Is the white paper dead?
Just a few years ago, high-tech companies were producing scores of white papers—long documents that could establish thought leadership on a particular topic, suggest best practices for a certain process, or provide in-depth technical information about a unique solution or service. Often stretching from 10 to 20 pages or more, white papers could have detailed diagrams, tables, test results, and other data sets that would be too intricate or complicated to include in a shorter asset.
With the increasing popularity of mobile, social, and video assets, content marketers are developing fewer white papers today than in the past. Is the traditional white paper dead? What—if anything—has taken its place?
Original, comprehensive, expert-driven content remains critical for clinching deals. The challenge for content marketers is to deliver that content in ways that best serve today’s audiences.
Snack-sized eye candy rules
Given the huge amount of content available today, it might not be surprising that marketing teams are focused on developing assets that will stand out in a crowd. They are producing short, visually appealing assets that will quickly grab their audience’s attention. And they are incorporating interactive elements whenever possible so they can keep the audience engaged.
Infographics, datagrams, smart papers, eBooks, and videos have become favorites. These types of assets present content and key messages in a compelling, visually oriented format that is easily shared through social media, email, the web, and other channels.
There is still a need for in-depth information
Of course, the drive to better capture and sustain the attention of customers does not eliminate the need for in-depth content. For example, IT managers and administrators still need technical details that will help them select one solution over another. Business leaders still want to read thought leadership content that will give them the confidence to work with a particular vendor. Though these and other audience members might turn to everything from community forums to product manuals, those other content sources can go only so far to fill the void.
Breathing new life into the white paper
So, how can you meet the necessity for detailed information without losing the attention of an audience inundated with content and lacking in time? White papers must change. Consider these few key tips for increasing the vitality of in-depth content.
Be concise. Your customers and prospects today might not have the time or patience to read a 20- or 30-page document. Your challenge is to convey a sufficient amount of detailed information and complex ideas in fewer pages. Depending on the topic and your audience, you might find a sweet spot somewhere around 8 to 12 pages; that’s still plenty of space to deliver in-depth content. You just need to be sure you are being as concise as possible with your writing.
What if you have more to say than that? Consider creating a series, breaking your topic up into smaller segments. Three 10-page papers will be easier for your audience to consume than a single 30-page paper.
Enhance the visual components. To attract and sustain the attention of your audience, you’ll need to make your white papers visually appealing. Incorporate photography to help readers instantly connect with the industry or solution that you’re covering. When appropriate, integrate colorful diagrams, tables, and charts that enable readers to quickly visualize complex ideas. Add callout boxes and pull quotes to help draw readers to key ideas.
If you haven’t updated your white paper template recently, it might be time to do so. Re-examine everything from titles and subheads to column widths and typefaces. Your goal should be to make this document captivating and easy to grasp in small chunks.
Excerpt and promote white papers with shorter content. For each white paper you develop, consider creating complementary shorter-form content as well. Drive your customers and prospects to the white paper through tweets, LinkedIn blurbs, and blogs. Draw on metrics used in the white paper as the basis for infographics and datagrams. Shorter assets can spark your audience’s interest and highlight key takeaways.
Consider alternative document formats. As many organizations have discovered, the traditional white paper is not the only document format that can be used to convey in-depth information. Smart papers, eBooks, slideshares, and other options can offer strong alternatives to the traditional 8½ x 11 vertically oriented PDF white paper. These new formats provide opportunities to incorporate engaging visual elements and interactivity without sacrificing detailed information. The smart paper in particular offers numerous additional advantages over the static PDF, from simple user navigation to improved SEO. (See the TDA portfolio page for examples of these asset types.)
The traditional white paper might seem like it’s in decline. But the need for in-depth information remains. Ready to learn how TDA Group can help you breathe new life into your long-form content? Drop us a line.