I 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.
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