Have Whitepapers Lost Their Strategic Purpose?

As the strategy of using whitepapers has become more common, too many marketers have missed (or forgotten!) their strategic purpose.

White PapersI first encountered the concept of a “whitepaper” in the late ‘80’s while working on a B-to-B technology client at Ogilvy & Mather Direct. Our strategy was to run a full page ad in several prominent technology print publications and offer a free copy of a scientifically-based study — one in which our client’s product performance had been proven to be superior when tested against its competitors.

To help ensure the credibility and integrity of the report, the client hired a third-party research firm to conduct the study, and an outside technical writer had crafted the document with a blind eye towards trying to slant the copy in any direction other than factual reporting. The paper provided some compelling and helpful facts and figures on metrics that we knew would interest our target audience, and it concluded that the client’s product was, indeed, superior.

The paper itself was completely non-branded — it looked and felt like the scientific research paper that it was, and therefore was entirely credible. Thus the term “whitepaper” — as it was an unbiased view based on fact.

As the strategy of using whitepapers has become more common, too many marketers have missed (or forgotten!) their strategic purpose. In fact the pendulum has swung in the exact opposite direction as brochure-ware is now mislabeled as a whitepaper.

Stop calling it a whitepaper. It’s a brochure.

Giant client logos now dominate the document from the first page to the last. Some have gone so far as to take the first three or four pages of the report to provide information on the brand — who they are, what they do, why their products are superior, or profiles of key executives. This defeats the entire whitepaper strategy, and instead of providing credible support to the brand, it is a thinly disguised brochure … and one that isn’t even helpful because it’s lost all its perceived objectivity.

Face it: We all know the drill. An email is blasted to a prospect list offering a free “whitepaper” download on a topic of interest. We click and hit a landing page where we have to fill out a form. (Don’t get me started on the inane questions like “How soon do you plan to make a purchase?” or “How much budget have you allocated?” knowing that if I click on the drop-down menu choices of “In the next 30 days” and “$50 – $100,000” I’ll get a phone call before I’ve even had a chance to download the paper.)

As business buyers, we’re all seeking unbiased information to help us make a purchase decision. We research online, read articles, ask colleagues and peers for their point of view and experiences; we seek out product reviews from industry publications or associations, and try to build a business case for the purchase if we need to get final approval from others.

As marketers, our job is to help those prospects in their journey by providing helpful and timely information that can support the decision to purchase our product. If you can claim your product can deliver “speed that is 3x faster,” then why not pull that scientific evidence together into a real whitepaper?

If your brand conducted product testing in a lab, then why not publish those results in an unbiased manner? What are you afraid of?

Do you fear the reader won’t be smart enough to recognize there is a clear winner? Are you concerned that your product didn’t score 150 percent on every metric? That’s okay — in fact it actually adds credibility to your story.

So for all you marketers who agonize over the creation of valuable content, instead of writing fluff pieces that don’t buy you much of anything but a few eyeballs, try digging a little deeper into your organization to find the real meat for your message. Try crafting a real whitepaper based on scientific fact, and then watch your target actually move your brand into the “consideration” phase of their buy cycle.

Creeping Up Fast: DMA13 and Making Plans for Chicago

August 6 marked the mid-point of summer—so now we’re closer to summer’s end than summer’s beginning. It’s as if all the back-to-school advertising wasn’t enough to have us looking forward (except perhaps for schoolchildren). In the world of data-driven marketing, my mailbox reminded me this past week, too, that fall is just around the corner: I received a DMA2013 conference brochure mailer

The other day (August 6) marked the mid-point of summer—so now we’re closer to summer’s end than summer’s beginning.

It’s as if all the back-to-school advertising wasn’t enough to have us looking forward (except perhaps for schoolchildren). In the world of data-driven marketing, my mailbox reminded me this past week, too, that fall is just around the corner: I received a DMA2013 conference brochure mailer (October 12-17, McCormick Place West, Chicago). We’re eight weeks out from DMA2013, which means it’s time to start getting very serious, rather than spontaneous, in making our must-attend conference experience the best it can be. (Yes, I’m already registered—and you should be, too.)

