White papers can be great marketing tools. Done right, they give web surfers reasons to join your email list and persuade them that you understand—and have solutions to —their problems. However, done poorly, white papers waste your time—and your readers’ time. To help you avoid pointlessly sinking your energy into white papers, I’m sharing four reasons you should not write a white paper.
Reason 1. You haven’t identified the right problem
White papers should solve a problem faced by members of your target audience, as I explained in “White paper marketing: Walk a fine line.” This makes them compelling to your readers. It also helps your white papers get found, as readers conduct online searches for “how do I…?”
A problem and a topic aren’t the same thing, as I showed in “Which investment white paper would you read?” “Small-cap stocks” is an unexciting topic, while “How to profit from small-cap stocks” solves a problem faced by readers who seek to boost their investment returns.
If you don’t know how to identify a good problem, listen to questions your clients and prospects ask you. You can also seek their input through social media, surveys in your e-newsletter or on your blog, or other methods. Identifying your reader’s problem is a key step in the writing process that I describe in Financial Blogging: How To Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients.
Reason 2. Your white paper focuses on your company’s products or services
Your readers seek objective advice. If you inject your company’s products and services throughout your white paper, you lose credibility because readers view your piece as an advertisement. They quickly stop reading.
Respondents to my “Walk a fine line” survey agreed that references to your company’s products and services should be limited to the end of your white paper.
Reason 3. You lack data to support your points
While blog posts can be opinionated rants, white papers typically feature data or examples to support their points. This is an area where larger companies have an advantage over smaller firms because of their data generation and analysis capabilities. They’re also more likely to have a budget to license data from providers such as Ned Davis Research.
Larger companies don’t always win in this area. For example, I’ve seen some firms generate original content by interviewing members of their target audience.
Also, there’s good publicly available data. However, please be careful to credit your sources and observe the rules of copyright “fair use.” Not sure about what’s fair use? Check the resources in “Legal danger for financial bloggers: Two misconceptions, three resources, one suggestion.”
Reason 4. You can’t write in a reader-friendly way
Today’s readers are impatient. If you don’t write about a compelling topic in a way that’s easy for them to absorb, they’ll quickly stop reading. For tips on how to make your writing more reader-friendly, see “5 steps for rewriting your investment commentary.”
I’m curious. Can you think of any additional reasons why you shouldn’t write a white paper? For examples, do you think that the less formal approach of an e-book, which I discussed in “E-book or white paper: which is better?”, would better suit your audience?