Jonathan Kantor's Crafting White Paper 2.0
Designing Information for Today's Time and Attention-Challenged Business Reader
Dec. 7, 2009 05:37 PM
We have grown accustomed to short, quick messaging methodologies and unable to read detailed information for a substantial period of time before becoming distracted by events that require our immediate attention. What impact does this have on the readers of our white papers? How do we ensure that our white paper is not only read but also acted upon? Jonathan Kantor addresses this question and more in his new book Crafting White Paper 2.0: Designing Information for Today’s Time and Attention Challenged Business Reader. Crafting White Paper 2.0 Table of Contents and FREE Sample Chapter.
I have invited Jonathan Kantor to discuss his new book Crafting White Paper 2.0 and share his insights on white papers with us.
Jonathan Kantor is the principal and founder of The Appum Group, The White Paper Company, and has been producing commercial white papers for the past 11 years. He is also the author of the White Paper Pundit blog. Jonathan's experience with white papers is also coupled with over 25 years of enterprise business experience with leading industry innovators such as Apple Computer, Microsoft, Digital Equipment Corporation, and J.D. Edwards Enterprise Software (now a division of Oracle Corporation). This experience included a variety of sales, marketing, business development, and management positions.
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"Reset your understanding of a “white paper”. Treat it as an essential first impression of your entire business.”
Ambal Balakrishnan: Jonathan - It is a great pleasure to discuss your new book Crafting White Paper 2.0. Thanks for finding time out of your very busy schedule to provide your valuable insights to our readers. Tell us about The White Paper Company.
Jonathan Kantor: The Appum Group, The White Paper Company has been dedicated to white paper marketing since 2000. My firm is made up of four individuals: Two writers, an editor, and a graphic designer. Each person in The White Paper Company has an extensive enterprise business background and serves as an independent contractor. We collaborate on white paper projects depending on the project’s target audience, industry, and scope.
Ambal Balakrishnan: Give us the background of how you gained an interest in white papers?
Jonathan Kantor: Prior to starting my own firm, I spent 26 years in enterprise business marketing with several Fortune 500 organizations such as Digital Equipment Corporation, Microsoft, and Apple, Inc. My last enterprise marketing position in the late 90’s was with J.D. Edwards Enterprise (now a division of Oracle Corporation) where I served as a Senior Technical Marketing Manager responsible for the development of their corporate white paper marketing program.
Ambal Balakrishnan: What makes The White Paper Company different from other players in the market?
Jonathan Kantor: There are four things that clearly differentiate The White Paper Company from other white paper writers/marketers:
- An exclusive focus on white papers.
- An extensive experience with enterprise white paper marketing.
- A unique approach with white paper formatting and design.
- A thorough understanding of how business decision makers assimilate white paper information that forms our development, production, and design strategy.
Ambal Balakrishnan: How did you develop J.D. Edwards corporate white paper strategy earlier in your career?
Jonathan Kantor: When I started my career with JDE in the late 90’s, white paper development was considered the exclusive domain of the software development department. In other words, software developers were tasked with writing highly technical white papers for an equally literate technical professional audience (CIOs, MIS Directors, etc). My marketing group recognized that the individuals our organization had to target were business rather than technical professionals that played a significant role with the final decision and procurement process. Unfortunately, the highly technical white papers created by the development group were hard to read and used complex terms that went over the heads of the business professional audience.
I, along with several business managers crafted a new type of white paper that translated technical attributes into strategic business advantages so that the business audience could better understand and assimilate key solution messages and make a more informed decision for their enterprise software procurements.
Ambal Balakrishnan: How has the white paper medium evolved in the last decade?
Jonathan Kantor: There are two areas that have changed the commercial white paper in the past 10 years: Target Industry and Format.
The white paper originated in the government and academic environment starting in the early part of the 20th century. Since that period, the first commercial industries that adopted white papers as a part of a formal marketing strategy were organizations that had close ties to those public institutions. These were Pharmaceutical, Biotech, Medical Research, and Technology sectors. Of these, the technology sector was the most aggressive in their use of white papers as a business-marketing medium. As other industries saw the positive results gained by the technology sector, they also applied white papers to their marketing communications programs. Today, white papers are as commonplace as websites with every industry sector from Agriculture to Zone Planning using them on a regular basis.
Format and size is the second area of radical change. Ten years ago, the 8-12 page white paper was considered an acceptable size. As white paper adoption increased among several business industries, its size began to drop. Five years ago, the standard size was reduced to 6-8 pages. Today, as a result of the recession and the need to lower marketing costs, as well as increasing short attention spans, the most frequently requested size is in the range of 2-6 pages.
