It’s the moment you’re dreading in the marketing department: a product launch is on the horizon. It’s great for the company, but you know what comes next: the collateral associated with it, including at least one white paper. And despite your love for marketing, you hate white papers.
You’re not alone. A quick Google search turned up a plethora of articles on why people hate white papers, and not just the marketing department. Sales doesn’t like them. Buyers don’t like them. There are plenty of reasons to hate traditional white papers, and here are just 10 – and how you can love your white papers again.
1. Sales doesn’t use white papers. Sales hates white paper leads. The leads they get from traditional white papers are just people trying to get something for free.
2. White papers languish behind email capture forms. Half the time, the leads don’t even download the white paper – or they don’t input their information into email capture forms. The marketing department has just created a pretty, well-written piece of digital flotsam.
3. White papers are boring. Well, only if you let them be boring. But the vast majority of technology buyers will be more interested in using white papers to cure chronic insomnia.
4. It’s hard to find the right subject matter experts. Or it’s hard to pin them down. Or you have to chase down a product manager, a sales manager – it’s all too much. (I mean, you’ll need to chase down these people for other collateral, but for a white paper it just seems even more annoying since you hate white papers anyway.)
5. Talking to SMEs is difficult. Well, the sales guys and gals are actually pretty easy to talk to; they can’t wait to tell you how WidgetWare is going to be the next big thing, and all the cool companies are going to buy it because it has so many great benefits. But the product developers? They’re weird. They like Star Trek and drink black coffee and speak in lines of code.
6. Sales wants white papers to be sales-y. You, as a marketer, know that white papers are not about the hard sell. Sales is much more direct; the sales team is going to want you to push the awesomeness of the new product with all the bangorrhea you can muster.
7. Finding a writer is difficult; we’re already busy. Well, okay, you’ve tried to get out of writing a white paper, but you have to do it. Now you have to find someone to write it – everything from interviewing subject matter experts to writing the actual white paper. And your entire team is busy, and you don’t know where to start to find a white paper writer.
8. Design is painful. Great, you’ve got it written. W00T, as the developers would say, raising a mug of their black coffee. Now you’ve got to design a layout, add graphics – all that good stuff. Who has time for that?
9. Approval takes too long. Okay, the white paper is written; your in-house designer has put it in a layout that will win awards. But now? Legal has to approve the text. And legal is not known for speed.
10. Repurposing is going to take forever. Once everything is pulled together with the white paper, you know you need to carve it up like a Thanksgiving turkey and turn it into tasty leftovers: blog posts, Tweets, social media posts, infographics, whatever you can think of so that you get the most ROI from it.
You Can Love Your White Papers Again
Is it possible to enjoy white papers again? Maybe even love them? Absolutely! You’re still going to face hurdles, but here are a few things you can do so that you’ll love your white papers again.
- Talk to sales. Find out what the customer problems are. You’re going to do this anyway when you write the white paper, so you might as well get it out of the way so you have a framework for a piece of collateral the sales team can use to enhance their efforts. Put your foot down on the bangorrhea; no, you’re not using exclamation marks at every turn, and no, it’s not going to read like a sales sheet. Reassure them that you’re working on sales sheets, too.
- Make the white paper compelling. Try catchy titles or tongue-in-cheek themes, if that’s something you can do in your industry. One of my clients went with a “Seven Deadly Sins” theme, and I peppered the white paper with references to the River Styx and other mythology. If your industry doesn’t allow that, look for ways to break up the copy with graphics – even stock photos or simple charts – and use a lot of bullet points.
- Identify subject matter experts as soon as possible. They’re usually the people who worked directly on the product, as well as the aforementioned sales folk who are primarily selling WidgetWare.
- Outsource if needed. If you just don’t have the bandwidth in your organization, hire a white paper writer. Find one who understands how to talk to engineers, even someone who likes Star Trek, and can leverage journalism skills to interview reticent SMEs. Same goes for design; there are graphic designers out there who can take a wall of text and turn it into a readable work of art.
- Alert the legal department. If you’re close to having something for them to review, let the legal team know it’s coming their way. Also let them know that you’ll need approval on it quickly.
- Have a plan for repurposing, and a timeline. And your writer, if you needed to hire her in the first place. You can work on repurposing content as legal is approving the white paper – just don’t publish until they give the A-OK.
Hate your white papers? Love ’em? Let me know why. Sound off in the comments, or contact me if you’ve reached your breaking point and can’t stomach the thought of writing another one.