Who need white papers?
by Gordon Graham, That White Paper Guy
Does your company need a white paper writer?
Here's three simple questions to tell you the answer:
- Are you selling something relatively new?
- Something relatively complex?
- Something relatively expensive?
Any B2B vendor selling anything relatively new, complex, or expensive could benefit from a white paper.
Whether you're selling a product, a service, a technology, or a methodology, you still need one.
Whether you use that paper to establish thought leadership, gather leads, or cement sales, you still need one. Here's why.
♦ Question #1: Selling something new?
When something is brand-new, it's not easy to research.
There are no articles in trade magazines and no books about it. There are no forums or websites to visit; no trade associations to promote it.
Once those exist and the offering becomes well-known, if that happens, the need for white papers is diminished.
For example, when ERP started to supplant MRP-II in the early 1990s, it was considered the cutting edge of technology. A huge flurry of white papers were written to explain how ERP extended MRP-II into new area such as finance, HR, engineering and project management.
Today, magazines don't even bother defining what ERP is.
There are lots of resources for finding out about it: articles, books, websites and forums.
Nobody publishes white papers explaining ERP any more; now they talk about how their offerings go beyond ERP.
♦ Question #2: Selling something complex?
When an offering is complex, prospective buyers need help to understand it.
The product, service, technology or methodology is not self-evident just from looking at it.
Over time, as that offering becomes commoditized and repackaged into consumer-level products, if that ever happens, the need for white papers disappears.
For example, the first industrial robot went online at a GM plant in New Jersey in 1961. It took a big team of experts to install, program, tweak and maintain.
You can bet it was complex and took a lot of explaining. No doubt companies selling industrial robots used technical white papers to help explain their offerings.
Today, you can buy the toy dinosaur RoboRaptor in any Future Shop.
This is robotic technology repackaged for kids.
Sure, it does comes with an instruction manual.
But no parent ever reads a white paper on RoboRaptor: They just watch their kid's eyes light up when they see it.
♦ Question #3: Selling something expensive?
When something is expensive, it takes a big decision to buy it.
This decision probably involves upper management and perhaps a selection committee with people from various departments. Everyone will have questions.
So a white paper is a great way to deliver a vendor's “best corporate answers” right into the boardroom.
Over time, if the price for that offering drops to the point that any small business can afford it, if that ever happens, the need for white papers is greatly reduced.
For example, when James Bond was menaced by a laser in “Goldfinger” those were still hugely expensive items found only in super-villain hideouts.
Goldfinger had to explain, "You are looking at an industrial laser which emits an extraordinary light, not to be found in nature. It can project a spot on the moon... or at closer range, cut through solid metal."
The first commercial laser was not actually used until five years later, in 1969.
At that point, buying an industrial laser was a big deal.
That must have been a perfect time for vendors to create white papers about this fabulously expensive new tool.
Today, lasers are used for many medical and research procedures and the decision to buy one is based on features, vendor reputation and price.
Heck, you can buy a laser pointer at the dollar store around the corner from my house. I got one for my cats, who love to chase the red dot around the room. I think it cost $15.
Is it new? Is it complex? Is it expensive?
If your company can answer "Yes" to all three of these questions, you probably need at least one white paper.
Your competitors likely have them.
Your prospects likely expect them.
So why not maximize your return by hiring a professional white paper writer?
What do you think? Got a comment or question?
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