White papers represent a significant investment in terms of time, effort, and indeed, money. While some companies recognize this as a necessary cost of doing business, others aren’t so trusting of the process. Often, there is pressure to get as much out of the document as possible, particularly when dealing with people who aren’t at all familiar with the way white papers work.
The unfamiliar people could be located in any number of areas with the ability to call shots that can shoot down a white paper completely, or at least cause it to fail out of the gates by now allowing the document to be what it needs to be. Accounting, a CEO new to the industry, or even a marketing manager used to dealing with an B2C environment can all be oblivious to exactly what a white paper is.
White papers are specifically targeted for a good reason. They are intended to educate a certain group of influencers who can make or break a sale even before a decision-maker becomes involved. Trying to be all things to all people is more the job of a brochure, and attempting to force a white paper to cover too broad a scope will prevent it from doing its job effectively.
When an engineer reads a white paper, the interest is on details. What is the solution to my problem? The engineer doesn’t care if the solution comes from you or from a competitor, especially if there is no existing relationship, provided the problem is solved effectively and permanently.
The CEO doesn’t care about the technical details. That’s what the engineering evaluation is for. The CEO only cares about the problem getting solved, how much it is going to cost, and whether the problem is going to come back. There is a style of white paper aimed toward this reader, but that content can’t be in the same document as the one containing information aimed at engineers.
Different target reader means different content. That’s the message here. Being targeted documents aimed at only a few very targeted readers, white papers make poor catch-alls. Trying to engage everyone will likely result in engaging no one.. The white paper sits unread, the return on investment never approaching break-even.
In some instances, especially if it was a company’s first attempt at a white paper, it might even mean white papers are never considered again. Here is one case where no white paper is better than a bad one. But an unfocused white paper arguably isn’t even a white paper at all, but it does define white papers for the organization that wrote it.
This article originally appeared in my LinkedIn account.