What About a Whitepaper?

The Original Whitepaper Writer

Since the ’90s, whitepapers have been a common form of content made popular by analysts like Gartner and Forrester Research who generate their own content but also do so for clients, typically featuring that client’s product as the leader in its category (The fabled “Magic Quadrant”).  They can also be pay-to-play where the featured company pays to get the whitepaper written and then has the rights to use it in its marketing effort.

The name arose from papers written for politicians to brief them on policy or legislative priorities: Winston Churchill wrote what is considered the first of these documents, the Churchill Whitepaper, in 1922

Whitepapers can be an important aid when a buy is seeking to understand complex, technical offerings(e.g. IT management or security) and arose before the Internet was around and solid information was scarce.

While getting your early stage company spooled up, you may feel the need to write a whitepaper.  Keep the following in mind.

A Whitepaper Takes Time and Effort to Write

A well written whitepaper takes a fair bit of effort as it needs to reflect expertise in its subject.  It’s a bit like writing a term paper in college: it’s tough to fake.  You need to address a problem or area of expertise and provide clear insight for the reader, not just riff on the problems your technology solves and the benefits it offers.

The effort put into generating a whitepaper can be recovered by serializing it in a blog or segmenting it as part of an email marketing program, although it can be difficult to break up a thoughtfully crafted document into bite sized chunks.

A Whitepaper Needs to Feel Authentic

A whitepaper needs to be authentic, to carry the “voice”of an expert;  this means that you will have to write it.  Yes, you can farm the writing out to a third party but whitepapers written by a professional copywriter inevitably have a sense of distance about them and often a “marketing” feel, which weakens their credibility.

Alternatively, you can hire a true expert in the field to write a paper for you but this will be pricey.  So, best if you write the paper yourself.

Whitepapers Feel a Little Old Fashioned

Because this content format  arose before the world of social media, blogs and the sea of information we swim in, whitepapers tend to feel a little old fashioned.  The shift to social media has made shorter, simpler, timely content more compelling (and easier to produce.

One is Not Enough

For a whitepaper to be effective, it should be part of a series, giving your marketing and sales people more than one arrow in their quiver.   Thus, your workload will increase.

So, my advice is only to generate a whitepaper if you have a compelling need for one – e.g. being able to offer it to a prospect is a critical step in winning their business – and, if so, take the time to write it yourself.  And, be prepared to write more than one.



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