The Innovative Marketer's Blog

4 Alternatives to White Papers

Posted by Matthew Cook


In my last article, I wrote about why the white paper is a less-than-ideal content format for most B2B content marketing campaigns. I pointed out three reasons why I think white papers are ineffective: They’re too long, they take on too much, and they’re no fun.

Still, we can’t do content marketing without content. If we are to give up on white papers, what should take their place?

To a certain extent, this question is impossible to answer accurately without knowing the habits and preferences of the members of your business’s target market. You should begin any content strategy by taking stock of who will be consuming your content, the kind of content they’re used to consuming, and the kind of content they’d like to consume. It will vary by industry, but I do think there are some general preferences that almost all humans—and certainly B2B buyers—share:

  • Efficient content that doesn’t waste their time.
  • Content that provides specific solutions to specific problems.
  • Content that is pleasant to consume.

Here are a few content formats that, I think, fit those preferences better than white papers:

1. Just More Blogging

Most content marketing projects include a mix of shorter blog articles and longer downloadable content pieces like white papers. Of the two, I think blog articles are much more effective—especially if you’re after immediate results. Blog articles (when done right, anyway) are everything white papers are not: bite-sized, laser focused, and conversational. If you’re not getting the results you want from white papers, you could do worse than putting all of that energy and money into blogging.

2. Blog Articles as Conversion Opportunities

After my last article, more than one of my colleagues pointed out that, while they agree white papers aren’t great, marketers still need something to function as a “conversion opportunity,” in other words, an attractive offer that can be put behind a form, converting website visitors into trackable leads. If your content is entirely blog articles, are conversion opportunities still possible?

I think so. One simple conversion opportunity would be a subscription to your blog. Especially if you write with a strong voice and offer unique insights, a sizable portion of your readers might be interested in what you have to say on an ongoing basis.

If you absolutely must offer something downloadable, you can always repackage one of your better blog posts or a group of posts as an attractively designed pdf. Another approach I’ve seen is packaging your blog articles together in a “knowledge base” or “university” and providing access (or “enrollment”) in exchange for contact information.

3. One-Pagers

one-pagerThe simplest definition of a one-pager is anything that can fit on one standard 8 1/2” x 11” page—and I don’t mean squeezing in three columns of tiny print. The beauty of a one-pager is that it’s easily shareable and easily digestible:

  • Shareable in the sense that you can pass it up to your CEO with the reasonable expectation that he or she will actually read it.
  • Digestible in the sense that you can absorb the information it contains at a glance.

One-pagers are perfect for content that readers refer to often—the kind of thing you print out and tack up to the wall of your cubicle: side-by-side feature comparisons, definitions of useful terms, step-by-step processes.

The challenge with one-pagers isn’t so much the writing as the conception. It does take a bit of creativity to come up with an approach, format, and tone that will resonate with your readers. It’s well worth making the effort, however; remember that the main problem with white papers is that marketers treat them as “one-format-fits-all” pieces of content when we know for a fact that one format never fits all.

4. Non-Written Content: Videos and More

I’ve said it before; I wish we lived in a world where everyone read. Unfortunately, we don’t. If a 500-word blog article is about the most you can expect out of your buyers’ limited attention spans, it might be time to consider offering non-written content.

Videos are the first option that people think of when they think about non-written content. Certainly, some people prefer to watch and listen rather than read. But videos can also be more difficult to create than written content, requiring skills in video production and editing that not every business has access to.

I am not an expert in video production, but my advice would be to apply some of the same principles you would apply to written content. Keep it short and focus each video on providing a specific solution to a specific problem. And I would add, don’t worry too much about going viral. It’s nearly impossible to predict when a video is going to go viral, but whatever the secret formula is, most B2Bs don’t have it.

Besides video, other non-written forms of content include webinars, podcasts, and in-person events. Again, before deciding which content format is worth your investment, find out what your buyers truly want. The best way to do that is to ask them.

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Topics: Blogging, Content Marketing