Thursday, July 07, 2005

White Papers Make a Great Marketing Collateral

A long lasting paradigm of marketing on Internet has been that "Content" is the key to attract the stream of visitors and retain existing customers. In high tech business, white papers is a standard way to "sell" the company's capabilities.

In my view, good white papers serve to generate awareness about a product or service and the organization, and more importantly white papers help customers to inquire and potentially buy the product or the service in question.

There are some obvious advantages to creating and using high-quality white papers as part of a company's marketing mix:

  • Additional content on the company's Web site: White papers helps to keep a web site fresh with some new content. Here, white papers can add a bit of depth and variety to your Web site content.
  • Ease of Distribution: White papers can be easily distributed for almost no cost to the organization. Readers of white papers are more likely to pass along the document to their colleagues or friends. How often does one hear of regular ads or other marketing collateral being circulated?

The format of preparing a white paper should be fairly simple, and therefore the turnaround time can be much faster. Typically, white papers don't go through numerous cycles of "I think that picture should be moved to this corner" and "the brand is not prominently displayed" kind of critical review sessions. With most other collateral, brevity is another constraint that one has to contend with.

There is a perception that white papers are absolutely objective and factual, almost like scientific papers published in peer-reviewed journals. A certain academic weight and bent is placed on a white paper, and specifically for that reason white papers should be used for marketing sparingly and intelligently.

A white paper is treated as content and not advertising. Editors are most likely to include quotes from white papers; you can bet they don't write about advertisments.

The White Paper Don'ts

Once you decide to produce white papers, some basic cautionary steps need to be exercised to ensure that their effectiveness is not diluted:

  • Don't overuse white papers, or they will lose their value. The same rule applies to press releases—or, for that matter, pretty much anything in the marketing mix or life!
  • Don't make the paper a multi-page text ad. That is, don't attempt a hard sell with a white paper. Present the facts, and don't make claims like ads do. You might be better off paying for a good ad made rather than doing a white paper that attempts to be an ad with out its attention-grabbing flair.
  • Don't ignore the external environment. The white paper shouldn't be all about a company, product or service; it has to be set in a much broader context. A white paper has to analytical and seen to be informative and educative.

White paper attributes

When getting down to actually creating the white paper consider two aspects of the white paper, "physical" and "intellectual."

Physical Attributes

Aim to keep the length of the paper to less than 20 pages, though some others recommend not more than 10 or 12. (The figure 20 is not based on a scientific study, but purely on anecdotal evidence and observation.) While the length has to be determined by the extent of detail you feel is necessary to successfully communicate the message of the paper, remember that with each page the challenge to keep the reader engaged mounts.

Graphics: Relevant visuals, schematic diagrams or graphs and charts have to be mixed with the text. However, do not overdo it with estoric visuals which the readers may not understand.

Weight: The file size is another key factor, which is of course dependent on the two factors mentioned above. Keep it light, as a heavy file could potentially kill one of the key advantages of white papers—the distribution. People don't want to be receiving and risk sending too heavy a file.

Intellectual Attributes

The content of the white paper, which I call the "intellectual" attributes, ultimately dictates its success in meeting your objectives.

At a very broad level, a white paper is a document about a phenomenon change, from a problem state in the present to the problem-less state in the future, and therefore it can be structured as follows:

  • What is the prevalent problem that is being attempted to be solved?
  • What are the common solutions that have been attempted and why have those not yielded the desired results? (Note that the objective should not be to do a competitive comparison, but instead to reiterate to the audience the gap between what is and what ought to have been.)
  • What is the technology/product/service/phenomenon that closes the gap and solves the problem? Statistical or visual or other strong evidence will be the key to driving home your message here. While proving it beyond reasonable doubt may be a tough ask, one approach is to think through the solution being presented in an FAQ mode.


A well done white paper is a very valuable marketing tool. Technology companies can use white papers to indirectly influence the customer if the white papers are intellectually rich, unbiased, and presents factual information.


sceptical said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Manoj Aravindakshan said...

I found that significant portions of this particular blog post have been used from a piece written by me on [], without any credit to the original author ie. me or to MarketingProfs.
I'd request you to duly attribute the source.