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Whitepaper or eBook: Which Is Best for Your Business?

Hot on the heels of the infographic explosion comes the eBook -- the latest incarnation of marketing content delivery. While our industry has a long history of using whitepapers for lead generation, the eBook is gaining traction with partner marketers. So, what's the difference and does it matter?

As with most things marketing, whether it matters lies in the perception of the target audience. Whitepapers have long been regarded as in-depth explorations of subjects written by experts. A decade ago, Microsoft would release 64-page technical whitepapers written for IT managers who were assigned the acronym TDM, which stood for technical decision maker. As non-technical line-of-business managers became more involved in technology decisions, whitepapers got less technical, targeting BDMs, or business decision makers.

Deciding whether to call your document a whitepaper or an eBook should be based on your clearly defined target. Don't try to write a piece that will appeal to both TDMs and BDMs -- the two groups have different goals driving their decisions.

If TDMs remain your primary target, they still need to understand the technology at a deeper level. The classic whitepaper written by an expert still plays an important role in the industry.

The BDM obviously has a different perspective. Start talking about ASP.NET Web APIs or Hyper-V Replication and a non-techie will instantly hit delete. The BDM who downloads a technology-focused whitepaper is probably trying to solve a business-process problem that the IT team isn't helping him fix. Or he's trying to understand what IT is telling him.

White papers written for BDMs historically have taken a standard approach, following a progression such as:

  • Define the market drivers.
  • Describe the challenges to fulfilling the market drivers.
  • Define the ideal solution.
  • Explain why your product fits the bill.

The intent is to provide the BDM with evidence that the solution is proven to be effective. Of course, whitepapers are often no more than an extended brochure, but the goal is to provide the BDM reader with "objective" data points.

The eBook has added a new dimension to the mix through design. BDMs, like everyone else, want their information in bite-size chunks with lots of subheads and call-outs. The title eBook promises eye candy -- something easy to consume.

There are a couple of important differences in the layout and design of whitepapers versus eBooks. Most whitepapers are portrait-oriented Word documents saved as PDF-formatted files. They usually contain hyperlinks, but that's the limit of their interactivity.

EBooks, on the other hand, tap into the latest functionality of interactive and multi-device publishing capabilities. Adobe InDesign, a common application used to create eBooks, allows publishers to embed pop-up windows, creative page navigation, slideshows and videos. EBooks come in every size, but most often opt for the landscape orientation for easier reading on a desktop or tablet screen and they're often offered in both PDF and EPUB formats.

While all these bells and whistles make an eBook sound appealing, there's no reason whitepapers can't be oriented horizontally or include interactive elements.

Another difference, driven only by common practice, is that most whitepapers require the prospective reader to fill out a form in order to download and gain access to the whitepaper itself. That "lead" will likely get a phone call from the partner to move the prospect along. Trying to capitalize on the social element and a higher volume of downloads, eBooks usually don't require a form. There's a lot of disagreement on whether to gate (require a form to download) any marketing materials. There's no argument that an un-gated offer will get far more downloads than a gated one.

The difference between whitepapers and eBooks definitely isn't clear-cut, but it's also not worth arguing over. As with most things marketing, there's lots of room for creativity. Electronic publishing tools make it easy to create engaging and informative marketing documents -- no matter what you call them -- that will win you customers.

Posted by Barb Levisay on October 01, 2013 at 12:06 PM