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Why Many White Paper Projects Fail

by | Sep 13, 2016 | Collateral, Lead Generation, White Papers, Technology Marketing, Content Marketing | 0 comments

This is the first installment in a three-part series on white paper planning. You’ll find a link to the next article in the series at the end of this post.

If you’d like to get the whole series – and many additional tips – in a single PDF, click here.

Why many white papers failIn a survey report published in June by demand generation firm Ascend2, content marketers ranked white papers and research reports the most effective form of marketing content.[i] This is just the latest confirmation that white papers remain the B2B marketer’s #1 tool for influencing technology buyers. In survey after survey, white papers consistently come out on top when it comes to influencing purchasing decisions. In fact, white papers have ranked first in perceived influence in every one of EccoloMedia’s annual surveys of B2B technology buyers since 2008.[ii]

Yet, marketers often fail to achieve the results they’d hoped for with the white papers they create. In fact, many white paper projects fall apart before the white paper is ever produced.  In that same survey by Ascend2, 62% of content marketers surveyed ranked white papers and research reports among the most difficult types of content to create – second only to videos and podcasts (64%), projects which have far greater technology and production concerns.[i]

A Few Reasons Why White Paper Projects Fail

One reason for their high failure rate is that white papers are highly complex documents – more complex than most people realize before they’ve been involved in creating one, and far more complicated than the vast majority of other content projects. Compared to other forms, creating a white paper generally involves more people, more time and a greater overall investment.

Plus, white papers are a much more nuanced form than one might think. There are several distinct white paper types – each with its particular strengths and weaknesses – and each tends to work better in different phases of the sales cycle.

A second reason why many white papers disappoint is that most companies have little or no experience in publishing them. Because the time, effort and expense involved, most companies produce very few white papers. As a result, they often lack in-house expertise in writing white papers and managing white paper projects.

Some of these companies may also be a reluctant to attempt new white papers because of past failures or difficulties they’ve had with the form. They may have had internal conflicts over objective, scope or audience that arose after development of the white paper had begun. Or they may have chosen the wrong writer.

Choosing the wrong writer is another common cause of white paper failure. It’s important to choose a writer with a strong understanding of what makes a white paper work. Most copywriters are accustomed to writing benefit-oriented sales copy that appeals to prospects’ emotions, and try to write white papers that way. This almost always leads to disaster, as a white paper draws its power from logic rather than emotion.

Yet, going too far to the logical side is fraught with peril, as well. Companies in highly technical niches often ask their technical experts to author white papers, fearing an outside writer will lack sufficient domain knowledge for the job. Unfortunately, SMEs typically lack both experience in writing white papers and sufficient time to devote to them, due to their technical duties. Having SMEs craft white papers often results in a drastically prolonged development process and an underperforming white paper.

The Most Frequent Cause of White Paper Failure

By far the most likely reason for a white paper to fail to meet marketers’ expectations, however, is that the white paper project was poorly planned.

Poor planning of a white paper is usually the result of the two factors just mentioned: a lack of experience managing white paper projects, and a corresponding lack of appreciation of their complexity.

It’s the complexity of a white paper project that makes proper planning essential.

All complex projects require careful planning. No homebuilder would try to construct a new home without a plan – a detailed blueprint  – to work from. And no software engineer would attempt to code an enterprise software application without first developing a set of requirements, a development plan and some higher-level functional design. So why would anyone sit down and start typing away at a 6- to 12-page white paper without first developing a plan?

Without a strong plan – one that takes into account your objectives, your audience and a number of other factors – your white paper is unlikely to deliver the results you’re hoping for.

Fortunately, there exists a proven method for planning a white paper which can help marketers manage their white paper projects more efficiently, enjoy better results from their white paper campaigns, and even overcome a previous lack up experience with the form.

We’ll look at that method in my next post. To go to that post, click here.

Take-away Points

1. White papers remain the B2B marketer’s #1 tool for influencing technology buyers.

2. However, many white papers fail to meet marketer’s expectations.

3. Many white paper projects fail, because they are so complex and difficult to create.

4. White papers can fail for many reasons, but perhaps the most frequent reason is inadequate planning.

Next Steps

Want help planning and crafting white paper that won’t fail?  Call CopyEngineer at (+39) 011 569 4951. Or email me at

To continue to Part 2 of this series, click here.

If you would like to read a more detailed version of this complete series, with plenty of tips for making your White Paper Plan – and thus your next white paper – a more certain success, sign-up for my free, monthly e-letter, Technical Response. When you do, you’ll receive a copy of my new special report:
How to Plan a White Paper: A Proven 7-Step Process for Minimizing Headaches and Maximizing ROI.


[i] State of Content Marketing Survey, Ascend2 and Research Partners, June 2016.

[ii] Eccolo Media 2008 to 2015 B2B Technology Content Survey Reports, Eccolo Media Inc., 2008 to 2015.

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