By Jonathan Kantor
The recession has caused all of us to take a closer look at our expenditures and find new ways to stretch our existing dollars. Businesses are certainly taking the same approach with their marketing budgets, which is having a corresponding impact on white paper marketing. There are three business areas that represent the bulk of this change:
1. The Business Environment: The recession has caused businesses to seek cheaper white paper solutions, resulting in shorter, more cheaply produced, text-oriented formats. Shorter white papers also have become more sales-oriented, and businesses are demanding that these documents must now generate leads and provide a substantial ROI. The white paper marketplace has also become extremely crowded. Just about every business has used one or more white papers, and businesses can no longer enjoy the unique competitive advantage that the medium provided just a few years ago.
2. The Business Reader: Knowledge workers are putting in longer hours with larger workloads resulting in greater stress. The amount of distractions (meetings, phone calls, travel) leave precious little time for reading large tomes of complex information, especially large blocks of standard paragraph-oriented text found in most white papers. Finally, these readers are also turned off to the abundance of white papers that contain overt ’sales messages.’
3. Social Media: Short, quick, colorful, rich information has become a new norm, best exemplified by Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. These new online social media are changing the face of business communications and how users interact with promotional information. The short attention spans common with today’s knowledge workers are fueling new forms of rich information such as video, audio, and interactive webcams. As users grow accustomed to this form of interaction, there is less of an appeal with traditionally formatted text documents.
What’s the result of these changes on the white paper?
Cheaply produced, short length, overtly sales-oriented, stark, all-text white papers suffer a disconnect with today’s short attention span social media–aware business reader. While businesses can claim that they “now have a white paper,” the lack of clear differentiation with a “me-too” all-text white paper fails to engage today’s rich-media–oriented business reader.
What’s the solution?
The incorporation of visually engaging elements will grab attention, allowing key bottom-line solution messages to be easily assimilated by the time- and attention-challenged business reader. These elements include:
* Summaries, both executive and concluding, that appeal to short attention spans
* Text elements such as pull quotes, bullets, shaded text sections
* Graphic elements such as concept graphics, business charts, and industry-specific illustrations
* Page design that grabs initial reader attention and creates a visual invitation for business readers
The use of these and other elements will provide clear differentiation for white paper marketers. The application of a visual approach will generate a unique competitive advantage for business marketers who face a crowded field of plain text papers. It will also provide a unique way for white paper writers to produce more engaging and profitable white papers for their clients. Both writers and marketers should consider the advantages of visual enhancements and design as part of their ongoing white paper strategies.
To learn more about this topic, be sure to catch my sessions at the forthcoming White Paper Success Summit 2010.
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 is now available via Lulu Publishing.