Like many people, my tolerance for reading lengthy text while I'm working is diminishing rapidly.
Part of the reason? We are all becoming more accustomed to "information foraging"* through the short text forms of online and social media content, from Web pages and blog posts to Twitter and Facebook updates. (*Thanks to Web usability expert Jakob Nielsen for this term.)
Does this mean I think white papers are no longer effective as marketing documents? No, not at all. But they do need to change in length, content, and presentation.
Fellow white paper copywriter Jonathan Kantor also sees these changes and makes some additional excellent points in a post where he lists tips for engaging today's white paper readers.
Among his tips (and my comments):
- Executives simply don't have time to read a lengthy document. At best, they may send it to a subordinate to review and report back on any relevant information. (I would argue that time constraints apply to any prospective buyer.)
- Standard white paper length has declined to 6-8 pages. (I've seen this with my clients, down from the 8-12 page length that was standard just a few years ago. The good thing is that brevity enforces more focused and concise content, which also appeals to readers.)
- Executive and concluding summaries are essential to convincing readers to explore further in the white paper's main content.
Jonathan also recommends using more visuals and layout techniques to catch the attention of readers who skim the document. But his list of suggested improvements is only a small set of the possibilities. You can find more extensive ideas in Chapter 5 of my book Copywriting That Sells High Tech and in the content ideas for white papers in Chapter 10.
So, do you agree with my premise that long-form, text-heavy white papers are dead? What kinds of changes are you seeing in the white papers produced by your company or clients?
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