cannabis as legalization has spread state to state— particularly concerning the efficacy of medical cannabis—there’s still a lot of white space when it comes to subject matter for cannabis white papers.
Even segments of the cannabis industry that overlap with more traditional sectors like agriculture are still filling in the gaps when it comes to cannabis-specific production methodologies. That means that white papers continue to make a splash in the cannabis industry. They’re genuinely valuable, not just as cannabis marketing products but as a source of information for anyone charting a more technical course in the space.
From hiring and salary trends to cannabis testing, white papers are a unique opportunity to contribute to collective knowledge about cannabis and its many utilities, as well as how the industry functions. Much as cannabis PR elevates public perception of the industry as a whole and draws consumer awareness to specific brands, white papers are a chance to share new details and discoveries about the plant and the evolution of this 32-billion-dollar sector.
How Cannabis White Papers Connect With Different Audiences
So what goes into a well-researched white paper that can really make a difference? The trick is balancing the quality of the information offered (short of publishing it in a peer-reviewed scientific journal) and leveraging that information to advance your brand’s marketing and thought leadership efforts.
After all, most cannabis white papers are deployed through a search engine-optimized blog or company website landing page, social media or as part of a broader suite of gated content for lead generation. The goal is to provide something of real value to your audience that will help them navigate the industry and make their own strategic decisions while positioning your own company as a reputable resource and potential business partner.
In that regard, a quality cannabis white paper is not much different from other types of online content that rely on the marketing principles of EAT (Expertise, Authority, Trustworthiness) for their value. These three qualities are what audiences are drawn to when they look for information online. When your brand bolsters its EAT factor, readers are more likely to turn to you for recommendations and updates in the future.
The difference between white papers and other forms of content marketing is the level of technical detail and specificity they offer. For example, you might write a blog for your website around a high-potential keyword like “cannabis irrigation techniques” that offers a broad overview of how your company approaches commercial cannabis cultivation and why it’s important.
A white paper on the same topic, however, would be significantly longer than a standard blog, and would be less focused on SEO techniques. Instead, it would detail relevant statistics, step-by-step procedures and a clear explanation of how your relevant products solve established problems and pain points for your potential client.
At the end of a well-organized, thoughtfully presented white paper, your target customer leaves not only with tactical advice on how to overcome a particular challenge, but also a clear sense that your company’s products and services are key to that success.
CONTENT STRATEGIST & COPYWRITER
Meghan O'Dea has honed her skills as a writer and content strategist for over a decade. She cut her teeth writing film and music reviews and a weekly opinion column on the 20-something experience. Early success in personal essay led Meghan to earn a Master's degree in Creative Nonfiction at UT Chattanooga, during which she attended the international MFA program at City University in Hong Kong as a visiting scholar. She has served as a digital editor for Fortune Magazine and Lonely Planet and earned bylines in The Washington Post, Playboy, Bitch magazine, Yoga Journal and Subaru Drive Magazine, amongst others. Meghan began writing cannabis stories for Willamette Week, Nylon and Different Leaf while working in the travel and outdoor media industries in Portland, Oregon. In addition to covering the intersection of travel, hospitality and cannabis, Meghan's work as a travel journalist took her from Los Cabos to Yellowstone, from San Francisco to Jamaica. She has also taught composition and travel writing at the college level and guest lectured on topics such as literary citizenship, urban history and professional development at conferences and universities throughout the United States as well as Madrid, Spain.