Is The White Paper Dead for B2B Marketing?

Is the White Paper Dead for B2B Marketing?In a recent conversation I was having with the Bloom Group they believe “the practice of publishing white papers must come to a close because of the utter proliferation of white papers, and the poor content contained within so many of them.” “Kill the white paper!” they are increasingly telling their clients. “We think white papers – even those in PDF form that are emailed or posted on a website – are a relic of the print days” said Bob Buday, President of the Bloom Group. And I tend to agree.

But then the question quickly becomes how do you build thought leaders?

In place of a white paper, B2B companies need to create a topic micro site – i.e., a site focused on a single topic and providing a wide range of educational content and interactivity that a white paper alone just can’t provide. Such content can include:

•  A blog by the subject-matter expert(s)
•  Discussion forums
•  Surveys/polls that the audience can take
•  A news aggregation feature
•  And yes, white papers

Here is Bloom Group’s position on this

Practically speaking a micro site in place of every “white paper” would be overkill and the sheer work involved in going from just a white paper to all those artifacts for the micro site is not insignificant.

Personally I am taking the angle within my organization of more eBooks rather than white papers. Aspiring to the World Wide Rave theory from David Meerman Scott which says to give away your content rather than lock it up behind a registration form. I also like to use the eBook to point to a landing page with some more Premium content (research, analyst paper) as well as many of the other artifacts that I can muster on a single topic. Trying not to let the eBook or white paper for that matter be the only artifact you create from your efforts. An eBook should spawn 3-5 other items that can be used to reach out to potential clients like a couple of blog posts, an email blast, a podcast perhaps and several factoid tweets that can point to your landing page.

But the purpose of a topic micro site is to help a firm show it has deep expertise in a given subject and to help potential customers think about that issue and the best way to solve it. A topic micro site – if positioned as a firm’s current and future expertise on an issue, and if continually refreshed with good, new, multimedia content (including content from viewers) – can be a tool to keep prospects and customers returning to a piece of your website.

What’s your view on this? We would love to hear from you.

52 comments to Is The White Paper Dead for B2B Marketing?

  • Tracey

    I don’t think the medium matters; it really is the content, and also the content must be optimized for search. When I am researching something, I’ll type keywords into Google, and I’ll navigate to whatever matches my search–whether that’s a white paper, ebook, blog or microsite. I’m a little less likely to download something, and a lot less likely to fill out a form to get what I want. However, if the content is compelling, I will. As marketers, to create good content worthy of a longer form than a blog post, I think we need to stop relying on topics like “top 10 tips” and making 8 of those tips obvious truisms that everyone already knows. Creating a real “Best Practices” type of white paper or ebook takes a lot more work and research.

  • I have been questioning the white paper since I became a marketer. When joining a new firm I find reading through the thought leadership in your area as a great way to get familiar with messaging, the content and the capabilities. I also find it is like pulling my own teeth forcing myself to read it. More than medium, as Tracey suggests, is the content. Marketers are stuck in the old and are extremely hesitant to change it up and do something different and interesting. While the white paper may have been the vehicle for recreating thought leaders in the past, it is seems to be a dying art. Short and sweet is the mantra of business men and women these days. No on wants to spend hours reading the fluffed white papers that, quite frankly, tend to be boring and uninformative in terms of what people are really looking for anyway.

    With the web that brings us blogs, webinars, virtual trade shows and a breadth of information it is time for marketers to look on putting a new spin on the old information. For example, Facebook is becoming house for the stories of a generation; stories that are compelling and relate-able and engaging. That is what the marketing world needs to move to telling the story of the business, the accomplishments and the aspirations. Engage the client not by bombarding them with stale white papers but why drawing them into the story your business is writing.

  • @Tracey – some good points in your comment – I have been put off recently by some of those top 10 blog post with some really obvious and nothing new trueisms – agreed the content still matters and your point is any rich content engine has to crank out quality not quantity content!

