How many white papers are "enough"?

B2B marketers often wonder: How many white papers should our company publish?

How many white papers are really “enough?”

The correct answer is “that all depends.”

One of my clients asks me to write a white paper every time his sales force comes up against a serious objection.

many white papers
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 your company published?

If the answer is none, your should probably do one or two just to learn about the process.

2. Market segments: How many markets does your company cover?

You will likely need at least one new white paper for each significant market, every so often.

You can define segments in many different ways:

  • By vertical market: education, finance, retail, airlines, whatever
  • By size: small, enterprise, Fortune 500
  • By volume: transactions, SKUs, employees
  • 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 your company solve? Do you 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 your company have aggressive competitors that publish many white papers?

Of course, you don’t want to publish white papers “just because everyone else is doing them.” But the scope and pace of your competition is a factor.

5. Budget: How many white papers can your company afford to publish and promote effectively?

If your company only has the budget for one white paper a 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 your 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.

How many white papers does Contextualistics need?

To find the answer, let’s go through the questions listed above.

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 white papers (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 that provide 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 well 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.”

Knowing what you know now, how many white papers would you say your business needs?

 

About Gordon Graham

Author of close to 300 white papers on everything from choosing enterprise software to designing virtual worlds for kids, for clients from Silicon Valley to Switzerland, from tiny startups to 3M, Google and Verizon. Also wrote White Papers for Dummies which earned 50 5-star ratings on Amazon. And Gordon was recently named 2019 Copywriter of the Year by AWAI.

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