The ‘cloud storage’ company, 3PAR, is in the news with both HP and Dell attempting to buy it out. I decided to take a look at 3PAR’s website and check out their technical marketing and sales literature.
Sometimes it’s a struggle to find white papers, case studies and other pre-sales literature on a large company’s website. However, with only 600 employees, 3PAR is still a relative minnow and I was very pleasantly surprised to find their wonderful 3PAR literature and media page (2016-12 update: broken link).
Here’s a screen shot showing how easy they’ve made it to search by documentation type. (You can also search by keyword.)
There’s white paper copywriting nirvana – the ability to search on business versus technical white papers. (My assumption being that business white papers are mainly for non-IT folks while the technical ones are for IT specialists and their managers. This also assumes that the papers are positioned for a pre-sales audience.)
Alas, the ‘business white papers’ I reviewed from this page fell short in a number of areas:
1) They were too product and company focused – me, me and me again.
This may be fine when the prospect is well down the marketing funnel and looking at vendor selections, but is a turn-off for non-technical people checking out solutions to storage problems and trying to get educated about the marketplace.
2) The papers were too technical. They were good as technical overviews of features and ‘software knobs’ but would do nothing for the non-IT reader, except make them stop reading. I say that in all seriousness, having heard IT Directors and CIOs over the years dismiss technical overviews and feature assessments as a waste of valuable time. In their world, IT mostly begins and ends with a spreadsheet cell…
3) Too paragraph-centric. In other words they hark back to an era when people did read (and try to digest) huge globs of printed text. No Internet, email overload, Blackberries and Webinar Conference calls to distract them. Times have changed and the emergence of online marketing content (in pdf format, especially) means that people are also ‘reading’ white papers online. It’s tough to wade through even 16 pages of paragraphs and diagrams from start to finish online… and many readers will indeed never finish it.
And since a pdf attachment is just one in another long and never ending list of emails, spreadsheets and powerpoint presentations for a busy senior manager to get through each day, your white paper MUST stand out visually.
There are ways to make a white paper more attractive both to look at and to ‘read’. White paper guru, Jonathan Kantor, does a great job of describing his proven approach to achieving both of these objectives. I’ve read his book, taken his online white paper class, and now apply many of the ideas he recommends with my own copywriting clients. (See this blog post I wrote for some background on Jonathan’s work: Online White Paper Class 101.)
4) Vague Call To Action: Instead of a tepid call to “visit our home page”, along with a paragraph of ‘About Us Corporate Fluff’, why not direct the visitor to a landing page of.. wait for it.. other white papers! Welcome the visitor and encourage them to check out related papers, sign up for a blog or even follow on Twitter.
To their credit, 3PAR have both an updated blog, storagerap, and a lively Twitter account. I learned more about 3PAR’s business from the blog posts than from the corporate literature web page… which makes me think that a vendor neutral and educational marketing white paper could draw material from the blog info, as well as from the corp literature page, along with some subject matter expert interviews.
The position 3PAR are in now takes me back to 1991/92 and the acquisition of my employer, UK-based BICC Data Networks, by the then Silicon Valley giant, 3Com.
For a company of about 350 people that turned out well for engineers and technical instructors (like me). But still, it was an anxious time for all.
I hope whatever happens to 3PAR works out for the best interests of customers, investors and staff. And it’s pleasing to see that they have their European Development Center in Belfast, N.Ireland. That’s good to know – with a very large public sector, my country of birth needs all the inward private investment it can get.
– Mark McClure