  • @Jen – Agreed I have sat through some white papers that I had to go through in order to get the knowledge too. I really like the way you positioned Facebook in your comment. Marketers need to think about how they can have those great stories play out in that medium (especially B2B Marketers) this would be the modern day version of the customer case study or testimonial but in a very public place that is searchable in the long tail scheme of things.

  • Provocative post, Paul (alliteration unintended). The big strike against packaging content as a “white paper” is that the label has assumed some negative connotation. Generalizing now:

    – 30000-foot treatment of a topic
    – Give us your contact info in exchange
    – Brace yourself for follow-up direct marketing

    Having the goods — relevant, authentically useful and well-intentioned content –can make up for a lot. But hard to imagine advising a client today to create a white paper.

    With you and David on e-books. But presumably the same fate awaits that format if we fail to take lessons from what’s become of the white paper.

  • @Vince – good point we cant let the fate of the White Paper become the same for the eBook!

  • Hi folks. Great to see that Paul and our article have spawned a great discussion!

    Sorry that this comment is long, but we have some followup comments that may be useful:

    First, we agree with Jen that white papers have become stale – at least, those that don’t provide much useful information or are written poorly. But great whitepapers – highly informative and well-written – are still read. Only they are rare.

    Tracey – we agree with you as well. At the end of the day, great content trumps all. The form it is in is less important. But what we’re advocating – topic microsites for (at the least) a firm’s most important white papers – is totally rethinking the delivery mechanism for white paper content (more on this below) so that a firm can provide great content on a topic, capture an audience, and continue providing new, great content while it has that audience’s attention.

    Vince – we agree that white papers have taken on negative connotations because of poor content, forced registration, and foisting telemarketers on those readers. We can’t help but believe that today’s abundance of white papers are generating far less interest than the white papers of the past.

    All the more reason the whole white paper marketing process is ripe to be reengineered. The way we think about it is this: Remember that the purpose of a white paper is to educate an audience on an issue and, by demonstrating mastery of that issue (and how to address it), get the audience to consider the company’s offering (service and/or product).

    The advantage of a white paper is that it is a document that appears to be educational. But – assuming the content is strong – all white papers suffer two big disadvantages. First, they are ephemeral: once you send it out, the reader is onto the next thing, and so are you. It has a short life. The other problem is that it’s inflexible as a content delivery mechanism. If the audience is intrigued with the content it reads in the white paper, but not intrigued enough to be ready to hear from one of your salespeople, the white paper won’t help. You’re in a marketing standoff. They liked the white paper and want to read more, but they’re not ready to talk to a salesperson.

    But white paper marketing no longer has to be this way. The marketing world has wonderful technology – the web, social media, and email – today that enables marketers to educate an audience in a far superior way (build a stronger bond, and generate more leads). But we’ve largely kept the white paper marketing process the same. Instead of printing a document, we PDF it. Instead of putting it in the mail, we email it (or post it on a Website). Essentially, we’ve automated the process. That certainly has saved us on printing and postage costs, which can be substantial. But it hasn’t solved the problem of white papers being ephemeral and inflexible marketing vehicles.

    That’s why we advocate junking the white paper for what we call a topic microsite – a website devoted entirely to the subject of a white paper, a site that is purely educational and not promotional. Such a site allows us to build a highly flexible content delivery mechanism – a place to publish a white paper and a range of other content on the issue of that paper. If we put a blog on that site and get a number of people to subscribe to it, we can keep people coming back to the site. You wouldn’t do that with a printed or PDF white paper – keep sending it out to the same people. You can also engage the audience in the discussion of the topic with forums, which you can’t do with a white paper.

    We agree with Paul that eBooks are better than most white papers – i.e., the white papers that are placed behind walls and require you to register for them. But white papers don’t have to be gated. (We advocate NOT forcing people to register for a white paper. Let the compelling ideas of your white paper lead them to contact you rather than you to contact them with registration information in hand. A much better initial sales discussion!). Ebooks can be quicker reads than white papers – a cross between a PowerPoint and a white paper. However, both eBooks and white papers are ephemeral and inflexible documents.

    All to say it’s time to reinvent the white paper and find ways to a) create better content, b) create a variety of content, and c) keep the audience continually coming back for more content on an issue that is important to them.

