Which is Better for Solution Marketing? eBooks or White Papers?

January 17, 2010 by · 17 Comments
Filed under: Industry Insights, Misc. Rantings 

Many say that “perception is reality”, a term that applies to just about everything in life, especially in today’s rapidly changing business environment.

The term “eBook” has been generating a lot of buzz within business marketing circles, and many believe this new information format has the potential to replace white papers as the next influential business communications medium. Depending on the source, the term “eBook” carries its own perception which provides us with greater insight into the viability of the medium for solution marketing.

If you ask business marketers that favor eBooks, you get several perceptions that are skewed heavily towards its business efficacy. One person is Jonathan Kranz in his book, “The ebook on ebooks” (44 pages):

“A successful ebook is more collegial, reader-friendly and visually interesting than the traditional white paper. Rather than communicating what you need to sell, it connects with customers by sharing what they want to hear: information, insights and answers they genuinely value.”

Another frequently quoted pundit on the subject of eBooks is David Meerman Scott, who states in his book, “The New Rules of Viral Marketing” (34 pages):

“Ebooks have become the stylish younger sister to the nerdy white paper.” Ebooks have a great deal of importance to readers. People can instantly see the value of a product that looks like for-purchase content but can actually be downloaded for free. In my opinion, ebooks should be material people want to read, compared to the dense and usually boring white paper, which our buyers feel they should read but often don’t.”

By comparing eBooks to white papers, both Kranz and Scott are indicating that the two formats are interchangeable, and eBooks can easily substitute for white papers for business and solution-oriented marketing.

Unfortunately,when one compares how the business marketplace perceives the term ‘eBook’ you get a completely different perspective more aligned with that of a conventional, printed fiction/non fiction book:

PC Magazine: “the electronic counterpart of a printed book”

Wikipedia.org: “e-text that forms the digital media equivalent of a conventional printed book.”

DSM Publishing UK: “an electronic book that is provided to you online.”

Dictionary.com: “books or magazines that are in digital form. A book in digital form”

Of course that’s not to say a book can’t serve as a guide or be a source of valuable business information. There are many business-related books over the years that have become legendary classics, such as “Swimming with Sharks” by Harvey Mackay or “Guerilla Marketing” by Jay Conrad Levinson. But we read this information mostly for personal educational, strategic guidance, and long term development. Rarely are large tomes of information such as these used to make short term, tactical, or solution-specific decisions. After all, how many IT executives would turn to a 200 page book on Oracle ERP applications as their primary source for evaluating a multi-million dollar supply chain management acquisition?

Compare this perception to the term “white paper” in the commercial marketplace. When we consult online information sources for the term “white paper”, we get a completely different but consistent perception of the medium:

Dictionary.com:an authoritative report issued by any organization

Wikipedia.org:an authoritative report or guide that often addresses issues and how to solve them. White papers are used to educate readers and help people make decisions.”

BusinessDictionary.com: “A marketing tool in the form of information on the technology underlying a complex product of system and on how it will benefit the customer.”

These definitions reflect how the white paper medium is perceived in the general business marketplace. The frequentely used terms “report”, “tool”, “guide” are more in line with the type of solution-oriented information that an executive would consult as part of a business acquisition or decision.

Coupled with this is their size. If eBooks approach conventional books they will require a much greater amount of time and attention to read, something that is in short supply with today’s business executive decision maker. No wonder why most well-written white papers fall into the 6-10 page range. That is about the maximum amount of time that a busy executive can devote to solution education given today’s busy workloads.

As long as eBooks are perceived on the same level as conventional books (both fiction and non-fiction), its ability to be used on the same level as white papers for day-to-day  business decision making remains somewhat uncertain. Since white papers have always been considered a credible, fact-based source of information, it will carry a much greater weight with business executives as a source for critical business decision-making for a long time.

When you want to learn how to be a better business marketer, pick up an eBook. When you want information to evaluate a strategic business solution that will provide a unique competitive advantage, pick up a white paper.

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    17 Responses to “Which is Better for Solution Marketing? eBooks or White Papers?”
    1. Mark McClure says:

      In some respects white papers seem to have an ‘aloofness’ around them that reminds me of how LinkedIn used to be when compared with that upstart, FaceBook.

      I’ll stick my neck out and make a prediction…

      Ebooks in the business/corp world will really take off when flexible e-paper starts to get serious attention from all those crackberry addicts ;-)

    2. SEO Services says:

      Nice post, now a days people are giving more preference to article marketing than affiliate marketing.

    3. Hi Mark,

      Thanks for your comment.

      Unfortunately, as the number of “crackberry” addicts increases, the amount of time and attention they can devote to reading large tomes such as ebooks will decrease.

      Think about it. After reading a page full of short emails, Tweets, or text messages, how willing do you think they will be to read a 44 page ebook? Maybe they’ll get through the first two pages, but after that they will go onto their other 100 unread messages.

      Jonathan

    4. Well, obviously if your brand is built on being the “White Paper Pundit,” you’re going to have a vested interest in preserving the meaning — and business value — of the white paper. ;-)

      As far as I’m concerned, I don’t give two Tweets in a windstorm whether you call the finished product an “ebook” or a “white paper.” As long as it connects with customers and pulls in results, it’s good.

      Regarding length: This is an old and tired argument, but here’s the heart of the matter. If what you’re writing isn’t relevant to readers, it’ll never be short enough. But if it’s truly relevant to their interests, then yes, they will read 44-page and longer ebooks. More importantly, they will generate business results. The real issue is being sure your delivering the right content to the right people.

    5. Jonathan,

      You are correct! I’m as biased towards white papers as you are, who have written a book on eBooks, towards that medium ;).

      The issue at hand is which will be more effective for solution-oriented marketing given the challenges of today’s complex workplace. For me and countless numbers of surveys over the past several years, the answer is quite clear…white papers. There is a place for eBooks, but they don’t share the same space as white papers.

      Thanks for chiming in,

      Jonathan

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    12. Quora says:

      What’s the future for White Papers? What vehicles are replacing White Papers for thought leadership content?…

      Hi David, You are partially correct in the “avoiding risk” area. That has always been a factor for as long as I have been in enterprise marketing. (Remember the “no one got fired for buying IBM” term?) But I think there are several other issues tha…



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