I See White Papers

Have white papers seen better days?

Over at Paul Dunay’s ‘Buzz Marketing For Technology’ blog, there’s a controversial post that argues they have:

“Is the white paper dead for b2b marketing?”

The premise is that the very term ‘white paper’ has lost its uniqueness and authority status.

Why?

Because the ‘market’ has become saturated with pre and post-sales / marketing collateral that’s hijacked the term ‘white paper’ but, in format, and in content, delivers a confusing mish-mash of data (rather than information)

So much so, that more and more people are tuning out of reading or even requesting white papers, goes the post.

(All partly true, by the way.)

And the proposed solution?

Well, I’ve gotta say it brings tears of joy to a copywriter’s digital heart.
Think, ‘topic micro site’.

Read that again – ‘topic micro site’. And if you don’t get it, then hop over to the Bloom Group’s very own site where you can see the concept in action.

Now, in this post, I’ll leave their e-book versus white paper positioning for another day.

But I will say that if you think what passes for white papers these days is a distorted mess, wait to you see what the majority of ‘topic micro sites’ devolve into over time. I’d be willing to wager that lots of them will distract and deflect their readers with links and unstructured trivia that are high on facts but fall way short on useful and structured information.

(For the record, I quite like the Bloom Group’s site but still reckon a well-crafted white paper, even an e-book / special report, can do the job just as well and with less confusion as to what to read next.)

In my opinion, the winning attribute of an excellent white paper is that it can be expertly crafted and written to ‘guide’ the reader to the key points in five to ten pages without introducing any distractions.

Whereas, by definition, topic niche sites have links just begging to be clicked; and many of these are links to other sites. Yikes! Come back dear reader, come back!
Of course, I write in jest, since B2B readers are smart enough to keep on target and not waste 20 mins reading time browsing the New York Times because a topic site link brought them there. Aren’t they? ;-

By the way, in case you’re wondering, I do have a horse or two in this ‘race’. By that, I mean the writing of technology white papers and other web content, including email autoresponder copy. Ultimately, it’s your visitors who will decide what they like to read and view on your site so you better be testing and tracking what does and doesn’t work. On that point, I’m an agnostic copywriter – just do what works!

However, until it’s proven otherwise, I believe that multi-million dollar technology sales funnels will continue to have expertly-written (and designed!) white papers for the C-level folks to sink their teeth into.

And I see ‘topic niche sites’ playing a supportive and broader role to their more direct white paper brethren because I don’t think the decision makers will have the time or inclination to surf and nibble on niche topic sites and come to specific conclusions.

They don’t’ want to work that hard and will ‘reward’ (with attention) marketers who make it e-a-s-i-e-r to get their problems solved and questions answered.

What say you?

– Mark McClure

PS – Paul, if you’re reading this, please have a look in your spam(!) folder for the two comments I made to your post over the last week. They’re in some kind of net purgatory zone, it seems. Maybe this is Karma for not getting to grips with Avaya’s IP Phones when I had the chance 😉

Posted in Copywriting, White Papers
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About the Author
Author: Mark McClure - A freelance b2b case study and white paper writer to the computer networking industry. Based in Tokyo, Japan. About the 'Samurai Writer'.
One comment on “I See White Papers
  1. Tim Parker says:

    Good comments Mark. I think the controversy got heated because my colleague upped the rhetoric a bit for Paul, calling the white paper dead. That’s not quite what the original article said, but it certainly got some people engaged in a debate.

    I think the microsite and the white paper are complimentary – though I do think the site has lots more potential to engage (and to confuse, as you point out.)

    And you can have good and bad examples of either. BTW, both need good content and writing if they are to capture a B2B buyer, so I don’t think the microsite should put you, or Micheal Stelzner, or us out of work!

    Tim

    [Tim,

    Thanks for stopping by. Your colleague’s post certainly got some attention. As they say in Blighty, “Blooming cheek” 😉

    Mark]

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