By Grant Bentley in InsideUp

January 18, 2020 1:15 pm

There is an ongoing debate about the effectiveness of marketing white papers. Are they becoming obsolete? Do they still deliver significant value?

Many marketers claim that white papers have seen their day and are becoming less effective as a content marketing tactic.

Others maintain a firm belief that white papers are still very important and effective, particularly in the B2B space.

Who is right? Below we unpack the issue to provide insight into these differing opinions and compare the pros and cons of leveraging marketing white papers.

Arguments against marketing white papers

Marketers who argue that the white paper has become less effective don’t have an inherent distrust or dislike of white papers. Rather, their qualm is that white papers are not being created effectively and that, combined with beliefs in certain myths, has rendered the white paper less effective.

Supply and demand: White papers can be quite helpful if done properly. However, many claim that over the last decade the white paper trend has spread to the extent that nearly every company in most industries is creating them. The airwaves are now saturated with mediocre white papers. This makes it difficult to find white papers that deliver value.

Decision-makers don’t read white papers: Many marketers draft white papers with the assumption that they will be read by a prospect’s C-suite. Their objective is to write a white paper targeted at top decision-makers. However, some marketers claim this is not true and that a CEO will never read your white paper. This is a logical argument given the time needed to read a white paper and the time constraints of the C-suite.

Repetition, repetition, repetition: With so many companies saturating the web with white papers, we’ve reached a point where many of them simply repurpose and paraphrase content from competitor white papers. This means they all start to sound the same. The only way to create an effective white paper is to research heavily and deliver one that truly stands out from the competition, which is becoming more difficult as supply continues to increase.

Arguments in favor of marketing white papers

Those who still believe in white papers cite valid reasons for their stance. Plus, there are solid statistics that support the argument that white papers are still a viable tactic in B2B content marketing.

Depth of information: B2B purchase decisions often take a long time and involve drawn-out, back-and-forth communication between the prospect and the vendor as the company weighs all their options. B2B purchases are often large investments and companies need to ensure they will receive the expected return on their investment (ROI). While one can learn about a company through their website and blog posts, those content types don’t compare to the in-depth research and findings presented in a white paper.

Joe Pulizzi, founder of Content Marketing Institute, put it best when he said:

“In manufacturing and technology specifically, white papers are still a staple on the business side. For complex concepts that need an in-depth take, white papers still serve an important purpose […] and many buyers still like to read information in white paper format. Even with all the new technologies/forms of content, you rarely see the death of a content type.”

Effective at lead generation: All signs and statistics point to the fact that white papers are still effective at lead generation. According to a survey from Demand Gen Report, 75% of respondents said they would share personal and company data in exchange for a white paper—more than any other content type.

Plus, companies that employ a demand generation agency to execute campaigns on their behalf and strategically include white papers in those campaigns see the best results from white paper development.

Successful at achieving objectives: A recent survey by Content Marketing Institute found that content marketers consider white papers (lumped in with eBooks) to be the most effective B2B content type for achieving specific objectives—ahead of case studies and even social media.

They really do influence B2B buying decisions: That same survey from Demand Gen Report, cited above, found that certain types of content are more influential than others when B2B companies are in their decision-making process. Respondents were asked, “Which types of content have you used during the last 12 months to research B2B buying decisions?” 71% reported leveraging white papers, behind only case studies (79%).

What’s the final answer?

You should make your own decision, but the information certainly points to marketing white papers still being a viable and effective content marketing tool.

The challenge many marketers face appears to be poor execution of the researching, drafting, and distribution of white papers.

Companies that create great white papers and strategically include them in demand generation efforts should see positive results. Taking it a step further, companies who employ a demand generation agency to run campaigns on their behalf and include white papers strategically in those campaigns will be the companies that see the best results.

Although the C-suite won’t likely be reading your white paper, their team probably will, and that information will hopefully trickle up to top decision-makers.

The keys to developing effective white papers are presenting new information that others are not, solving problems for readers that competitors’ content is not, and generally delivering unique value in the findings you present.

What are your thoughts? Are you creating white papers? If so, are you experiencing success or frustration? Let us know in the comments section and we’ll start a dialogue.

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