For me, this is when I review the print brochure to dog-ear my go-to sessions based on the session titles, speakers and descriptions, and start the online process at MyDMA2013 (by Vivastream) to pinpoint an attempt at an “aspirational” schedule. I call this aspirational—let’s face it, when we get on site, business conversations inevitably happen, and diversions of all kinds are bound to take place.

However, there are some absolutes in my DMA13 calendar—and I’m hopeful you’ll agree.

1. Give Back
The first item isn’t even about DMA. It’s Marketing EDGE (formerly Direct Marketing Educational Foundation) and its Annual Awards Dinner (separate ticket required). This event has always been a go-to, but it’s also evolved to become the first, best networking opportunity for all of us as we gather at the DMA conference each year. These are the VIPs, roughly 400 leaders and future leaders in our business, and here is an organization where our proceeds bring the best and brightest into our field. What a powerful combination, and an affirmation of the future of data-driven, integrated marketing. Even if you don’t attend the conference, you can sponsor a professor’s attendance and make a donation at the aforementioned link.

2. What’s Next?
On Wednesday, Oct. 16, the day after the exhibit hall closes—I tell my clients that’s when the real learning begins. What do I mean by that somewhat on-its-face silly statement? That’s when the conference attendees—folks who are real serious about learning—are in the session rooms early, taking notes, and becoming better marketing professionals during the last half-day of sessions, and the post-conference workshops and day-and-a-half certifications. On that final day of the main conference, DMA13’s Main Conference Keynote panel at 11 am (all times Central), will feature “What’s NeXt: A Look through the Lens” with Direct Marketing Hall of Famer Rance Crain of Advertising Age interviewing BlueKai and foursquare execs Omar Tawakol and Steven Rosenblatt.

3. Stand Up
I’m a member of DMA for many reasons—but certainly advocacy is one of them. A lot of my clients literally are focused day-to-day on campaign development and implementation in an omnichannel world, and often don’t dwell on the policy implications that affect it. DMA13 offers marketing execs a chance to listen in, catch up and make sure that policy—legal, ethical, best practice—is aligned with our strategy and execution, and that innovation is fostered across all media channels that customers use. Hence, I will be attending DMA President & CEO Linda Woolley’s address “Listen to the Data” (Monday, Oct. 14, 8:45 a.m.) and Spotlight Session on Privacy: “Top 5 Privacy Issues … Revealed” moderated by Ginger Conlon, editor-in-chief of DMNews, with panelists from DMA (Jerry Cerasale), Eloqua (Dennis Dayman) and LoyaltyOne (Bryan Pearson). Responsible data collection and use is clearly under threat from Washington and elsewhere—we need to stand up for ourselves.

4. Inspired and a Party, Too
What’s the best proof point about data-driven marketing’s success—worldwide? If I had the chance to grab a policymaker and make them sit down and see what data-driven marketing can do—I would make him or her attend what I’m hopeful all DMA2013 delegates will attend: the 2013 DMA International ECHO Awards Gala, “Data-Driven Marketing’s Most Important Night” (separate registration required—and well worth it, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 6:30 pm to whenever). I’ve seen a sneak peak of what’s in store for this year’s gala, and this will be not only a Chicago-size party, with a DJ and Comedian Jake Johansen as host, but also truly a celebration of courageous brands, innovative agencies and the marketing strategies, creative executions and outstanding results that leave me—and many others—inspired. Left-brain, data-driven marketing combined with right-brain creative genius—what a combination for brands in both consumer and business-to-business marketing.

That’s enough for now—with more to come. Feel free to post your DMA13 “would be” favorites for blog readers below … and by all means, get yourself and your colleagues registered if you haven’t already. Get a game plan together, the conference is coming fast!