By B.L. Ochman
The Internet is littered with tens of thousands of marketing white papers, comprised largely of thinly veiled sales pitches.
They’re usually PDFs (a pain to download.) Many of them are 40 or 50 pages long: tedious to read on a computer screen, impossible to read on a mobile phone.
I dare you to tell one company’s white paper from another. Or to distinguish between the thousands of webinars, each an hour long, that sell every B2B service ever created.
Alas, dear Mr/Ms Marketer: Nobody really cares what you say about your company. Buyers educate themselves and learn from each other. Your website, white paper, microsite or ebook is the last place we go when we want credible information. Your marketing is boring.
Here’s a student view of marketing that will resonate with a lot of What’s Next readers:
“Marketing is important in that it provides facts and demographics about a product or brand’s target audience or market. However, said information is actually highly stereotypical and elementary, my dear Watson. The information gathered and distributed by marketers is a “career” better suited for monkeys. Little monkeys.”
Companies drive traffic to their white papers, ebooks, and webinars with countless emails and online advertising. Request to see one white paper, webinar, or ebook and you’re asked to fill out a contact form which often leads to an almost immediate phone call from a sales person, or a chain of emails. Rinse, repeat. In more than one instance, I downloaded a white paper months ago and I still get a daily email suggesting others, despite repeated unsubscribe requests.
A cure – content worth sharing
“…go tell a story. If it doesn’t resonate, tell a different one. When you find a story that works, live that story, make it true, authentic and subject to scrutiny”
One thing so sorely missing from B2B communication is humor. People like it when you make them laugh or cry. They like it when you tell a story instead of hitting them over the head with a sales pitch. Business is afraid to laugh, especially at itself. But once in a while, humor shines through, as in the case of Kinaxis – a software company that competes against Oracle, SAP and other giants.
Their online Supply Chain Expert learning community, is a “social place for learning, laughter, sharing and connecting.” It’s certainly not all fun and games (although I’d personally like to see a B2B community that is). It includes very targeted and serious information about their products and services, but it speaks in a human voice and includes the hilarious video series, Suitemates. Not only that, they held a contest in which you could win an iPad if you could spot the elephant hidden in each video (really).
Can’t be funny? Try being useful
Companies that don’t have the balls to use humor in their marketing can revert to actually providing useful information. Sounds like common sense, but, sadly, there’s a huge shortage of that in marketing.
Telligent, one of scores of companies in the crowded SaaS world. provides a Best Practices Toolkit – with access to studies by credible analysts, and puts on the Big Social conference for its customers – three days of sessions about the foundation and tools of social media.
Lithium, a Telligent competitor, provides a full library of formulaic white papers, which include more than too many thinly veiled sales pitches. But in among them are Forrester reports and Aberdeem reports about the industry trends and best practices, as well as helpful videos and podcasts.
I’m sure the white paper isn’t going away because they’re cheap and easy to produce, and safe because they’re familiar. Everyone does them. But nobody reads them and nobody cares. So it’s time to take the cure. Laughing at yourself is a good place to begin.
Cartoon: Hugh Macleod