Are White Papers Dead?

Are White Papers Dead?Content managers need to create a buffet of must-read pieces. They want to offer a smorgasbord of content that an audience can sample, savor and come back to for more. But on a buffet of blog posts, videos, and infographics, do white papers still warrant a place at the table?

To hash out this white paper debate, we asked two content managers – with opposing views – to weigh in. Michael Montgomery, who owns a fundraising and economic development consulting agency, says it’s time to take white papers off the buffet. Soren Ryherd, president of marketing firm Working Planet, on the other hand, says white papers are an essential part of a reader’s diet. Check out their arguments below.

The white paper is dead

A white paper is meant to be an in-depth report that dissects a certain issue and helps its readers walk away armed with enough information to make an intelligent decision. To Montgomery, that’s not the definition of the white papers that are created today.

“The white paper is ailing as a marketing tool because so many are nothing more than shameless attempts to promote specific products or services,” he says.

Because white papers have become associated with this bad rep, Montgomery stays away from this kind of content when he markets his fundraising services to nonprofits and organizations.

Instead, he publishes the results of a survey. He reaches out to major nonprofit leaders and asks them what kind of fundraising efforts are working, what trends are shifting and asks for a forecast of the current economic climate based on their experiences. Like a white paper, it does offer in-depth and valuable insight, but in Montgomery’s opinion, it’s more informative and fact-based than “the thinly disguised sales pitches that are dressed up like white papers today.”

The white paper lives on

Of course, not everyone agrees with Montgomery. Ryherd, for instance, believes white papers are valuable, especially for those in the business-to-business world.

“White papers work and can provide a path to increased conversion as well as profitable customer generation, when used correctly,” he says.

Many of Ryherd’s clients are business-to-business software firms that provide industry-specific solutions, so offering a well-written white paper that explains how a particular piece of software works, or tips to find the right software to work with a certain business model is one of the best ways for his clients to generate new leads.

One of the most common ways to use a white paper as a lead generation tool is to gate the information in some way.

“Our clients offer access to the white paper after the user provides a small amount of information, typically name, company and email address,” he explains. “The company providing the white paper can then add this person to their nurturing marketing programs, keeping them up to date on product and industry news.”

White Paper Ad

The Fisher Tank Company white paper ad.

Here’s an example. The Fisher Tank Company, which sells and installs specialized aboveground steel tanks, encourages readers to download a white paper that offers tips to find the right tank.

White Paper Sign Up Page

Second-step information form to access the Fisher Tank Company white paper.

When a customer clicks on the message, which is on their homepage, a screen pops up prompting the reader to enter information before the download takes place.

According to the Content Marketing Institute, many companies utilize white papers just like this. In fact, 66% of business-to-business marketers create this kind of content as part of their overall marketing strategy.

As is the case with many marketing topics, the efficiency of white papers will likely be an ongoing debate. As you search for more data on this topic online, you’ll find a wealth of statistics and articles on both sides of the fence. The Marketing Zen Group, for example, calls white papers the most effective content marketing tool, while Marketing Craftsmanship says white papers have become a way for “marketers to put lipstick on a pig.”

So, what’s your opinion? Is it time to boot white papers from the content menu or do we just need to improve the recipe? Share your comments with us in the box provided below.


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About Lisa Furgison

Lisa Furgison is a freelance journalist and co-owner of a media company, McEwen's Media. Find her on Twitter @lfurgison.