In addition, the all-text, paragraph-oriented format has remained a standard component of the modern commercial white paper. But as we become more accustomed to online content, the effectiveness of these plain, text formats is becoming less effective with a more savvy, rich media, online user.
Ambal Balakrishnan: How is the marketing landscape different than what it was a decade back?
Jonathan Kantor: Ten years ago, the role of the white paper was clearly understood to be an education medium. Enterprises used certain deliverables to support their sales activities such as spec sheets, brochures, and sales guides. White papers were used in a different form of marketing, namely to apply educate as a way to convince key decision makers to the viability of a solution via a thorough discussion and presentation of industry dynamics, business challenges, and how advocated solutions can solve those identified issues.
Today, the need to generate ROI has accelerated the white paper’s evolution to a sales format similar to other traditional sales/marketing deliverables. As the modern white paper gets smaller, its limited number of pages is becoming increasingly focused on sales messages, solution attributes, and their associated benefits. Many feel that the cost related to incorporating an additional number of pages necessary to thoroughly educate the reader to background/industry issues and problem assessments as done in the past, is now an expenditure they can no longer afford. This has led to an abundance of short, heavily sales-oriented white papers that has turned off many business decision makers.
In addition, the advent of Social Media has changed the way we interact with information. Sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, exemplified by short, quick, rich media messaging has reduced our attention spans and our ability to read large blocks of paragraph-oriented text. We’d prefer to watch a 5-minute YouTube video than read a five-page white paper on the same topic. As our attention spans become shorter, our attraction to the traditional all-text white paper has waned.
Ambal Balakrishnan: Tell us about the expression that you have coined, “Short Attention Marketing” (SAM)
Jonathan Kantor: Short Attention Marketing (SAM) is a new term based on the marketing strategy that I formed from my JDE enterprise business experience that was used to engage business readers. Since then, as social media has become a greater part of our daily lives this model has become more apparent and pertinent to the short attention business reader. Short Attention Marketing (SAM) creates incentives to engage readers with larger portions of white paper content by integrating summaries, text and graphic enhancements, and page design elements that draw the reader into essential solution-oriented information. Once the reader is engaged by these visual elements, the chances that they will read larger portions of related solution-oriented information will increase.
For example, an Executive Summary provides critical overview messages that inform readers to the viability of the featured solutions. Sidebar callouts draw attention to larger paragraphs on the same page. Concept graphics translate complex details into visual messages that are easier to assimilate. Page design attracts the web surfer to download and skim through a white paper. These elements integrated into an entire white paper strategy form the basis of Short Attention Marketing (SAM).
You can read more about this on my blog post Clarifying ‘Short Attention’ and ‘Short Content’.
Ambal Balakrishnan: You mention in your book that “Crafting” white papers is different from writing or creating white papers. Can you share the significance of why you chose the word “Crafting”?
Jonathan Kantor: When we hear the word “crafting” we think of a talented artisan. When we think of “writing” we think of a basic productivity task. A designer is a craft artisan while a business writer is a task-oriented, productivity worker.
As the number of short, all-text white papers proliferates across the web as a result of driving the cost downward, design will become a new strategic differentiator. To change the perception of the white paper writer from a basic productive worker to that of a craft artisan, marketers must incorporate design elements into their white papers. The suggestions advocated in “Crafting White Paper 2.0” will provide white paper marketers with several new ideas that will enhance the design and effectiveness of their white papers, providing a new competitive advantage. In doing so, white paper marketers will be more akin to craft artisans than task-oriented business writers.
Ambal Balakrishnan: What prompted you to embark on creating your book Crafting White Paper 2.0?
Jonathan Kantor: Over the past 10 years, I have emphasized Short Attention Marketing (SAM) as a key part of an effective white paper marketing strategy with my clients. I’ve seen the results of this strategy firsthand in the way that visual enhancements have helped them generate a greater number leads and deliver their essential business solution messages much more effectively than the traditional, all-text white paper.
My goal with Crafting White Paper 2.0 was to package each of these individual concepts into an overall white paper strategy. In doing so, I hope to stem the declining tide with an over abundance of cheaply produced short, overly sales-oriented, all-text, boring white papers. By applying the principles in Crafting White Paper 2.0, I hope to reinvigorate the medium and provide marketers with a fresh set of ideas that can lead to a modern renaissance of the white paper medium.
Ambal Balakrishnan: Please walk us through the book-writing life cycle from concept to launch?
Jonathan Kantor: The components of Crafting White Paper 2.0 are ones that I have been preaching as part of my White Paper Pundit blog for several years. To produce the book, I needed to organize these components and expand on each one in much greater detail.
