Do White Papers Still Work?Lauren Carlson from Marketing Automation Software Guide sent me a link to a blog post that questions the value of white papers. She argues that, “Once scholarly in their ambition, white papers have devolved into thinly-veiled, lengthy sales pitches that no longer appeal to the educated buyer’s shortened attention span.” She recommends companies find new ways to reach their customers – such as through Twitter chats, microsites and dynamic PDFs.

Lauren has some good points. It’s true that many companies create boring promos, rather than educational pieces that address their audiences’ key concerns. She also suggested some innovative ways to use digital technology to engage your audience. You should check out her post.

However, I disagree that technology companies should give up on the white paper. There’s too much proof of their effectiveness as a lead generation tool. According to the Eccolo 2010 B2B Technology Collateral Survey Report76% of technology buyers have used white papers in the past six months to evaluate a new purchase and 83% of technology buyers said “white papers were moderately to extremely influential in helping them make their final purchase decision.”

White papers are also highly likely to be shared. A study by InformationWeek Business Technology Network revealed that “93% of IT buyers pass-along up to half of the white papers they read/download.” This means when you develop a white paper, you should create something your audience wants to share.

The most important thing you can do to improve your white papers and make them more sharable is to focus on your audience’s needs. The more your readers relate to the problems presented in your white paper, the more likely they’ll be to share your content with their peers. Take the time to research your audience, find out what their biggest concerns are and write a white paper based around those concerns.

If you have several audiences, you can’t write one basic white paper and simply change a few words to speak to each audience. For example, if you sell a software product to both marketing and operations professionals, you can’t simply change “marketing” to “operations” and expect the white paper to be effective. The needs of these groups are very different, and they require separate and highly-focused content.

And please … save your sales pitch for the end of the white paper. Readers expect white papers to be educational and will grow irritated if they’re presented with a giant sales pitch.

What about you? Do you find white papers useful? Feel free to share your comments below.