A February KnowledgeStorm/MarketingSherpa survey, covered today by the Center for Media Research, points to white papers as the "most frequently read" form of marketing content.
White papers are easy to do as long as you have real products and services to describe. The difficult part, corroborated by the survey results, is presenting them in terms of the user’s needs and expectations.
In any conversation — oral, written, rich media — with any stakeholder, you must show how the stakeholder’s needs drive the development and shape of what you are selling. In fact, the white paper is an excellent tool for forcing your organization to define, specifically, the philosophy and features of your products. Plus, the process of producing the white paper delivers rarely-stated benefits: discipline over the marketing process, the internal message that you value reality over fantasy, professional respect for the marketing function.
I’ve found that when I can’t help a client produce a lucid white paper, it usually means there’s vapor in them thar hills. It’s a frequent problem with startups. The flip side of incorporating market need into marketing strategy is, many startups over-compensate in defining the obvious market while they underplay an under-designed technology. The white paper process can flush out the snake oil or lead you to the moonshine still. I’ve learned to make the white paper the very first tactic of a startup marketing plan.
A good white paper intrigues a stakeholder while it differentiates your organization from all other players — and it gets you closer to a brand label on that moonshine you’re cooking.