Do White Papers and Reports Still Matter In Content Marketing?

It’s no secret that the world of content marketing is in the throes of transformation. In a sound byte culture, people don’t just want information – they want short, relevant highlights as quickly as possible.

Attention spans have shortened, going from 12 seconds a decade ago to 8 seconds today. The rise of platforms for short form content reflects this trend.

“It’s no coincidence that the fastest growing social media channels are those that deliver the bite-sized content that active people crave. For businesses, we’re talking about Instagram, Pinterest, and Vine,” says Jeff Korhan, onYahoo’s small business blog.

With so much content moving in precisely this direction, it can be natural to assume that something as lengthy and detailed as a white paper or a report just doesn’t matter anymore. How many people want to sit down and read a thousand word document when they can get answers distilled in a slide, infographic or tweet?

The answer, as it turns out, is “a lot of people.”

White Papers and Reports Are Still Around – and Thriving

According to the recent Eccolo Media B2B Technology Content Survey Report, over half of all respondents said that they read just as many white papers as they do e-mails on a regular basis. Think about that for a second: how long can it possibly take to read an e-mail? 30 seconds? A minute? Reading a white paper would reasonably be more time consuming, yet decision makers are pursuing them deliberately.

The same survey also revealed that six months before a B2B purchases, 52% of those surveyed consumed white papers, as opposed to other media including webinars (34%), blog articles (30%), ebooks (24%), infographics (25%) and more. So what does this tell us?

Rather than becoming irrelevant, white papers and reports still matter in the world of content marketing, and good ones are as important as ever.

They play a strong role in the buying process as much as six months before a purchasing decision for good reason. B2B buyers don’t just want to make any purchase, they want to make the RIGHT purchase. During the early phases of decision-making, they’re looking for information, data, and points of comparison. More importantly, they are looking for solutions, people who understand the business context they face, and answers to their concerns. They’re looking for authority.

A well-written white paper can help establish authority in the reader’s view by laying out how the solution works to the user’s benefit, in a way that makes sense to the decision-maker. White papers written to foster understanding (rather than sell) can position your company as the authority on a particular topic in a way that is friendly, accessible, and also meaningful. This format allows you to go deeper detail, answering common questions and concerns and describing specifically how the benefits have played out for others. This is something that you cannot accomplish in a 200-word blog post or in 140 characters on Twitter.

Success Factors for Influential White Papers

With all this in mind, one of the keys to remember is that the format itself is less important than the quality of the content. Publishing a white paper just to have a white paper is not likely to produce the desired results. You need to publish a GREAT white paper, that is the type of content that people actually want to read and share.

According to the Content Marketing Institute, a white papers that resonate with readers more often:

  • Are written to inform and educate, not try to sell
  • Present new insights and ideas that support innovative thinking
  • Provide a clear point of view on concerns that are highly relevant to the reader, at the appropriate time
  • Offer data and research that is credible and statistically sound

White papers, far from being outmoded, continue to play an essential role in content marketing for solution providers, and in the decision making process for executives. For decision-makers, a relevant, helpful guide is not only worth seeking, it’s worth sharing in the thriving arena of peer influence.

They key is to include real-world insights that clearly communicate value to your audience.

Click here to learn more about how IDG can help you create high-impact content. 



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