The Demise of the White Paper is Greatly Exaggerated

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If you can say anything about marketers, it’s that we love obituaries. Yes, we love to declare things dead.

Inbound Marketing? Dead.
The MQL? Dead.
Lead Funnels? Dead.

white paper marketingOutside the rarified air of marketing punditry, however – i.e. in the land of marketing practitioners – all three of these concepts are still alive and well. Why all the premature death notices? A simple explanation is that marketers love the new and different and bright and shiny, and nothing generates views and shares more than telling marketers that everything they’re doing is old-fashioned and outdated and well, deceased.

Aaron Dun wrote a great article last month for CMSWire in which he detailed strategies that he believes B2B Marketers need to adopt to stay current in “a highly digital, connected world.” Amongst those strategies, according to Dun:



1. Better Persona Mapping
2. Targeting and Personalization

No argument there. B2B marketers have long understood that identifying prospects by role, company type and selling stage, and then targeting content and campaigns to those same segments, is a sure recipe for success. What’s changed? Mainly that technologies – ABM being a prime example – now make it possible to implement that personalized approach with a sophistication, and at a scale, that wasn’t previously possible.

Where Dun’s views and mine part company, however, is with his third point:

3. Expand Beyond the White Paper

According to Dun, “the era of the lead-gated PDF as a driver of scale leads is coming to an end … an increasing number of marketers are turning to interactive content to create more dynamic experiences with buyers.”

Look, I’m all for creating a mix of content – ebooks, video, Webcasts, infographics, ebooks, case studies, etc. – the better to attract a wider spectrum of prospects with different preferences for how they like to consume information. But is the white paper dead? Sorry, I don’t buy it. And neither would all the B2B companies who generate thousands of quality leads every year through content syndication and other white paper marketing channels.

I understand that the PDF white paper seems quaint and old-fashioned, and because we marketers live on the bleeding edge of all that is bright and shiny, we might have trouble accepting that prospects would rather download a 5 page ebook vs. say, watch a 5-minute interactive video.



Just remember that there’s one principle that trumps everything we think prospects SHOULD want simply because it’s more dynamic and interactive. That principle is convenience. Yes, prospects want information that is targeted and personalized and relevant. But they also want information that is easy to access, easy to consume, and easy to share. And a PDF document, no matter how old-fashioned, is about as convenient as it gets.

Now I will grant Dun this point … the old-school, 8-1/2 x 11, text-heavy, academic-style white paper is indeed on its last legs. Most white papers (ebooks, really) are now much more likely to be colorful, image-centric, visually engaging and mobile-friendly. But I would argue that’s not because prospects necessarily demand more engaging, interactive content. It’s because a less text-heavy, ebook-style white paper is easier to read.

As a marketer, should you look for ways to make your white paper more engaging? Absolutely. But don’t let the siren call of all that is new and shiny cause you to abandon white papers altogether. Contrary to rumor, white papers still have some life left in them.

For a closer look at creative ways to make demand generation content more engaging, check out our slideshare (no registration required): “10 Great Examples of Demand Generation Content

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