November 30, 2006

The Promotion of Selfishness

Madison Avenue has a new strategy for consumer advertising effectiveness... the promotion of selfishness. There are many examples on the airwaves, but the one that sticks in my craw, is a television commercial for Kohler where a husband and wife race each other home to see who can be the first one to use their high-tech Kohler shower. In winning the race, the husband not only gets to have the shower all to himself but also locks his wife out of the house, not only denying her access to the shower but also leaving her standing on the porch in her skivvies. Great marriage, right? I guess the intimacy of sharing a shower with one's spouse must have gone out this marriage a long time ago. What does this little excerise in selfishness have to do with white papers? Many authors take a similar route by writing their white papers in the first person. Authors that use first person take a self-centered approach to their writing by assuming that their reader will view the information as credibly as the author does. Instead of building credibility, a reader becomes completely turned off by it, resulting in an entirely opposite effect than originally intended. Statements such as "I believe that...", "Our company view is..", "In my opinion...", or "Our solutions have..." are clear examples of first person selfishness in a white paper. Unfortunately, the only one that notices is the customer. To ensure success, rather than posting that white paper to your website it can deposited instead to another highly popular Kohler bathroom fixture. How do you react when you read a first person white paper?

White Papers and the Executive Blogger

Today's business executives have a lot on their plates, and their time has become as valuable as money. So when it comes to processing information, the mediums that allow them to assimilate quality information quickly usually win out. This is one of the reasons that blogging is starting to become a popular trend with them. According to Kevin O'Keefe's LexBlog, around 21% of executives read business blogs once a week. According to the research, execs are reading blogs to stay ahead of their competition because of the timely info they contain. The research also goes onto to show that:

  • The Vast majority (96%) of Fortune 1000 senior executives have some familiarity with blogs.
  • 30% report that they have a thorough understanding of the term ‘Internet blog.’
  • 15% of the Fortune 1000 executives report that someone in their organization is currently writing a blog related to the company or its activities.
  • Only 3% of execs say their company has changed its products, services or policies because of publicity generated by a blog written about it.

Are blogs becoming popular because of the limited time that is required to read them? Could white papers be popular for the same reasons?

While blogs are updated more frequently, I think the two mediums have a lot in common: High quality information - concise size- rapid assimilation of facts - key points clearly articulated with summary text and visuals.

One thing is for sure: Executives will have less time to devote to the assimilation of information in the future. Both blogs and white papers fill a niche that satisfies this need.

Do you see similarities between white papers and blogs?

November 28, 2006

Setting the Tone in your White Papers

What is tone? While it may refer to a fuzzy bass, or a tinny treble in audiophile terms, tone in writing refers to manner in which words are used that elicits a particular perception on the part of the reader. Why is this important? The use of the proper tone in your white paper can have a significant impact on how well your paper is read and understood by your target audience. There are several types of tone that you can apply for your white papers: Authoritative - a tone that presents information using basic facts and data to project an air of authority and credibility. Research and analyst firms frequently use an authoritative tone in their white papers. "The problem of identity theft is best exemplified by the fact that the average amount of fraud per case has increased from $5249 to $6383 over the past two years." Referential - a tone that uses references an examples from other persons or companies as a way justify a position and to demonstrate the impact of a particular situation. "Your family could be a victim of identity fraud just like the Jones family of Springfield, who recently lost several thousands of dollars after submitting their credit card information to a bogus on line banking website." Conversational - a easier and more friendly tone that represents an actual conversation taking place between two people. This tone is used to make complex information easier to understand. "If you've ever purchased anything on line, you know the threat that identity theft can bring. In fact, the amount of fraud has increased about a thousand dollars per case over just the past few years." Can one change their tone? Usually tone is part of each writer's style, and each customer will often have a tone that represents their corporate style. But with proper self-training, one can change their tone in a white paper from one style to another. How do you describe the tone you use in your writing?

November 27, 2006

Do Your White Papers Flatter Your Audience?

Do you know the difference between flattery and a compliment? According to Mike Siger's Simplenomic blog: "A compliment is what the person wanted to hear, while flattery is praise to which he is totally indifferent." When it comes to your white papers, do they tell your audience what they want to hear by giving them valuable information to solve problems, or does it flatter them by giving them information that you want them to read to which they are completely indifferent? Many white papers spend too much space self-promoting the sponsoring company, touting market leadership, or provide non-related product information that creates reader indifference. When an executive reads this kind of information they will either stop reading it, fail to pass it on to another individual, or place your white paper in the "circular file". To ensure white paper success, make sure it compliments your audience, by providing information that they want to read, which allows them to retain clear and logical solutions to their specific problems. Some ideas for a complimentary-style white paper include:

  • Provide current statistics that educate your audience and reinforce your point-of-view.
  • Provide realistic and accurate examples of customer problems.
  • Make sure your solution advantages addresses how to solve those problems in detail.
  • Provide visual enhancements to describe both problems and solutions so that your reader doesn't have to wade through several paragraphs before they can grasp key points.
  • Provide a strong conclusion that translates specific attributes into business benefits.
Have you ever read a white paper that flatters their audience. I'd like to hear about your experience. Please help support us with your blog link. Thank you!

