How many white papers are enough?
by Gordon Graham, That White Paper Guy
Marketing people often wonder: How many white papers should our company publish?
How many white papers are really "enough?"
The correct answer, of course, is "that depends."
One of my clients asks me to write a white paper every time his sales force comes up against a serious objection.
The more objections, the more white papers.
But isn't there a more scientific method?
Yes, there is. And here's a list of questions to help you find that answer.
1. Experience: How many white papers has the company published? If the answer is none, they should probably do one or two to learn about the process.
2. Market segments: How many markets does the company cover? It will likely need at least one new white paper for each significant market, every so often.
Segments can be defined in many ways:
- By vertical market: education, finance, retail, airlines, whatever
- By size: small, enterprise, Fortune 500
- By volume: transactions, SKUs, employees and so on
- By job role of prospects: financial, technical, line of business, user, business owner
- By product line.
3. Problems solved: How many business or technical problems does the company solve? Does it need one white paper for each?
Sometimes each "problem" has a separate product line with its own marketing team; in this case, treat each as a separate company.
4. Competition: Does the company have aggressive competitors that publish many white papers? The scope and pace of competition is a factor.
5. Budget: How many white papers can the company afford to publish and promote effectively?
If the company only has the budget for one per quarter, four a year may have to be "enough."
As you can see, there's no neat formula for figuring out how many white papers any company really needs.
♦ Example: White papers for Contextualistics
Let's look at a sample company. Contextualistics is a software startup with a smarter way to scan natural languages like English.
The company seeks partners to embed its language processor into help systems and virtual personas.
The marketing director wants to use white papers to gain mind share and generate leads.
So how many white papers does Contextualistics need?
To find the answer, let's go through our questions.
1. Experience: No one in the firm has ever created a white paper before. So they should probably start slowly with one or two, then review what they learned.
2. Market segments: Contextualistics needs clients who do online help and virtual personas. Are these two segments so different that each one needs its own white paper?
Let's say yes, so the company needs two (or one "cloned" into two versions).
3. Problems solved: The language processor really solves one big problem, getting machines to understand natural language. So we can stay at two papers.
4. Competition: The company has a couple of competitors with one white paper each. So two will do nicely to start.
5. Budget: The marketing director can get the budget for two white papers in the next three months.
All this gives Contextualistics the answer: For now, two white papers will be "enough." After that, the company can review the results and revisit this exercise for the upcoming period.
♦ And for larger firms...
A larger company with more aggressive competitors may clearly need more white papers.
For instance, a medium-sized company with three main markets may want one white paper for each market every quarter. In this case, 12 white papers a year are "enough.
And a Fortune 500 company likely has many product managers, each wanting white papers for his or her products.
For a company this size, there is no real need to calculate how many white papers are "enough."
In this case, the answer is "as many as all those product managers want and can pay for."
So, how many white papers does your business need?
What do you think? Got a comment or question?
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Written by Gordon Graham, this article appeared in the January 2010 edition of the WhitePaperSource Newsletter.
To repost this article on your Web site, please e-mail a request to Gordon@ThatWhitePaperGuy.com.