The original purpose of white papers as a B2B marketing tactic was to produce objective information, packaged as quasi-academic research, to validate a company’s or product’s value proposition. White paper sponsors sought to educate, inform, raise comfort levels and eventually initiate sales conversations with prospective customers.
White papers gained significant adoption as a content marketing tool concurrent with the rapid growth of new technologies that often required detailed explanation or context for non-technical buyers. Over time, however, the market education function was largely assumed by research firms such as Gartner and Forrester, whose opinions carry greater credibility than self-publishers of white papers.
Unfortunately, what began as a legitimate and sometimes helpful marketing tactic has morphed into poorly disguised sales promotion, packaged in a plain vanilla wrapper. The evolution of white papers from bona fide content into self-serving advertorials has been validated by vertical industry trade publications, in which companies, for a fee, are permitted to “feature” their white papers in a special section. White papers jumped the shark when they became paid content.
The outcome of widespread abuse of white papers – driven by marketers grasping for new ways to put lipstick on a pig, or too lazy to produce rigorous research that might empower customers to draw their own conclusions – is that the tactic has lost its franchise as an effective B2B marketing asset class. Increasingly, prospective customers do not believe white papers will be helpful or credible, and as a result, they often no longer play a critical role in their decision-making process for purchasing products or services.Continue reading…