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Harry Potter and Ron in the flying car

White papers and… Harry Potter?!

Who here loves Harry Potter?

Ask that just about anywhere, and a lot of hands will go up.

These days, a new generation of fans is being introduced to the stories by the original fans, their parents. 

Last year, my family went to see the phenomenal stage play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in Toronto.

Now we’re planning a trip to the Warner Brothers Studio Tour London to see where the movies were made.

And all that got me wondering: Are there any similarities between Harry Potter and white papers?

So here’s a somewhat tongue-in-cheek look at how these two compare… with tips on white papers sprinkled throughout.

And if you don’t know the stories, this article has no spoilers.

 


White papers and Harry Potter #1: Both are long form

A white paper is one of the longest types of B2B content, routinely clocking in at 3,500+ words. That’s three times as long as a typical case study.

The Harry Potter series includes seven books that total more than one million words. That’s long-form content by anybody’s measurement.

fingers holding tiny envelopTip: Don’t give in to pressure to make “short” or “mini” white papers.

An effective white paper needs enough words to develop an argument and serve as a persuasive essay.

That means the main body must be at least five pages long.


White papers and Harry Potter #2: Both have enduring popularity

The first white paper was published around 1895 as a special report prepared for the UK government.

This format was so useful that it gained more and more popularity over the years.

White papers were used to help explain the new tech of the 20th century, from radar to computers to software.

By the early 2000s, the white paper was a standard item in every B2B marketer’s toolkit.

Today, surveys from the Content Marketing Institute confirm that roughly 6 out of 10 marketers use white papers, as shown in the graph below.

That means white papers are still going strong after more than 125 years.

6 out of 10 marketers use white papers, 2014 through 2023

The first Harry Potter book was published 25 years ago in 1997.

The story was so engaging that it gained positive reviews and widespread popularity.

The books have sold more than 500 million copies and been translated into 80+ languages… including Latin and Ancient Greek.

Today, with books, merch, movies, a stage play, theme parks, and video games, the total value of the Wizarding World franchise is estimated at $32 billion.

That puts Harry Potter among the top 10 media franchises of all time.

It’s second only to much older characters like Winnie the Pooh and Mickey Mouse.

And I expect Harry Potter will still be popular 25 years from now. That’s enduring popularity.

 

exterior of Hogwarts School

White papers and Harry Potter #3: Both promote education

A good white paper seeks to teach, not preach. To enrich, not pitch.

The format is best used to inform and educate curious prospects.

That’s how an effective white paper helps a businessperson understand an issue, solve a problem, or make a decision.

And that requires sharing facts and logical arguments, not simply repeating the charmed words of a sales pitch.

The Harry Potter stories are set mainly in the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, as pictured above.

The Hogwarts School helps students master magical skills like broomstick flying, defense against the dark arts, and potions.

And that requires discipline and practice, not simply repeating the magic words of a spell.

So I think we can say that both white papers and Harry Potter promote education. Don’t you agree?

 

Harry Potter and friends

White papers and Harry Potter #4: Both need a team

A white paper is definitely a team sport.

You need the active participation of many people to succeed:

  • An executive sponsor who champions the project
  • The subject matter experts (SMEs) who provide content
  • The reviewers who make sure everything is accurate
  • A designer who creates an engaging look-and-feel
  • The web team who builds the landing page and posts the PDF
  • The marketing team who tells prospects about it

This is why I never insist that my name goes on a finished white paper.

A white paper is a collaborative work done by many hands, not just the writer.

Harry Potter also needed a lot of help from his friends, professors, and allies:

  • Ron cheered him up on holidays and eventually saved his life
  • Hermione made sure he didn’t flunk out
  • Dumbledore helped him realize his powers
  • McGonagall encouraged Harry to play Quidditch
  • Hagrid was a good listener and always up for an adventure

There are many more allies any Harry Potter fan could list: Sirius Black, Neville Longbottom, Tonks, Dobby, and all the Weasleys…

This point is undeniable: It takes a team to do a white paper, and Harry Potter needed a team to survive.

Harry Potter merch

White papers and Harry Potter #5: Both works can be repurposed in other formats

A white paper contains such rich research and such a compelling narrative that you can repurpose it in many other formats, including:

  • A set of blog posts
  • An infographic
  • A podcast or audio version
  • A slide deck for a webinar
  • A self-running presentation at a trade show
  • An online video

The Harry Potter books contain such a rich world and such a compelling story that they’ve been repurposed into many other formats, including:

Not to mention merch and collectibles of all kinds, from Butterbeer to house scarves to plushies.

I don’t think anyone can argue here: Both white papers and Harry Potter books can be repurposed in many different ways.

Conclusions

So there you have it. There are at least five clear similarities between a white paper and Harry Potter:

  • Both are long form
  • Both have enduring popularity
  • Both promote education
  • Both need a team
  • Both can be repurposed in other formats

What do you think? Did I leave anything out?

Now please excuse me, I’ve got to get back to my Hogwarts Lego.

 


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About Gordon Graham

Worked on 320+ white papers for clients from Silicon Valley to Switzerland, on everything from choosing enterprise software to designing virtual worlds for kids, for clients from tiny startups to 3M, Google, and Verizon. Wrote White Papers for Dummies which earned 60+ 5-star ratings on Amazon. Won 16 awards from the Society for Technical Communication. Named AWAI 2019 Copywriter of the Year.

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