I produced the book in the same way that my organization produces a white paper, by first developing a highly detailed outline. The outline for the book took several weeks before I felt it conveyed the points that I wanted to feature in the book. In fact as I began to write the book and new ideas came to mind, I went back to the outline and made additional changes, such as changing the order of chapters and sections within each chapter.
I started the process in April, and finished the first draft by the end of September. The hardest part was the editing process where I worked with an editor from the publisher on three separate rounds of edits and corrections. That delayed the release of the book beyond what I had originally expected when I first began the project.
Ambal Balakrishnan: Who is Crafting White Paper 2.0 addressed towards?
Jonathan Kantor: Crafting White Paper 2.0 is targeted to corporate business marketers, independent white paper writers, and business marketing copywriters that are interested in a unique way to differentiate their white paper offerings from that of their competition. For corporate marketers, Crafting White Paper 2.0 will give them new ideas that will make their existing white papers more engaging and more effective, leading to more successful outcomes. For independent business writers, Crafting White Paper 2.0 will provide ways to generate clear market differentiation, more profitable white paper projects, and higher gross margins.
Ambal Balakrishnan: What are the 3 key lessons you want readers to take away from your book?
Lesson #1: Readers don’t read as much today as they did in the past. You can’t assume that an articulate writing style alone will yield positive business results. You also can’t assume that your reader will have the patience to read three or four pages of text to obtain engaging bottom line messages. If your reader isn’t quickly engaged and doesn’t get past the first page, the degree of writing quality in the paper won’t matter. You will lose the target white paper reader that has a short attention span.
Lesson #2: Visual enhancements and design matters today. The appropriate use of summaries, text and graphic visual enhancements, and design is a compelling way to obtain a unique competitive white paper advantage within your industry or marketplace. You can’t write a paper and assume your reader will read it with the same fervency as you had when you wrote it. Today’s reader has a short attention span, and the additional of visual elements is an essential way to engage them.
Lesson #3: Social and Online Media is Changing Today’s Business Reader. As we grow accustomed to the short, quick, rich media styles associated with Social Media messaging, our ability to assimilate traditionally formatted text such as paragraph-oriented white papers will wane. A “White Paper 2.0” strategy is one way to bring today’s short attention reader back into the commercial white paper medium and match a similar style as they are accustomed to with Social Media messaging.
Ambal Balakrishnan: What one “get started on right way” change do you recommend to the reader of your book?
Jonathan Kantor: Reset your understanding of a “white paper” from commodity information deliverable to an essential first impression of your entire business.
Many companies that seeking their first white paper, apply commodity principles to the procurement and development process. Just like brochures and websites, the thinking is that any white paper will do, therefore it should be produced as cheaply as possible. What is missing from this perspective is the understanding of the weight and magnitude associated with the term “white paper”. When a prospective customer sees that you have a white paper on your website, there are certain high expectations they have with that term.
If your white paper consists of a short, simple, overly sales oriented, all-text document, then your customer’s first impression will not be positive. If on the other hand, your white paper uses a series of visual enhancements and design that engages the reader while quickly delivering key bottom-line solution advantage messages, then a more positive impression of your business will be formed. This translates into greater leads, and a better opportunity to turn a potential customer into an actual customer.
Ambal Balakrishnan: Please recommend 3-5 resources (books, blogs).
Besides my own blog (White Paper Pundit) and my newsletter (Short Attention Marketing Tips), I also recommend:
Ambal Balakrishnan: What kind of projects (both personal and professional) are you involved in when you are not writing, blogging or consulting?
Jonathan Kantor: I share my time between homes in Denver, Colorado and Tequesta, Florida. I am an avid beach devotee, and certified scuba diver. When I’m not writing, I like spending time with friends and family, playing golf, and honing my skills at Euchre (a card game that is akin to Bridge), Mexican train Dominoes, as well as UpWords (a 3-Dimensional version of Scrabble). During football season, I’m a big Denver Broncos fan.
Ambal Balakrishnan: Jonathan - Thanks for taking the time to discuss your book and sharing your insights about crafting white papers.
Jonathan Kantor: Thanks Ambal.
Win FREE copies of Crafting White Paper 2.0
To celebrate Jonathan Kantor's book launch, we are giving away 2 FREE copies of Crafting White Paper 2.0. To enter this giveaway, simply do the following:
We will randomly pick 2 lucky winners in the next week and ship them a copy of Crafting White Paper 2.0. Stay tuned!
Over to you...
Whether you are a copy writer or marketer, Crafting White Paper 2.0 will help you learn how to attract prospects and retain customers by creating white papers that stand out among a crowded field of plain, text-oriented white papers. Go ahead and grab a copy of Jonathan Kantor's Crafting White Paper 2.0. Learn how to incorporate new white paper elements that will engage the 'short attention' reader.