Clarifying White Paper ROI

February 20, 2013 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Industry Insights 

The topic of Return on Investment (ROI) is a frequent issue on the minds of business marketers today, especially in light of today’s soft economy. Since the cost associated with white paper development is not cheap, many marketing executives would like to know whether their investment in a white paper is going to pay off in the long run in the form of incremental sales.

This is the issue that was posted in, an online social media discussion site that I have posted answers to white paper related questions. Here was the original question that was posted to the site:

“Are there any examples/case-studies of white papers generating significant ROI for companies, particularly in the information services/market intelligence sector?”

This is a difficult question to answer, especially if one is looking for a simple yes or no response. With over 20 years of writing white papers, I find it almost impossible to provide an example of a white paper that I can point to which has generated a specific dollar amount of revenue as a direct result.


Think about all the factors that go into closing a typical business sale:

Exposure – How did they first become exposed to the company/solution?

Education – What tools did they read/see which provided them with the in-depth knowledge to determine if the solution was best suited for their needs?

Personal Contact – The person(s) with whom they communicated that furthered the sales process.

Demo –  The ability for the prospect to analyze the specific solution that will best meet their needs

Trial/Test – A trial run of the solution on a limited scale

Financing Options – The monetary issues associated with acquiring and implementing the solution.

So which area on this list has the greatest relationship to ROI? All of them.

While white papers may be one part of this process (probably the education part), a very limited number of organizations ask customers when they make a purchase where they found about about a company and the factors that prompted them to make the purchase. An even smaller number have the tools enabling marketing managers to drill down and measure the various factor(s) associated with a specific sale. This makes it almost impossible to measure the success of a white paper on a traditional ROI basis.

If you need to substantiate ROI, the best way would be to use web analytics that would capture measurable statistics such as the number of downloads, click throughs, views, or webpage hits. Another way would be to setup a landing page that would require registration. While it isn’t always a direct relationship, one can assume that the greater the number in any one or combination of these areas, the higher the probability of prospective business readers, leads, and closed sales.

Unfortunately, no organizations that I am aware of would share such statistics with the outside world, making it nearly impossible to point to an example of a white paper that could use revenue as a measurement of its success via ROI.

Here’s the bottom line: look to your white papers as an education tool rather than a sales tool. Measure success based on the number of individuals that furthered their awareness of your organization and the featured solution.

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    2 Responses to “Clarifying White Paper ROI”
    1. Yes, it’s one thing to measure the ROI of an initiative: a new lead generation strategy or re-branding effort. It’s another to measure the ROI of an individual component like a white paper or Facebook page, particularly in complex buying cycles. At best, you can determine a correlation and you can test attributes like what types of subject matter are more appealing or what channels and formats work best. You can even count the number of inquiries from an email campaign built around the white paper. But as you say, these things are part of a system and there are too many factors at work to assign a specific revenue or cost-saving value to one element.

    2. Thanks for your comment Michael. I couldn’t agree with you more!

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