A professional association in the online industry sent me a white paper -- via postal mail. It’s a printed piece (thick stock with an even thicker cover stock). And it has two small visuals in the entire 12-page document.
What was the white paper about? I’m not sure because every time I tried to read it, I fell asleep.
To be clear, I don’t begrudge anyone from creating, and mailing, a printed piece. There are a lot of good reasons to create a print experience. And even in a world teeming with tablets and e-readers, a print execution can help content stand out – in a good way.
My issue is with Pavlovian Marketing. This is when we use the same old ways to talk about the new -- regardless of how ill-fitting thesee ways might appear – because that’s how it’s always been done.
There are planning rules and guidelines worth their weight in gold (audience/goals/measureable objectives/strategy and tatics). Keep them. They’re valuable. And sometimes there’s a need to leverage new rules for new tools (social media as engagement vs. broadcast).
Pavlovian Marketing is somewhere in between these two extremes. As if on command marketers spit out the same tactics. In this case, a rather academic looking white paper.
Wikipedia claims a white paper "is an authoritative report or guide that helps solve a problem" or make a decision. "In commercial use, the term has also come to refer to documents used by businesses as a marketing or sales tool."
But does the above definiition mean a white paper has to look like the business equivalent of a college research paper? PSFK publishes white papers I'd like to print out and hang on my walls as much as I want to read it.
Far too often, marketers let formats serve as rules instead of guidelines. Take the news release. (No, please, take it. >rim shot<) The start up Square used Instagram to publish a dead simple news release -- with actual news in it.
There are a myriad of ways to reach the same goal. I’m not suggesting everything can be snack-sized into a bumper sticker, tweet, infographic, top
ten five list or a 60- 30-second video. I am suggesting that we need to practice what we preach as communicators.
White Noise Paper
As far as the white paper that inspired this post, let me ask you this. If you’re audience is, by default, online and you’re trying to impress this audience with your point of view on the inner-workings of a niche in the online industry, would you use printed materials to accomplish this goal?
A wise then-client once said he knew a colleague with more than 17 years of experience. The only problem was it was a single year -- repeated 17 times. Tune out the din of the marketing bell that sounds clearly as pile after pile of examples bury you (online and offline) ultimately suffering you into a fossil. Take a deep breathe and make sure you're next work is your best work....not simply a rehash of your last work.