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The Steak Behind the Sizzle: Effective Marketing Using White Papers
Learn the unique value that white papers have to offer and the skills required to write them.
Companies that sell complex technology products and services face
different marketing challenges than those selling easy-to-understand
commodities. Sometimes the features and benefits of a company's
offerings are too complex to be readily apparent at first glance. White
papers can be an effective way to educate potential customers on the
merits of such products and to explain the complex technologies
involved. Although they aren't the most exciting kind of collateral,
white papers offer a benefit that more glamorous advertising and
marketing materials cannot provide. They lend validity to product
claims and help prove that there's "steak" behind the marketing
Why a White Paper?
White papers offer unique value to potential customers by providing
unbiased information and analysis regarding a business problem that
they may be facing. Decision makers are more likely to read a high-quality
white paper in detail than a brochure that simply pitches a product's
features and benefits, even if the white paper is several pages
longer than the brochure. A well-written white paper that contains
business-case information as well as technical material is likely
to be disseminated within a company-sometimes beyond department
borders-as different divisions enlist each other's support for new
strategic uses and distribution methods exist for white papers than for
other kinds of collateral because of the wealth of information they
contain. White papers can:
- Educate prospects before they talk to a salesperson.
White papers posted on a company's Web site help prospects determine
whether a product meets their needs before they talk to a sales
representative; it's easier to close a deal with an educated lead.
- Generate new leads. Companies can require that readers
register (providing contact information) to receive a white paper.
This practice delivers interested prospects directly to the sales
- Reach a wide audience. Publishing white papers at third-party
information sites such as Bitpipe.com generates goodwill and "mindshare"
by making research and analysis widely available. In addition,
it drives interested prospects to the company-prospects that might
not otherwise have known that such an offering existed.
- Educate employees. High-quality white papers serve important
educational functions within a company as well. They explain complex
technologies in accessible prose, bringing non-technical employees
(such as business executives) and new hires rapidly up to speed
on the company's competitive offerings. In addition, they can
supplement sales guides with the real-world technical and business-case
details that the sales force needs to effectively close deals.
Common Objections to White Papers
Some marketing departments shy away from developing white papers,
despite the many benefits they offer. Common objections to white
papers include the following:
- "White papers are not marketing collateral, so why should
the marketing department be involved?" In the past, white
papers were written by technical staff to explain the intricate
details of new technologies to those charged with implementing
them. But times have changed. According to some analysts, corporate
decision makers rely on white papers more than almost any other
source of information available to them. The solid technical information
contained in such collateral helps decision makers understand
the business case of the offering. This goal fits squarely in
the bailiwick of marketing, not engineering.
- "We already have sufficient marketing collateral. Look at
our data sheets and product brochures!" White papers combine
with brochures and data sheets to provide a comprehensive portfolio
of collateral. Product brochures generate interest in the offering.
Data sheet specifications demonstrate that the offering can be
integrated into a potential customer's environment. But only the
depth of detail available in a white paper can convince technical
decision makers that the offering actually works.
- "White papers take forever to write. We need to go to market
immediately." It's true that an effective white paper can
take longer to develop than some forms of collateral. But with
a committed team of developers and content providers, it can be
written, edited, illustrated, laid out, and distributed in as
little time as three weeks.
Why White Papers Fail . . . and Succeed
often view white papers as bafflingly complex documents that only
engineers can understand. Sadly, this reputation isn't entirely
unearned. Some companies that recognize the potential benefits of white
papers publish documents that create more marketing harm than good.
Some white papers fail because they:
- Lack objectivity. Biased information alienates readers
and instills doubt about the paper's validity. Instead of making
unsubstantiated claims about a specific offering's suitability
and benefits, a high-quality white paper educates the audience
about solutions to their problems. Writers should cite outside
sources such as analyst research or industry reports whenever
possible to strengthen the credibility of the business case and
to demonstrate the technical prowess of the offering.
- Provide inadequate or inappropriate technical detail.
A white paper that glosses over the details of how an offering
helps solve a business problem is little more than a lengthy brochure.
By contrast, a document that focuses solely on technical detail
without placing the offering in a larger business context fails
to make a persuasive case. Effective white papers explain innovative
technologies in a compelling way that helps potential customers
understand both how and why the offering will improve their business
- Offer subpar writing. An effective white paper clearly
communicates a wealth of technical detail without condescending
to the audience or making unreasonable assumptions about their
prior knowledge. The communication skills needed to write white
papers differ significantly from those required for marketing
and advertising copy or for technical documents such as user manuals
and training materials.
Building the Best White Paper
Developing a high-quality white paper can be challenging. It's
important to begin by clearly defining the roles of the team members
and achieving consensus on goals and strategies. Here are some typical
roles in a development team. The same person may assume more than one
set of responsibilities-for example, the project manager may also be a
content provider-but no roles should be omitted.
- Project manager. As in any development process, the
project manager is the "glue" that holds the project together.
The project manager's responsibilities include setting the schedule;
arranging meetings; locating and delivering background documents;
coordinating document review, design, and production; helping
resolve disputes amongst team members; and more.
- Technical and marketing content providers. Technical
content providers should be willing to deliver existing documents
(such as specifications or presentations), including internal
documents, and should be available to answer questions that arise.
Marketing content providers should be able to communicate key
product messages as well as the business case for the product,
including information about return on investment and other factors
that influence decision makers. They also should submit existing
marketing documents or collateral related to the product to ensure
- Writer. A white paper is doomed to failure if the writer
is not experienced at writing the concise, convincing prose that
this unique document requires. Ideally, the writer will possess
exceptional writing skills, technical savvy, and marketing experience,
as well as the ability to extract meaningful information from
a variety of sources and translate it into coherent, compelling
- Copy editor and proofreader. Skilled copy editors almost
always improve a white paper. They do more than check spelling
and punctuation. They point out flaws in logic, identify ineffectively
developed concepts, and ensure clarity and continuity within the
- Illustration, design, and production staff. Visual appeal
is as crucial for white papers as for any other marketing document.
Effective white papers employ illustrations and diagrams that
simplify and communicate complex information in a way that complements
the text. The visual design of the document as a whole should
accurately reflect the company's brand and image, and adhere to
any existing guidelines.
Developing white papers requires skilled resources. Consequently,
companies often outsource some of the responsibilities to skilled
contractors. With the exception of marketing and technical content
providers, outside personnel can effectively perform all of the roles
described. By hiring short-term contractors skilled in developing white
papers, companies reap the benefits of a highly qualified, dedicated
professional who can devote full-time resources to the project without
increasing headcount or red tape. As a result, companies can rapidly
develop high-quality white papers that prove their products' technical
validity and improve their chances for success.
) is a senior marketing consultant for Hoffman Marketing Communications, a business and technology writing company specializing in strategic sales guides, white papers, and collateral. For more information, visit www.hoffmanmarcom.com
About Hoffman Marketing Communications, Inc.
Hoffman Marketing Communications, Inc. provides strategic writing services to global high-tech, consulting, and energy companies. Now in our 18th year of operations, we specialize in developing sales guides, white papers, and other strategic marketing collateral. Hoffman writers offer a unique combination of technical savvy, marketing skills, and writing talent to translate the most complex technologies into accessible prose that bolsters your sales and marketing efforts. Satisfied clients include Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, and Symantec. For more information, visit www.hoffmanmarcom.com
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