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Marketing Miracle: The White Paper

In our line of work, which happens to be marketing if you’re a first-time visitor (welcome), we hear a lot about white papers. The things we hear are usually variations on some pretty predictable themes. And they usually prompt corresponding questions from us. Here are a few examples:

          Thing We Hear: “We need a white paper.”
          Question We Ask: “Why?”

          Thing We Hear: “We like white papers.”
          Question We Ask: “Why?”

          Thing We Hear: “Our competitors have white papers.”
          Question We Ask: “So, what?”

          Thing We Hear: “We need to have white papers for our prospects to download.”
          Question We Ask: “What if they don’t?”

          Thing We Hear: “We need our prospects to fill out a form to download our white paper.”
          Question We Ask: “What if they won’t”?

We don’t want to be misunderstood: We presume there are good reasons to write and publish white papers. We don’t hear them very often. But they must be out there. And our guess is they’d have at least a marginal shot at being effective if they were written and published as a means of achieving some specific objectives. But the things that typically pass for objectives are the things we hear (see above).

What rankles us, though, is the frequency with which — and the extent to which — white papers are misunderstood and, so, misused. Therefore, as a public service, to help people understand and make appropriate use of white papers, and in the hope of reducing our agita, here’s a short list of things a white paper is not:

  • An ad. If you think a white paper is the place to promote your business, that tooting sound you hear is the departure whistle on the boat you missed.
  • A brochure. If you think a white a paper is the place to describe your latest product or service, read your own press releases. It’ll be just as effective.
  • A blog post. If you think a white paper is the place in which to get whatever’s on your chest off it, write an Op-Ed piece for the local newspaper.

Here’s the deal on white papers: If they’re not technical in nature, meaningfully substantive, at least reasonably objective, and factually accurate, write something else. You’ll be more constructive. And you’ll save yourself a bill from your prospects for their time, which you wasted and that they’ll never get back.

The white paper is no miracle, kids. And no amount of words or graphics will make it supernatural.

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