Monday, September 14, 2009

YAWNER ™ : White papers, why???

As I am knee deep in a whitepaper deliverable for my current client, I stumbled on this posting: on not being "boring" with your marketing...and I was reminded of the acronym I created while at McAfee...

That's just a YAWNER - Yet Another White Paper Nobody Ever Reads. (Of course the YAWNER now has a close cousin, the YAVNEW, Yet Another Video Nobody Ever Watches, but that's for another time!).

I content that 98% of whitepapers from technology companies are YAWNERs and yawners. Why is this? Well I think there are a variety of reasons, but they net out into 3 broad categories:

1) Ready Fire Aim
2) The Kitchen Sink
3) Getta J0b (0r hire it out...)

First, as fundamental as it is, most whitepapers are simply not well targeted. Who is the audience, what is the current belief, what is the desired belief and what are the key messages. These are basic questions that any marketing professional should ask, but I am amazed at how rarely the product managers that I've spoken to or worked with can crisply articulate answers even in retrospect. Getting sleepy yet?

Second, too many whitepapers are just the kitchen sink. Well, this is a great whitepaper about product X, so let's throw product Y into the mix because it's strategic too. Or let's try make this serve "multiple audiences", so the business whitepaper ends up with 5 pages of dissertation on the ins and out of our API set. You get the picture. You almost know if you can't cover a topic in 10 pages or less, there's more than one topic, break it up. If you're targeting is on, the message should be lot tighter. Eye's drooping???

Third, getta job! As much as we would like every PM and PMM to be a great writer, the fact is, most are not. But a good editor (insourced or outsourced) can make all the difference. And you PMMs out there reading this, insist on it. Take your knowledge and leverage it, don't try to be everything! Now I'm getting tired!

So, in summary it's just plain simple: 1) Target 2) Resist scope and subject creep 3) get the right skills deployed. Maybe then yours will be one of the 2% of whitepapers that are actually readable and powerful marketing tools...

Good luck!


  1. Ken,

    Love the acronym! And great analysis - certainly describes most I've seen. It seems that most whitepapers are thinly veiled attempts to sell something rather than actually provide some knowledge of value to the audience. Once the bait-and-switch is apparent the reader quickly loses interest in the whitepaper and trust is eroded.

  2. Well, it's ok to be selling something, that's the point, right? But make it meaningful and relevant. As I learned a long time ago at IBM, selling is truly noble profession when you are solving problems for people!!