When is a White Paper not a White Paper?

White paperHere at Bloom Group, we have a particular view that a white paper, if it’s to get traction in the marketplace, should conform to the usual standards of quality business writing; that is, it should address a complex problem or opportunity relevant to its target audience, it should be informative and non-promotional, and its prescribed solution should be underpinned by evidence that it works.

However, there is a different kind of white paper loose in the IT sector. Of course every sector has some publications that don’t exhibit high standards. But in the IT sector in particular, it’s actually acceptable for a white paper to promote a particular product or service. Here’s one from Oracle, “Seven Tips for Profiting from Lean Times with CRM.” Each of the seven tips is actually a feature of their CRM software. You can’t use the tips without the software, and so as stand-alone thought leadership, it’s not much use. And because the product features are buried in pseudo-educational prose, it’s not a lot of use as a product spec either.

In a short survey of IT white papers, we discovered that around 70% promote a particular product or service, and that only about 10% have any real educational content, beyond promoting the offering.

So is this OK in the IT sector? Are IT execs somehow more accepting of biased promotional material than buyers in other sectors?

Apparently not. We looked at the current most popular papers on TechRepublic to see how objective and educational they were. As we expected, 90% are educational and non-promotional. This one from CA (a software and services firm) is typical of the top 10: Practical Disaster Recovery Planning: A Step-by-Step Guide. This advice is useful absent CA’s products or services, and the paper ranks 2nd of around 25,000 papers at TechRepublic.

So IT buyers aren’t gullible after all. But why on earth are IT vendors producing pseudo-educational ‘white papers’ that promote their offerings, 90% of which are of little interest to their readers?

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