  • Bob,

    Thanks for your long response. However you are ignorant about the purpose of white papers and how they have evolved.

    And your statement “all white papers suffer two big disadvantages. First, they are ephemeral: once you send it out, the reader is onto the next thing, and so are you. It has a short life.” is your failing.

    Let me set the record straight.

    If anything, a website is much more likely to be abandoned and forgotten about than a white paper.

    Quick question, how many websites did you visit today? Did you spend more than 60 seconds with any one other than Facebook?

    While I am huge advocate of blogs (like ) that produce super valuable content, you are missing the point.

    White papers are and have been one of the top forms of lead generation for the last 10 years… Why?

    1. People save them, people print them, people study them, people use them to make decisions. Yes even the ones that suck…

    2. They are viral by nature. People pass them around, post them and email them to other people. Sure you can do that with a link, but there is something powerful about a packaged and polished PDF.

    3. People are willing to act to get good white papers. That action could be a registration, picking up the phone or sending in a mail in card. It works Bob.

    If white papers (or reports) were so outdated then why do Forrester and the other analysts still produce them? Why don’t they just do webinars??

    And let us not forget about the iPad and the Kindle. People still love reading great content. The white paper may change names (i.e. ebook) or access requirements, but it will never die.

    So just accept it. If you’re smart you’ll use them to benefit your business. And if you’re REALLY smart you’ll figure out how to use them with social media.

    Here is a case example you should study:

    Mike Stelzner
    Author, Writing White Papers: How to Capture Readers and Keep Them Engaged

  • Paul — Great topic, maybe you could start a topic micro-site on this topic (sorry, couldn’t resist!).

    The discussion around the diminished impact of white papers goes back several years now. As a marketer who remembers the days before the Internet, I think two things happened to spark this downward spiral:
    1.) White papers transitioned from technical/educational pieces into marketing-generated content (complete with over-adjectived, buzz-worded copy).
    2.) The Internet created a vehicle where marketers could capture leads with white papers.

    Both of these developments helped to create lightweight marketing copy devoid of education or thought-leadership with the primary purpose of leads, not leadership.

    We’ve been developing eBooks and landing sites with additional content for several clients, which I suppose is pretty close to the micro-site definition you gave above. As others have said here, the quality of the content should be a key focus. The other focus, which the micro-site model can help spark, is dialogue. The more that businesses can engage their customers, prospects and markets in a discussion, the more that everyone benefits.

  • @Alan – good point I remember the days of 36 page technical white papers and then marketing got a hold of them and had to pair them down to 12 page more market facing documents!

    Bottom line that everyone is saying is we need to use the white paper / ebook or whatever the form to create a 2 way dialog with a customer

  • Hi Paul, I really like your idea of a topic micro-site. I do agree that a standalone white paper isn’t going to cut it anymore. And, remember, in B2B markets many of your customers want to be thought leaders too. Which means providing a platform where they can be more visible with their knowledge to the industry and their peers is very attractive. I recently worked for a small company in the legal electronic discovery industry. When we had initial calls with clients for a user group we could not believe the interest and energy they had from the get go on related topics. There is a lot of passion out in the B2B markets. Finding ways to harness and showcase that, while building closer connections to your customer, is extremely valuable.

  • It feels like many marketers want to gloss over the “educational” phase in the selling cycle. Many qualified prospects seek out education on why they need a certain product category item before they even know how to evaluate each vendor’s product.

    Traditional white papers educated the reader, the reader’s manager, and others at the prospect company. Today, we have other good educational tools, such as webinars and blogs, but there is a place for a high-quality white paper.

  • @Angela – agreed you have to give your message a fighting chance – single threading it with a white paper and keeping it locked behind a reg form just isnt going to cut it in this world of fast moving – friction free content!

  • @Cliff – Another great point – based on the sales cycle of Awareness to Consideration to Purchase – your content in whatever form need to be the “pull” in starting prospects and customers down the path of Awareness to consideration to purchase!