November 20, 2006

Saying Thanks for the Holidays!

Here’s something really cool that Xerox is doing for the Thanksgiving holiday: If you go to a site they have setup called Lets Say Thanks, you can pick out a thank you card and Xerox will print it and it will be sent to a soldier that is currently serving in Iraq. You can't pick out who gets it, but it will go to some member of the armed services. Think how great it would be if we could get everyone we know to send one! It is FREE and it only takes a second. You can either use one of many creative greeting cards created by some very talented young people, or submit one of your own. Whether you are for or against the war, our guys and gals serving in our military there need to know we are behind them. So if you would like to start your Thanksgiving holiday off to a nice start, and get that good feeling inside, please send a card. I know that I will. Thank you, and Happy Thanksgiving!

The Outline - Your Path to Success

I find it fascinating that some writers can submit a first draft to a client based solely on a content interview or the written material provided to them. Many clients have told me of their "ohmagod" moments. That's when a client receives a first draft that bears little resemblance to their expectations of it. What solves this dilemma? A detailed outline. Seems like a no-brainer, no? Well, I'm not alone in this theory. In fact most writers have embraced the concept of using and submitting outlines to their clients as an essential part of the writing process.

One blogging site, Angela Booth's Writing Blog, shares a similar concept about outlines with her readers. In it, she writes about her experience with outlines in this way:

I've made my peace with outlines. Now I do outline - once I know what I want to say. However, the outline may morph many times in the writing process, and this is true for every writer I know."

Angela's view that outlines change multiple times during the writing process is also reinforced by an article from the American Psychological Association, entitled "To outline, or not to outline?, in which the author, Sarah Ransdell, PhD, a writing-cognition researcher and professor at Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, points out that an outline helps a writer organize a series of steps that they do naturally and simultaneously — first planning, then writing, then revising. Therefore, an outline doesn't merely represent the structure of a white paper, but it is a complete planning tool that a writer can use before and during the project to ensure it accomplishes its stated goal. I take this a step further and find that a detailed outline provides myself and the client with some essential components to ensure its success:
  • Ensures that the white paper will be "on message" with critical points.
  • Validates the most important points per section of the paper.
  • Gives the client an idea of overall page length of the document.
  • Tests a proposed title and sub-title to see if it will meet their approval.
  • Provides a flow to the white paper - how each section leads to the next.
  • Allows the client to make structural changes - giving them "buy-in" to the development process BEFORE any writing has started.

While some may find the process of outlining painful, I find it is an essential step to ensure client satisfaction.

Do you find outlines difficult or easy? Please let me know. Please help support this with your blog link. Thank you!

November 16, 2006

Too Many Adjectives Can Spoil the Latte

Okay, so I'm in Starbucks the other day, and I'm behind a woman that is participating in the "latte adjective marathon". She orders a: grande, decafe, non-fat, extra hot, extra foamy, double-shot, carmel macchiato! Whew! I was tempted to tell her that the non-fat milk was cancelled out by the fat content in the carmel, but who am I to deny this woman's moment of pleasure? The funny thing is that no one behind the counter, batted an eyelash with her order. I am the next one in line, and I order a, "Tall Latte". Everyone looks at me like I just grew a Pinocchio nose! I know we've always been a society where more is better, but when it comes to descriptive adjectives it seems that there is a descreasing benefit after about three. Have you ever read a paper where the solution was described as efficient, robust, and cost-effective? The eyes usually glaze over after about two. Anyway, how did we turn the word "grande" which means large in Spanish, into the new English version for medium?

Please help support this with your blog link. Thank you!

November 15, 2006

When You Fly, Watch Your Altitude

As any experienced flyer will tell you that it's always a good idea to know your altitude. If you don't, you never know what might run into when you least expect it. The same is true for white papers. Alititude measures the elevation of your message, and designating the altitude for your white papers or other technical marketing deliverables before you take off is an important consideration for the success of your piece. During my years in the enterprise software business, we would periodically review the altitude of each of our technical marketing deliverables. Certain document had a high level message or high altitude, while other more technical documents had a lower altitude message. For example our planning sheets would look something like this: By designating the altitude of the content prior to the development of each document, we were able to tailor precise information messages. It also set clear boundries for each vision document, white paper, competitive analysis, and primer. This also allowed technical marketing to assign the best writer to each job, and ensure that there was separate and consistent messaging thoughout the entire content library. It also build customer loyalty and establish a form of "branding" for each document type, since the readers knew in advance the amount of detail they could expect from each document. As a result, readership went up and the ability to deliver key technical marketing messages became easier. If you have a technical document strategy, check your marketing altimeter. You may find that your audience may view your white papers flying lower than they may actually appear to you? Please help support this with your blog link. Thank you!

