By Gordon Graham
Marketing people often wonder how many white papers their company should publish. How many white papers are really “enough”? The answer, of course, is “that depends.”
One of my clients asks me to write a white paper every time the sales force encounters a serious objection. So the more objections, the more white papers. But isn’t there a more scientific method?
Yes, there is. Here’s a list of questions you can use to get at that answer.
1. Experience: How many white papers has the company published before? If the answer is none, they should probably do one or two to learn about the process.
2. Market segments: How many markets does the company cover? It will likely need at least one new white paper for each significant market, every so often. Segments can be defined in many ways:
* By vertical market: education, finance, retail, airlines, whatever
* By size: small, enterprise, Fortune 500
* By volume: transactions, SKUs, employees, and so on
3. Problems solved: How many business or technical problems does the company solve? Does it need one white paper for each? Sometimes each “problem” has a separate product line with its own marketing team; in this case, treat each as a separate company.
4. Competition: Does the company have aggressive competitors that publish many white papers? The scope and pace of competition is a factor.
5. Budget: How many white papers can the company afford to publish and promote effectively? If the company only has the budget for one per quarter, four a year may have to be “enough.”
As you can see, there’s no neat formula for figuring out how many white papers are “enough.” So let’s look at a sample company.
A sample company: Contextualistics
Let’s say Contextualistics is a software startup with a smarter way to scan natural language. The company seeks partners to embed its language processor into search engines, help systems, and perhaps virtual personas. The marketing director wants to gain mindshare and generate leads using white papers.
So how many white papers does the company need? Let’s go through our questions.
1. Experience: No-one in the firm has ever created a white paper. So they should probably start slowly with one or two, then review what they learned.
2. Market segments: Contextualistics needs clients who do search engines and online help. (Virtual personas will come later.) Are these two segments so different that each one needs its own white paper? Let’s say yes, so the company needs two (or one “cloned” into two versions).
3. Problems solved: The language processor really solves one big problem, getting machines to understand natural language. So we can stay at two papers.
4. Competition: The company has a couple of competitors with one white paper each. So two will do nicely to start.
5. Budget: The marketing director can get the budget for two white papers in the next three months.
So Contextualistics has its answer: For now, two white papers will be “enough.” After that, the company can review the results, and revisit this exercise for the upcoming period.
A larger company with more aggressive competitors may clearly need more white papers. For instance, a medium-sized company with three main markets may want one white paper for each market every quarter. In this case, 12 white papers a year are “enough.”
And a Fortune 500 company likely has many product managers, each wanting white papers for his or her products. For a company this size, there is no real need to calculate how many white papers are “enough.”
So, how many does your business need?
About the author: Gordon Graham helps B2B companies tell their stories with crisp, compelling white papers. He’s the founder of www.thatwhitepaperguy.com, and a frequent poster on the www.whitepapersource.com forums.