  • I agree that what “white papers” used to mean (to me – weighty, scientific, proof-of-concept are some words and phrases that come to my mind) has been diluted, because people are slapping articles on their web site and calling them white papers. It’s kind of like people who write one paragraph and call it a blog entry or who publish 140 characters that offer little value so they can say they use Twitter.

    But I believe there is a place for white papers, if they are written like a true white paper. My clients that have technical products to market still use white papers successfully. I follow Michael Stelzner’s process to write them and found it to be very helpful. If your audience includes engineers or technical people, white papers are still effective.

  • Chris Almond

    Paul – thank you for this great post.

    Jen – in your comment you are getting close to something big: “Engage the client not by bombarding them with stale white papers but by drawing them into the story your business is writing.

    Actually, it will be the business’s customers who write that story. The business curates the story by having a great product and by authentically engaging online with their community in conversations about that product.

  • Paul and Bob,

    I have to disagree with your assessment of eBooks as superior to white papers. White papers have served the test of time and are one of the few forms of business media that continually evolve and change to adapt to their changing audience. Countless surveys (Tech Target, Eccolo Media, Information Week) of business and technical decision makers consistently rank white papers at the top of their list among all major business communication vehicles including eBooks.

    Over the years we have heard many claims about how new emerging communication mediums were going to replace white papers. Remember with the introduction of the iPod that the chatter was about how audio podcasts were going to revolutionize business marketing. What happened? They garnered a small fraction of the business base.

    While eBooks may be attractive marketing pieces, I believe that they will not experience the same degree of longevity and the level of acceptance within the business community than white papers have provided for the past 15 years.

    As both of you know, perception is reality in this industry. One of the failings of eBooks is the perception of being a digital version of a standard book. I can pick up an eBook on Romanian Cooking just as easily as I can one for understanding Micro Blogging.

    When an enterprise business is going to distribute information about a multi-million dollar enterprise software strategy, they’re going to release a white paper, not an eBook. For this and other marketing reasons, the name “white paper” carries a lot more weight and clout than does the term “eBook”.

    Finally, we live in a era of business readers with an increasingly limited amount of time and attention. The popularity of Social Media, and the ability to scan across hundreds of Tweets or FaceBook posts that are two or three lines with a hyperlink supports this change in online reading behavior.

    A six to eight page white paper that is not only well written, but more importantly well designed with bottom line messaging techniques (such as pull quotes, concept graphics, and shaded text boxes) better supports today’s time and attention challenged reader than a 40+ paged eBook. Such an eBook reader would have to be highly motivated with the topic to spend the extensive amount to time to read such a tome in its entirety.

    Face it. White papers are here to stay. Ten years from now we’ll be arguing about how that next great marketing vehicle is going to replace white papers.

    Jonathan Kantor

    Author: Crafting White Paper 2.0: Designing Information for Today’s Time and Attention Challenged Business Reader.

  • The other more important aspect of killing the white paper in favor of blog posts and micro sites, is the lead generation potential. While White papers locked behind a registration form do generate leads, the content of the white paper is not showing up in Google Search results.

    Better to post it on your site with offers on the sidebar to examine your solutions. It works for us.

  • Paul –

    Completely disagree. Different mediums have different purposes. Saying that white papers should go away is like saying blogs should go away because there are too many of them. The reality is that white paper still rank as the first or second most powerful sales tool available to marketers. They still represent a concise and portable argument on a particular topic and can be tremendous lead generators.

    The issue at hand is that most white paper are rubbish. Most white papers have a paragraph of educational materials and 15 pages of propaganda. This presents a problem because peoples’ top turnoffs are white papers that have too much product bias. Because white papers have become so effective, many copywriters have attempted to get into the white paper writing business. It takes different DNA to write a white paper.

    When I am selling to a senior executive, I don’t send him an email that says “Read these 142 blog posts….and make sure you read them in order, because I keep my arguments to 300-500 words.” I send he or she a white paper that introduces a new concept that is educational, shows empathy for their situation and presents a solution that logically makes sense. I think follow that with other white papers for different people in his or her organization at different points in the sales cycle – each addressing their concerns.

