Keeping white papers and other materials up-to-date is critical

Companies often develop materials such as white papers to target marketing and communications objectives, but forget to go back and make edits as their marketplace or products and services change.

When developing a white paper, new web copy, or other communications tool, most marketers start with some sort of objective and develop an outline covering the main points. They then create a series of drafts, each of which becomes more complete and polished. At some point, the drafting ends and there’s a “final.” Everyone signs off on the final and it goes off to be printed.

Of course, because that “final” was final at a particular moment, it instantly becomes obsolete. Three months from now, you pick up the white paper and wish you had worded one of the paragraphs differently. Six months from now, you’ve released an improved version of your product, and your white paper doesn’t reference it. A year from now, you’ve launched a new marketing campaign with a fresh look, and the key message in the white paper no longer fits.

Most companies are remarkably slow to change websites, white papers, and other communications materials. Once “finished,” those items remains untouched until the team feels brave enough to tackle the process again. Most of the time, they won’t develop that courage for years. Their company changes with each passing month, their market changes every week, but their white paper continues to share information that hasn’t been updated since 2014. Instead of serving as an up-to-date reflection of the company and its business, the white paper becomes every bit as useful as those stacks of outdated brochures gathering dust in the storeroom.

The key to keeping current is to stop thinking about your white paper and other materials as one-time projects and start thinking of them as living reflections of your business. Revise the content frequently, because your company and your world are constantly changing. Don’t be afraid to rework something if you discover a better way to say it.

Be particularly careful about using information tied to dates. If your website references your 2016 model, readers will conclude the rest of the information is just as dated, and will assume your company doesn’t care about sharing up-to-date information.

One way to keep white papers and other materials from becoming stale is to review them regularly and religiously. Designate a particular day each month for your task list. Take an hour or so that day to review your white papers and consider the content in light of what’s happening within your organization. Look for new developments that aren’t reflected and old items that need to go away. Then make all the needed changes.

Frequent updates are even easier in our digital era. A couple decades ago, companies would have to print many physical copies of white papers. Today, thanks to PDFs and other advances, they can produce white papers in much smaller quantities. It’s much easier to update the PDF file and post the new version to their website.

It may also be worthwhile to engage an outside marketing professional to perform a quick assessment of your white papers and other materials. A fresh set of eyes may identify shortcomings that are obvious to the outside world, but haven’t been noticed internally.

An outsider such as a professional writer will bring more objectivity to the process and be better able to point out how your audience might not come away with the same impression of what you plan to say. In addition, an outsider has fewer preconceived notions and internal assumptions about your product or service and can challenge your team’s biases and opinions.

While you might think an outsider is at a disadvantage because they lack your level of knowledge, it can actually be a big advantage. Because they have to develop a thorough understanding before presenting your message to the outside world, they’ll have to ask a lot of questions that are likely to be many of the same questions prospective customers might ask.

Updating white papers may feel like a never-ending process, but that’s not a bad thing, because it ensures the messages you’re sharing with your audiences are up-to-date and makes it obvious you’re on top of things.