By Jonathan Kantor
In addition to a higher unemployment rate, another by-product of the recession has been its impact on the size of the commercial white paper.
As companies scale back their marketing budgets during recessionary periods, marketing expenditures are being carefully scrutinized, renegotiated and reduced if possible. The result of these cost-containment initiatives has been an explosion in shorter, less expensive white papers, typically between two and four pages in length.
While these short white papers may include the label “white paper” on their cover, and may provide an organization with bragging rights to claim that they have a white paper on their website, these short documents do little to satisfy the expectations that business readers have of the medium. On the contrary, the monetary savings gained by employing such a strategy typically do not offset the diminished perceptions of the featured solution, company and/or brand sponsoring the white paper.
The limited amount of space available in a short white paper (two to four pages) is typically used for a solution description and its various beneficial attributes. Because marketers want to “cut to the chase” and quickly describe their solution rather than wasting space educating the reader with background information, these short white papers are often perceived as glorified sales brochures. This “short length” strategy is one of the leading complaints of business executives when pollsters asked their opinion of the white paper medium.
As evidence of this position, a February 2009 study conducted by InformationWeek.com titled, “White Papers: How to Maximize the Use of White Papers in Your B2B Marketing and Sales Process,” concluded that over 78% of the executive respondents indicated that having “Minimal Marketing” is either extremely important or somewhat important in a white paper. This means less selling and more educating are preferred.
The label “white paper” means something very specific to this business audience. Not only does it imply that the document will provide high-quality information on the designated topic, but also that there needs to be sufficient length to thoroughly educate the reader on that topic. In my opinion, an ideal six- to eight-page white paper would include the following attributes:
* Executive summary (one page)
* Introduction (one page)
* Assessment of existing challenges (one to two pages)
* Presentation of the solution and benefits (one to two pages)
* Optional case study (one page)
* Conclusion (one page)
If you do not have an adequate amount of information to fill six to eight pages, then don’t call your document a white paper. Call it a solution guide, a product reference sheet, a technical primer or a vision statement, but not a white paper. Creating a short two- to four-page white paper that doesn’t meet readers’ expectations will not only waste your limited budget, it will frustrate your target business audience as well.
About the Author: Jonathan Kantor has been writing white papers for 11 years as principal of The Appum Group, “The White Paper Company,” and is author of the blog WhitePaperPundit.com . His new book Crafting White Paper 2.0 was just released.