    White papers can be incredibly powerful tools. I presented a case study at Mike Stelzner’s White Paper Success Summit how a single white paper generated an enormous amount of marketing reach:

    – 2 speaking opportunities
    – 2 byline articles
    – 3x increase in leads
    – 2x increase in lead quality
    – a bunch of inbound links
    – a few interviews with analysts

    @Stelzner, @Jonathan – Amen.

    BTW – if anyone is interested in learning how we got those results, you can download the white paper at:

  • With 19 comments, I’m likely parroting people or shooting holes in them…so I’ll start by saying, I love this subject matter and agree — to a point. I stop at the point of pronouncing or questioning the death of something…for fear of a phoenix-like rebirth (see also “Rock n’ Roll” “iPhone Killer”, etc.), but do see the light on how busy eyes need to be engaged (dare I say ‘entertained’)or given incentives to learn while they are gaining knowledge about a potential purchase.

    Is it eBooks? Sure. Is it ROI case builders that are automated and portable to help key influencers sell value up the food chain at a company? You bet. Could they be videos or messages (via e-mail, text messages would be cool, etc.) from people that prospects respect to help sales forces ‘tip the cow?’ as a former colleague of mine used to say?
    Absolutely. One thing I would offer up for consideration is that it’s not necessarily the medium that’s flawed or on life-support. It’s just that it has to be relevant and it needs to actually be delivered in a a way that your target consumes information. For me it’s always been a dogged, vigilant gut-check on who my audience is…what they value….how they consume information (Yes…whitepapers can still serve a valuable purpose), and what moves them from tire-kicker to lead to customer.

    LOVE the post and the threads. Keep it coming!

  • It seems really a good white paper marketing dead, people are believe in social media marketing than white paper.

  • […] Is The White Paper Dead for B2B Marketing? | Buzz Marketing for Technology: In a recent conversation I was having with the Bloom Group they believe “the practice of publishing white papers must come to a close because of the utter proliferation of white papers, and the poor content contained within so many of them.” “Kill the white paper!” they are increasingly telling their clients. […]

  • Great, relevant content will always serve a purpose, whether it’s positioned as a white paper, one sheet, brochure, blog post, tweet, e-book, webinar, etc. There is such a dearth of useful, validated info. out there, that the good stuff actually stands out more today, because it will be promoted by folks you can depend on for relevant materials.

    If “poor content” killed the vehicle – all forms of media would be dead by now.

  • kenny madden

    The whitepaper isn’t dead, Forcing prospects to give their contact info is dead.

  • Seems to me that the message here isn’t so much that the white paper is dead (whatever that would mean), but that people need to think about content as broadly and as diversely as possible. It’s not either a white paper OR a microsite but a white paper AND a microsite AND a podcast AND an ebook AND a deckon slideshare, etc.

    Another thing I noticed in this discussion: the folks advocating most vocally for the white paper are folks who’ve built businesses around white paper production. I understand that you write for marketers, Paul, but it would be interesting to hear actual B2B buyers weigh in on this topic.

  • Like Mark, I may not say anything that hasn’t already been said. However, that never stopped me before…

    I think the real issue is not that the white paper per se will disappear. After all, business books and conferences are at least as numerous as they were before the internet.

    The real point for me is that the white paper and the eBook for instance, are both digital analogs of their physical equivalents – obvious next steps from paper that don’t take advantage of e.g. web 2.0. If you have good content then there are better ways of engaging an audience with it than making a pdf.

    Doesn’t mean to say that white papers and eBooks won’t persist, or that there isn’t a place for them as part of a wider strategy, but I would increasingly want to be putting good content on a site where I can add interactive graphics, polls, solicit comments, evolve the ideas, and so on.

    I suspect (but can’t prove) that the desire to download and own stuff will pass with time. As people get more comfortable with more and more content residing in the cloud, they will forget about storing it on their hard drives.

