5 Ways to Change Your White Paper Strategy. Hurry.

Give your white paper a makeover

Does your white paper strategy need a makeover? Pump some story into them, turn them into e-books and separate them on your website.

Complete this sentence:

When I hear “white paper,” I think:

  1. “Oh, boy, I get to read another one!”
  2. Wall of text with no pictures.
  3. TL;DR
  4. Crew cut, short-sleeved shirt, black tie, 1950s.
  5. Skim, skim.
  6. Shred, shred.
  7. Dot mil.

Frankly, I don’t think any of these, because I enjoy writing them, in spite of the fact that it’s not a task for the faint of heart. But David Meerman Scott – here I go again – posted about “Nerdy white papers vs. hip and stylish e-books,” causing me to pause the white paper I was working on and mull this concept over.

What are your white papers missing?

David mentions several complaints about most white papers: they lack original design, they require registration, they don’t really go viral, they don’t contain much of a story. He juxtaposes them against e-books like his, which are more hip and easier to read. He cites a few examples of e-books that do the heavy lifting of white papers, without being a heavy read.

As a marketing manager, you need to put yourself in your readers’ shoes. Think about how you can deliver the white paper, arguably the most valuable investment in your content marketing arsenal, in a way that doesn’t bore the people you’re trying to impress.

How could you change your white paper strategy to tell the same kind of story in a more hip manner? I’m trying to figure out whether I could get away with it in the paper I’m working on, which is for a language technology client.

What to change in your white paper strategy

The smart content marketing writer would change a few things:

  1. Template. If you’re working in a template that your colleagues require you to use for papers of this kind, you need to either adhere to that convention or tell them this is not a white paper. Choose the latter.
  2. Tone. The minute you break out of the white paper mindset, you free yourself to write differently. You’re no longer persuasively arguing the merits of one business model against another. Instead, you’re telling the story of how this one works and giving your audience a good read.
  3. Design. Here you can try something radical – it’s not a white paper anymore, remember? – and switch from portrait to landscape. (It won’t break your computer.) See what kinds of things you can do on the page that you couldn’t do before. Don’t just fill it with wall-to-wall text; use the space creatively.
  4. “Pitchers.” Give your readers a break with more images. Not banal photos of happy people in meeting shaking hands, or mountain climbers scaling the highest peaks. Use images that pull their weight in the storytelling process.
  5. Attitude. Suppose you were proofreading an e-book you’d written instead of a white paper. If you had to complete the sentence at the top of this post, you’d pick “none of the above.” Why? Because you’d be in a completely different frame of mind about the project. And so would your readers.

And then, the best part would be putting them on your website. You’d create a different sub-page under Resources. Next to Case Studies and White Papers, you’d have e-Books.

Try that, and see which one gets more clicks after a few months.

photo credit: DrivingtheNortheast


Author: John White

John White of venTAJA Marketing is a content marketing writer for technology companies. He posts about technology writing from the perspective of the marketing manager. It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it. Download his eBook, “10 Questions to Ask When Hiring Your Content Marketing Writer.”

2 thoughts on “5 Ways to Change Your White Paper Strategy. Hurry.

  1. John,
    Thx for the post. I was inspired enough to leave a comment on David’s blog.

    Might it be that the e-book versus white paper “debate” is only in the minds of marketers?

    Whipping open my trusted copy of Ries and Trout’s “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing”, law #4 (The Law of Perception) could be adapted to read “Marketing is not a battle of ebooks versus white papers, it’s a battle of perceptions.”

    Testing in specific markets is going to be one way to find out what works. I’m also mighty curious about the ROI from giving away e-books / white papers in (say) the B2B Info Technology marketplace versus the ‘traditional’ registration approach.

    Lots of fun ahead…

    1. Mark: When I can get a rank-and-file white paper without filling out a form, I think, “These people must not value this content very much.” When I can get a hip e-book without filling out a form, I think, “Slick! To whom can I forward this?”

      Difference of perceived value.

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