Dressin' Up the Pie

Do your pie charts look more like mud pies? Have you been using the default settings from your favorite business application a bit too frequently? If so, here's a different twist on the idea of business graphics that you can use to spruce them up a tad. Try embedding a relevant stock business photo into your chart like this example: You can use your favorite graphic editor such as Photoshop, Visio, or even PowerPoint to accomplish the task by overlaying a transparent chart over your photo and cropping out the area that is outside of the chart. When selecting an image, pick one that represents the key point you are making. In this example, user represents the major slice of the pie chart, namely the view that operator and application error are the biggest reason behind the technical problem presented. This technique not only will spruce up your charts but also help your reader retain key messages longer that you want to deliver with your white paper content. After all, while a picture may be worth a thousand words, who wants to have to come up with the other 990 just to get your point across? Have you ever used this technique in your white papers? We'd be interested in hearing your story.

November 14, 2006

Who's Country

Okay, I don't get it. I realize that I never worked for a fancy New York advertising agency, but sometimes I think creativity leaves the realm of reality. The recent commercial for Chevrolet, set to the tune "Our Country" by John Mellencamp, is a perfect example. The commercial features a series of vignettes touting American workers and pride with being an American. Great! But when the tune gets to the lyrics, "From East Coast to the West Coast", one of the images they selected really loses me. East Coast: Crab fisherman in the Chesapeake Bay... okay that fits. West Coast: Wild Fire in California? Huh? This is the best image you could come up with for the West Coast? Is this something that is going to stoke the fires (sorry about the pun) of American pride with the people on the West coast? Last I checked my geography, most wild fires aren't anywhere near a coast? What's the matter, weren't able to find a picture of Big Sur in the archives? Venice Beach? Puget Sound? When you use pictures to emphasize a point in communications, you have to make sure you pick the right ones, whether that's in a white paper or a television commercial. When you pick the wrong ones, like in this spot, you lose your audience. Like me. Will that prevent me from buying a Chevy? Probably not, but it certainly makes me question the sincerity of Chevrolet's attempts to sell American pride in their commercials.? Please help support this with your blog link. Thank you!

November 10, 2006

Why It's Important to Cast Your Vision

Once in a while there comes a time when a white paper just doesn't fit. Sometimes you have to cast a vision for your company, product strategy, or to respond to a new competitive threat or emerging market. For these situations there is the Vision Statement. What's a Vision Statement, you say? A vision statement is a two page document (maximum) that is designed to provide one singlular purpose -- thought leadership. Why is this important is the sales and marketing process? In highly competitive markets (like the technology sector), it's important to place a stake in the ground and establish your turf. To differentiate yourself among the crowd. As we used to say in the enterprise software industry, "What's your corner?" A vision statement is the first document that you post to your online library, especially when you haven't established all the details of your strategy that would normally go into a white paper. It's similar to the soldier carrying the flag in advance of the infantry. At the time. my old employer, J.D. Edwards hadn't established their corner in the enterprise software market. All of the other major players had already established theirs. For example: SAP - took the "safe decision" corner, because they were (and still are) the big gorilla in the market. Oracle - took the "technology innovator" corner. Peoplesoft - took the "friendly and easy partner" corner. What was left? It seemed that all the imporant corners were already taken. J.D. Edwards was the fourth largest player in the market at the time, and didn't have a corner. How did we establish a corner? By using the Vision Statement. What corner did we decide on? J.D. Edwards - established the "quick response to change" corner, leveraging the "time is money" theme. Since this was a new concept, we couldn't validate our position with facts and industry perspectives, because they didn't exist. Vision statements allowed us to set our vision of what rapid change meant and why it was critically important to the marketplace. Two pages -- short and to the point. After the vision statement was released, we followed that up with a series of detailed white papers to tell the market how we were going to fulfill the vision and speak to the advantage of software that could rapidly change. As a result, SAP and Oracle had to come up with a response to our vision. The vision document can serve an important purpose as part of an overall marketing communications strategy. After all, how can you expect your customer to follow you if you don't tell them which direction to go? Have you ever seen the need for a vision statement within your organization or with your customers? Please help support this with your blog link. Thank you!

November 08, 2006

Just the Facts Ma'am

I'm often asked, "Why are white papers so popular today?" Just like the phrase echoed by Jack Webb in the 1960s series "Dragnet", white papers work because they are the only medium that focuses on facts and are judged by their ability to present them in an intuitive fashion. In a world where the typical business executive is besieged with hundreds of e-mails, spam, pop-up messages, and direct mailers, white papers are a welcomed breath of fresh welcomed by business professionals that are being stiffled in an anotherwise polluted atmosphere steeped in business marketing fluff. After all, what other business communications can you think of that are judged by their ability to deliver facts? Brochures? Nope. Business brochures focus on high level messages designed to enhance a company's image. Direct Mailers? Guess Again. Direct mailers are designed for a quick response or measurement of a call to action. Technical Primers? No way. Too much information steeped in complex terminology that goes over the heads of most business professionals Development Documents? Unh-Unh. Development documents may have technical facts but none that anyone layman business person can apply to solve their business needs. White papers occupy a unique space as a highly valued and fact-based communications medium, and as a result, have a very bright future in a world otherwise pre-occupied with glitz, sizzle, and fluff. So folks, am I wrong here or have I left something out?? Please help support this with your blog link. Thank you!