  • Alwin Zachariah

    Paul, I have to respectfully disagree with you on “Killing the White Paper”. Tracey mentions a very good point “”I’m a little less likely to download something, and a lot less likely to fill out a form to get what I want. However, if the content is compelling, I will.””
    I am not going to add more pixels restating what has already been stated supporting my point-of-view above. As B2B marketer we need to understand the perspective of our target audience – How is this Whitepaper going to help me do my job better? – OR – What is the benefit to me in downloading this whitepaper?
    Further I tend to believe that there is not much testing done with Whitepaper title and abstract copy. The Title and abstract of a white paper is usually what prospects see first. Titles and abstracts that don’t capture the value of the whitepaper will only ruin the performance of an informative and content rich whitepaper. Before we write-off the “White Paper” have we done due diligence in testing various title copy, abstract copy and combinations thereof?
    BTW – there are now video whitepapers, which can be rich in content and engaging.

  • Hi Paul:

    Wow…lots of discussion on this topic–and some very valid points brought up. I guess I’m an old geezer, having started in direct response copy (print and web)years ago. I moved into white papers as Mike Stelzner’s apprentice, then social media most recently, so I think I can see the bigger picture.

    People still need to absorb content in order to make buying decisions, although the method of absorbing that content is changing rapidly. No argument there. However, studying white papers under Michael and working closely with him on projects–and also making friends with others in the industry–I can see their points about white papers not losing their relevance any time soon.

    One of the problems we repeatedly come across is that the term “white paper” has become muddied. A true white paper is a blend of educational content and persuasive argument. It’s long enough to explore the problems faced by the target reader, and includes 3rd party evidence to support arguments–but well-written ones aren’t all that long, and include an underlying persuasion that leads the reader in the direction of the company’s solution. Otherwise, why offer them?

    Unfortunately, many companies “steal” the term white paper and slap it on 1-2 page product briefs or glorified brochures that are nothing more than lists of features and benefits. Or they write long, boring, put-you-to-sleep tomes written from an inside perspective rather than from the ideal reader’s viewpoint. So they MISS the point.

    There is lots of evidence out there that proves the power of well-crafted white papers. Michael noted the most prominent reasons why they’re so popular, and why they work. That kind of success doesn’t just go away because some people prefer not to read them, or want the content delivered in a different fashion.

    Marketing is marketing–and the principles that drive people to make buying decisions haven’t changed. White papers have been a part of marketing for a long time because they adhere to those principles. That doesn’t mean they won’t change…they already have. Smart marketers are going with the flow and testing–always testing. Today’s social environment gives us various forms of delivery, sharing mechanisms, registration options, embedding tools, faster ROI measurement–you name it.

    New technology isn’t going to wipe out white papers. Far from it. I think savvy marketers recognize the power of a good white paper format, and will use new technology to make them even MORE effective.

  • Paul,

    Thanks for writing about this topic. I like the idea of breaking down white paper content into blogs or micro-blogs.

    This way they are more digestable, more interactive, and easier to update as times and opinions change.

  • Mary Ann Markowicz

    This Kill the White Paper comment from Bud Buday is interesting, seeing as they have this information posted on their home page…

    “Consulting magazine, one of the most authoritative publications covering the consulting industry, published its third Bloom Group article since 2006. “Creating Killer White Papers,” published in Consulting’s March/April 2010 print and online editions (read it here), discussed how consulting firms can markedly improve their articles and make them better lead-generators.”

  • Interesting discussion and I’m with Tracey on content over format. There will be sectors and subjects that are inherently suited to a range of vehicles. To go down just one path won’t suit all.

    And why ditch the white paper if it appropriate to the subject matter? Just because there was a lot of trashy books written doesn’t mean books are dead. Ditto white papers, although I will admit that they have lost much of the prestige they once carried.

    I’m also with Jen re interesting the audience with interesting stories. That’s where the PR guys come in. They can do so much more than just write case studies: the best of them have a career lifetime of generating and pitching ideas to the biggest content gate-keepers of them all: editors of major media outlets. They have 100s of ways to interest the audience – just don’t force them to spoil it all with loaded marketingspeak!

