Should I create a whitepaper… or something else?
When to create a whitepaper and when not to.
Let us begin this blog by saying that, in B2B marketing, whitepapers remain one of the most effective ways to build brand authority, educate an audience about a topic or solution, and improve lead generation.
When done well, a whitepaper demonstrates absolute authority on a subject, highlighting a problem and positioning your brand as the entity that can solve that problem.
A whitepaper doesn’t sell, it persuades. And if you get it right, it can persuade very persuasively.
But researching, writing, publishing, and promoting a whitepaper takes time and resources. This time and these resources may not always be available to you, and if they are, can you justify the time and resources you will spend creating a whitepaper if you’re not sure whether it will yield results or any ROI?
Whitepapers have a function – we routinely create whitepapers for our clients to support their B2B marketing activities where it’s appropriate to do so. But given the often-considerable time and resources required to create them, it’s worth pausing to consider ‘why, what’s the purpose of creating one, and would the information be better in a different format?’
In this blog, we explore when it may be useful to create a whitepaper for B2B marketing purposes, and when something else, like a blog or an infographic, may serve your brand better.
Why create a whitepaper?
If you’re selling a complex, technical or expensive solution, you may have multiple decision-makers to win over through the sales funnel. In content marketing, a whitepaper can be considered a core asset that helps your leads to make decisions and can even speed up the decision-making process. In this, a whitepaper can have the power to help shorten the time it takes to make a sale without being ‘salesy’ itself.
As we highlighted earlier, whitepapers can be an ideal vehicle for progressing the field, or saying something interesting about a topic, perhaps by way of new insights obtained through primary research commissioned by your organisation. By revealing insights exclusive to your organisation, your whitepaper is more likely to be viewed as a highly-shareable asset, especially among the decision-makers you’re trying to appeal to, and position your organisation as an authority in its field.
A whitepaper with something new and original to say could even be pitched to and picked up by journalists, which could increase brand exposure and improve leads. And if these insights or this research is already primed and ready to share, less effort may be required to pull a compelling whitepaper together.
The case for not creating a whitepaper
If your B2B brand is thinking of creating a whitepaper and you’ve created them in the past, we suggest you ask yourself the following questions:
• What is the ROI on whitepapers we produced in the past?
• How many people downloaded or shared them?
• Will this whitepaper be worth the time and effort it will take to produce it?
• Have we anything new, original or important to say?
Dig a little to discover how well whitepapers have performed for you in the past. At this stage, you may be realising that although statistics tend to show that whitepapers are effective at generating and nurturing leads through the B2B sales funnel, it’s not always easy to measure or monitor how effective your whitepapers have been.
Unless you publish a whitepaper on an optimised landing page and create an online campaign to drive traffic to that landing page and measure the number of downloads, shares and leads who have approached you because of your whitepaper, it can be hard to assess ROI. You’ll also want to weigh up the cost of producing and advertising your whitepaper and define the monetary value per lead acquired before you can measure success.
It’s also worth noting that whitepapers published as a downloadable pdf are not particularly shareable, and don’t provide insight into whether people actually read them at all, let alone read them all the way to the end. This means that your number of downloads metric will always be a little skewed – someone may have downloaded it but never actually read it, despite providing an email address to obtain access to it.
This contrasts with blogs and other types of content you publish on your website, as you can use various analytics and heatmap tools to measure on-page behaviour in more detail and monitor how people view and interact with your content, where they stop reading and why they leave the page.
And while, in B2B marketing, whitepapers provide the space you might need to inform, educate, and influence your readers on a particular topic or complex solution, unless you can justify the time and resources spent on creating one and consider a whitepaper to be the best means of communicating your message, it may be best to explore other options.
The case for creating something else
This isn’t a blog vs. whitepaper debate. In fact, there are numerous types of content you can create as part of a B2B marketing campaign to engage and nurture leads to – and after – the point of sale. The important thing is to create a piece of content in the right format for your target persona.
You should also consider what your objective is. For example, if your objective is to engage, perhaps a video or infographic would be more appropriate, and if you want to gain media exposure, a short press release with accompanying video or visuals may be a better way to engage with PRs.
Before rushing into creating a whitepaper, we would ask, ‘why, what’s the purpose?’ We would then map out what the key snippets of information are to see how or if it can be distilled into a shorter, more consumable piece of content that demands less time and effort from the reader.
In any content marketing campaign, creating different types of assets that communicate a message succinctly at different stages of the B2B sales funnel can prove more useful and informative than one larger asset: a whitepaper. Additionally, an asset that is more interactive can be more effective across multiple platforms, including social media, and be more shareable.
Blogging can be a useful alternative as blogs are easy to promote, and you can track everything from on-page behaviour to conversions. But whatever type of content you choose to create, make sure it is in-keeping with what your audience expects at that stage of the funnel.
If you do create a whitepaper, try…
Creating an interactive whitepaper that you host online. You don’t need to distribute it as a static, downloadable pdf if you can drive traffic to its hosting page.
To make it more interactive (attention spans are generally shorter online), you could include a range of multimedia elements, budget permitting, such as videos, quizzes, self-assessments, graphs, visual illustrations and screengrabs. Embed widgets and track the number of views, clicks and conversions your whitepaper receives. You’ll also be able to monitor on-page engagement more generally.
Depending on your target audience (persona), you could make the whitepaper available in two different formats – ask your audience what they prefer.
If you need help to craft and develop a whitepaper, we can provide that support. You can also find more information on how to write and publish a whitepaper on our website.