There’s an old expression in the graphic arts that says this: If you’re not creating an effective presentation of a message, it’s not design. It’s art. So it is with content: If you’re not creating an effectively persuasive message for an audience that’s expressed a want or a need for that message, it’s not meaningful content. It’s just writing. It may or may not be art.

And so it is with white papers.

There may be myriad reasons for writing white papers. Some of those reasons might even be good. But peer pressure is not one of them. As a public service, then, here are two things to bear in mind about white papers before taking a flying leap aboard the bandwagon:

Thing #1: White papers are at least 2,500 words in length and are written in a more academic (and less flashy) style than other marketing materials.

Thing #2: If you can address the problems that your readers want to solve, they will read your white paper for a solution. Otherwise, your white paper may not be read.

And here’s a list of questions to be asked and answered as you contemplate Thing #1 and Thing #2:

  1. Do you know what your competitors’ white papers have to say?
  2. Are they any good?
  3. Is anyone reading them?
  4. Is anyone in your organization capable of writing 2,500 words of (meaningful) content?
  5. If so, in what way(s) will it differentiate your brand?
  6. If you have white papers on your website, do they attract any traffic?
  7. If so, do they garner any interest, feedback, or prospects?
  8. Is anyone in charge of determining that?

Imitation is, of course, the sincerest form of flattery. It’s only human nature to want to know what the other guy is doing. And given the risks involved in commercial enterprise, it’s understandable that we’d want to keep our fingers on the pulse of the competition. But given the need to differentiate our brands from our competitors’ brands, it’s also a curiously peculiar form of lunacy. And that notion invites one more question:

If you’re doing it because he’s doing it — and you do something different — how do you know he won’t do what you do?

Writing for yourself isn’t worth the time and trouble. It may not even be art. So, let the white paper go gracefully the way of the dodo bird. Besides, people don’t have the attention spans to read 2,500 words anyway.

Publish a blog instead.