  • This feels like one of those topics where the real issue has little to do with the one being argued. I think we’d all agree that a great white paper is a marketing asset. But there are lots of mediocre ones out there.

    For me, there’s a best format for every topic and treatment. Sometimes it’s a paper, sometimes an eBook, sometimes a microsite. We do all of the above for our clients.

    But we have been leaning away from papers lately as they tend to signal “long-winded”.
    Increasingly, in our B2B work, the answer is video.

  • […] “Is the white paper dead for b2b marketing?” […]

  • Hi Paul,

    This is definitely a well-debated topic! It all comes down to a growing digital world; however, one cannot ignore the fact that traditional white paper is a crucial tool for B2B marketing. Technology will not eliminate papers entirely. For some industries, traditional media, writing, and filing will continue to prevail.

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  • Great discussion, but none of you get to decide whether white papers are dead or not. Your customers (and their customers) do. And there’s plenty of data showing that white papers are still valued. I didn’t see any reference to salespeople in these posts, but I’ve worked with several who use white papers effectively in their lead nurturing activities. We have to remember that all of these media (white papers, e-books, micro-sites) have a time and place in the sales cycle, and that we need to know how and when to use best them.

  • Great discussion and kudos to Paul for raising such a valuable topic. As Jim pointed out our customers will vote with their mouses in terms of downloading or ignoring a white paper. Studies by Sirius Decisions for one have always shown the importance of white papers early in the buying decision process.

    In my experience, what’s important is having different types of content to fit buyers’ needs as they move through the buying process. It’s also not an either/or situation. While some prospects might prefer a white paper, others will benefit from a video or ebook — and some may gobble up everything. Like any type of marketing, we need to start where the customer is — not where we’d like him/her to be.

  • @Mary Ann Markowicz

    Mary Ann, sorry for the delay in reply, but this post deserves one.

    This is a semantic issue. The Consulting Magazine post is about how to produce better content for a white paper (or article). It was based on the first of a three part series we produced. The second was about how to better market them. By the time we got to the third (several months and a lot of research and analysis later) we concluded that although everything about good content stands, there is a big opportunity to publish in a better format than a standard paper or pdf white paper.

    This led us to start recommending people to replace the white paper with a microsite.

    So although these are apparently contradictory, they really aren’t, so long as you read the first as “How to Create Killer Content.” Just our thinking advanced in the meantime.

    FYI, although this is a work-in-progress, there is a slide deck here that lays out a lot more about microsites. My personal favorite page is a list of things you can do on a web page that you can;t do in a white paper (hard copy or pfd.) E.g.

    Enlargeable, animated and interactive graphics
    Hyperlinks to later articles, as well as to earlier ones
    Exposure for elements of the POV before it’s baked
    Readers’ comments
    Responses to readers’ comments
    Expanded and detailed charts and tables
    Video and podcast excerpts and supplements
    A point of view which evolves, improves and expands over time
    Live feeds of blogs and articles on the topic from other sites
    A reader poll with instant results
    A reader survey

  • From the perspective of a B2B lead generation vendor, one that is offer-agnostic and regularly markets a wide variety of client collateral, white papers continue to be the most popular collateral type provided by our clients. The reasons have already been stated by many of your blog respondents – versatility, concise, controlled messaging, convenience in posting and sharing, etc.

    White papers and content marketing are evolving, and white papers are increasingly paired with complementary media. And well-written white papers clearly rise to the top (but there are great examples and mediocre examples of all collateral types). But emedia executes hundreds of B2B campaigns monthly, and if this serves as a representative sample, then at this point we empirically declare that white papers are still both popular and successful.

  • All valuable comments, but I see a market need for a solution that would make sense out of comment “streams” like this one. Of course, context is never easy…but alot of the comments in this stream could have been helped with context kept in mind. Too bad Tim didn’t chirp in earlier……

  • “Topic Micro-sites?” Sounds like a blog to me.

    I still enjoy reading white papers but rarely find one worthy of registration. Eventually it will be public.


