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Do Your White Papers Suck?

Plain and simple, white papers have become synonymous with “brochureware” by most Professional IT buyers. Don’t get me wrong, they are an incredibly important source of information and used by IT professionals every day to get smart and up to speed. In fact, 76% of IT pros use them every week, according to InformationWeek’s latest White Paper Marketing Best Practices research. These Pro Buyers truly value and use white papers; however, IT pros tell us as technology marketers we are not doing a good job creating quality content or communicating what’s inside/what they will learn.

So, white papers are valued but we as tech marketers are not getting it done. So here is a list of some things that CIOs and Professional IT buyers shared with us to improve our white papers, the likelihood of download, and, most importantly, the use of this valued communications tool. It is collective insight and advice from IT Pro feedback, InformationWeek research, and TechWeb’s experience of developing and executing white paper programs:

  1. Length: 20-10-5-2-1 rule – a seasoned CIO provided this guidance which passes the logic test. 20 pages – in depth technical perspective. 10 pages - detailed white paper on a given topic. 5 pages - case study or article. 2 pages - executive briefing on any of the above topics. 1 page or less - to provide an overview asking for a meeting or a primer on a topic.
  2. Abstract: Always use an executive summary or abstract on the front page – identifying exactly what is inside and what the reader will gain from reading the white paper. Don’t exaggerate, define what’s inside as succinctly as possible. You will get much better results and connect with the right audience by being direct.
  3. Think like an analyst/publisher: Develop and write your white paper like a third party firm. Have a client or VAR review your white paper and ask for their feedback before you publish.
  4. Ask for help: There are many ex-business and technology editors who really understand this audience and what IT execs and pros are looking for. TechWeb, and other organizations, offers a team of editorial experts to help marketers to develop engaging content written in IT pro speak, not vendor speak.
  5. Use graphics and illustrations: Error on more visual cues and examples vs. less. Use captions to describe the graphic. Very ok to use and source, of course, third party data and information (even better if the IT pro can use in their business case or requirements document in selling through the solution).
  6. Write for your audience: It sounds obvious, however so many times you see white papers written for engineers marketed to IT executives and vice-versa.
  7. Go beyond your web site: Don’t let white papers just sit buried on your site. Utilizing the power of search optimization, syndicating and pushing your white paper on partner, media, syndicated libraries and wherever makes sense. You can test many ways to distribute your white paper and see where you get results.
  8. Registration: Think through what to “gate” and “not gate” for required registration based on the value of content first and your marketing objective second. Be objective about what is high value content and what is basic info, both approaches should be useful information sources and used in your marketing and selling efforts.

You can download the White Paper Best Practices research here. If you have a Product Manager, a CTO, or a Marketing Manager colleague you are trying to convince or motivate, just forward the research or this note to them and start the conversation! And, if you have great white paper tips or insights, post them here and we will include them in our next newsletter.