In a 2018 survey,49 percent of respondents said “they now rely more on content to research and make B2B purchase decisions compared to a year ago.” That’s great news for content marketers, especially since that number includes two great marketing assets: white papers and eBooks. White papers and eBooks are what we call “advanced content types.” They’re both popular and powerful ways to help prospects move to the next step in the buyer’s journey.
The same survey found that 71 percent of respondents used white papers to research B2B purchasing decisions, and 67 percent of buyers used eBooks. Okay, that’s great, you might be thinking, They’re similar content assets with similar rates of use. So? So, because white papers and eBooks are similar, it’s worth it to figure out the similarities and differences. Then, instead of assigning your content writer to “write a whitepaper/eBook about top dog grooming mistakes,” you can make an informed decision between the two genres, choosing the appropriate audience, purpose, and format.
The purpose of a white paper is to dive deep: launching from a singular diving board, straight down, with a tidy little splash. When compared with blog posts, white papers provide “deeper insights and a more comprehensive explanation,” Retzlaff said. “White papers are great for presenting research, results, and statistics.”
You might use a white paper to present findings from a large study or “thought leadership content that you can’t find anywhere else,” said Amy Balliette, CEO and owner of Killer Infographics.
But as you’re informing the reader, don’t be tempted to “turn your white paper into a bald sales pitch. . . . Instead, become a teacher. Use your white paper to educate people on the pros and cons of using your product or service.” It may seem counterintuitive to be so upfront about your product or service, but think long term: you’ll attract the right customers, which will lead to better customer retention. And that will help your client’s bottom line.
Here’s a quick checklist to tell if white papers will fulfill your purpose. “You’ll need a white paper if your goal is to:
- “Become an industry thought leader.
- “Generate leads.
- “Distribute research to your target audience.”
eBooks exist to give readers a general guide about something or how to do something. The idea is to provide ease: easy reading, easy sharing. Think a leisurely breaststroke across a particularly buoyant pool, with breaks in between to sip pina coladas.
Here’s a checklist to tell if eBooks will fulfill your purpose. “You’ll need an eBook if your goal is to:
- “Introduce your audience to a new concept or service.
- “Turn a difficult topic into something that’s easier to comprehend.
- “Provide information in a visually satisfying way.
- “Boost lead generation.”
“The prime audience for white papers are professionals looking for very technical information that’s needed to solve a problem,” said Cory Retzlaff, a brand management expert.
For example, a college professor might be looking for ways to incorporate certain softwares into her classroom. She might need some details about what the software does and how it works in conjunction with other teaching methods in the classroom.
“A white paper covering [a topic like this] would provide clear answers while helping establish you as an expert on that and related topics,” Retzlaff said. Your white paper would be comprehensive and go in depth.
As Balliette pointed out, “Most people expect to do a lot of reading when they download a white paper.”
What about eBooks? Let’s look at another example in education. This time, it’s the dean of a humanities college. The dean wants an overview of the benefits of including digital creative projects in college curricula. He needs an eBook, rather than a whitepaper, because he needs easily digestible information that he can share with his colleagues across disciplines. The dean can use the information in the eBook to (1) make an informed decision and (2) convince his higher-ups that his decision is the right way to go.
People reading an eBook don’t want to hunker down and read. They want an easy, general guide that’ll make their lives easier.
“This format is more effective for a visual learner and/or professionals that need a high-level overview of the topics without “getting into the weeds,” Retzlaff said.
Length and Format
White papers usually range from 5 to 15 pages. In those pages, include “known facts, expert insights, and quantifiable research to support [your] points. If images are used, they’re typically charts, tables, data, and similar visuals capable of supporting and adding context to whatever’s written,” Retzlaff explained.
When you look at a white paper, you’ll see mostly text broken up by a few visuals. They’re usually delivered as a printable 8.5×11 inch PDF. The tone will likely be formal and scholarly.
eBooks are more flexible as far as length goes: they can range anywhere from 20 to 200 pages. The key is to break that information up into digestible pieces. Remember the leisurely swim across the pool and the pina colada breaks?
Unlike white papers, which are text heavy, eBooks have short paragraphs, bullet points, and lots of interesting graphics. eBooks may be created using PowerPoint, SlideShare, and Keynote, so the content and design need to easily work in those formats.
According to Balliette, “Every page should be something that could be shared as a standalone piece of content on social media.”
Still on the fence about whether a white paper or eBook is better for you? Here are some “final words” from experts.
“From a lead generation perspective, I prefer eBooks because they’ve had a higher download and consumption rate for the audiences I’ve targeted,” said Nicolas Straut, SEO Associate at New York-based Fundera. “However, if I had to reach a group of experts and convince them of the value of a new technology my company is offering, I would have a whitepaper written.”
“Which one you choose should depend on what you’re trying to accomplish and what audience you’re speaking to,” said Irene Malatesta, head of content strategy at San Francisco-based Fundbox. “You might want to use both in your marketing funnel. When choosing a format, consider the level of expertise of your intended reader, the amount of value you can add on the topic, and how in-depth you want to go,” Malatesta said.”
Whatever you choose, be deliberate. By looking closely at your audience, purpose, and format, you’ll create a content asset that propels your marketing strategy the right way.