  • Paul, don’t think the white paper is dead…heck a few of the comments above almost qualify in terms of length 😉

    The White Paper, just like advertising isn’t dead — what’s dead is crappy versions of both.


  • The “white paper” – actual usable technical content, given away for free – to be distinguished from advertising copy – is indeed dead. If it has value, you should be *selling* it, not giving it away – period.

  • Having been an industry analyst for almost 15 years, I wholeheartedly agree that the whitepaper has turned into brochure-ware. In fact, most are thinly veiled pay for play.
    While I agree that a micro-site is intriguing, they are still biased if they come from the vendor, because they obviously want to promote their wares…how could it not be biased, no matter how hard they try to make it credible?
    I think there’s however an alternative type of micro-site that can empower the user through social networking tools.
    Please forgive the shameless plug, but this topic is precisely why I left the analyst community some 6 months ago to create a hub dedicated to educating people around enterprise mobility:


  • @Philippe

    I think that’s a great site you have put together, and a good example of what a topic microsite can be. I also think it can be done by a vendor.

    If we look at white papers in the IT arena, for instance, more that 90% are shamelessly promotional. But something approaching 10% (according to an analysis we did last year) are unbiased and useful. If you look at the most downloaded at white paper syndication sites, they fall overwhelmingly into the latter category.

    In other words, vendors can publish informative, unbiased material, just that most choose not to most of the time. Even though that’s what customers want.

    The same applies to microsites. There are lots of biased ones, but also a few good ones. McKinsey’s site at, or this at BCG,, are informative without being promotional.

    I am increasingly convinced that online is a much more powerful medium for engaging an audience than a distributed white paper. But in any case, I think the issue of whether a vendor can publish useful, unbiased information is independent of the medium. And I think some – maybe a minority – can.

  • I think this just depends on the type of business you’re in and the types of companies you are trying to go after.
    In an industry such as mine – Microwave/RF – I think that White Papers are necessary for us, considering the field and the target demographic.

  • […] talked at great length on this blog about the subject of eBooks vs. white papers. In fact a recent blog post discussed this very subject at great length and has garnered a significant number of reTweets on […]

  • […] Dunay of Avaya recently wrote a provocative post that fired up lots of folks. In Is The White Paper Dead for B2B Marketing?, Paul summed up a conversation he had with the Bloom Group, which is telling its clients to stop […]

  • Great debate and wonderful to read all the responses. Critically one has to first consider one’s audience. If there is still traction with them for information in a white paper format why would you trash it?

    Let’s get some perspective here, after all a white paper is merely one tactic in a array of tactics to get your thought leadership content to market. Things may have moved regarding how we can now deliver content to market but I wouldn’t be so quick to discount a good white paper because flashier more advanced ways of sharing information have come to the fore.

    Research, ask your audience. Only then will you know whether you’re ready to trash your White Paper and substitute it with something else.

  • I don’t think the white paper is dead in B2B at all. In my experience decision makers need proper information they can rely on and base their decisions on. And there is always some assistant whose job it is to get this information – in print! So a PDF is quite a good offer to them … compared to a blog …
    I also think people don’t want to be involved all the time. Sometimes they just want a solution. And they want to be sure they’ve made the right choice.
    I speak about the field of IT Security PKI, E-Mail encryption, …
    at least technical white papers are not dead at all.
    And I don’t wish for them to die because I’m one of the people who writes them.

  • I guess it depends on the purpose of your whitepapers. As lead generation tools and for attracting traffic, I tend to agree that white papers are not as effective as they once were. But for value add to existing clients, they still offer a keen way to stay in touch with relevant information.

    Upselling opportunities and developing industry though leadership will still be potential avenues for new revenue.

    As for topic microsites, yes. A great way to develop niche expertise and profile.

  • […] Is The White Paper Dead for B2B Marketing?- Buzz Marketing for Technology, May 26, 2010 In a recent conversation I was having with the Bloom Group they believe “the practice of publishing white papers must come to a close because of the utter proliferation of white papers, and the poor content contained within so many of them.” Kill the white paper!” they are increasingly telling their clients. And I tend to agree. Tweet This! […]

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