Content marketing remains high on marketers’ agendas. But in today’s age of content overload and increasing digitisation, it’s hard not to question the role of the traditional whitepaper.

Before social media hit the scene, whitepapers were an important tool to deliver brand messages. In the years of the digital boom, their popularity has waned against the rise of new channels. People are time-poorer and attention spans are decreasing, leading to the rise of snackable content. So is it still ok to expect audiences to digest a lengthy document when they can consume short-form video?

The real issue is content overload. In previous times, whitepapers were one of the few ways to engage. Today, it’s a completely different story – content is everywhere. Consumers and prospects are bombarded with messages, making them less willing to interact. In today’s marketing landscape, has the whitepaper been left in limbo?

The theory of evolution

Just as other media and content has adapted over the years to meet the needs and demands of its audience, so too has the whitepaper. Take video as an example. It didn’t kill the radio star – the channels have just adapted to work together. This is no different from whitepapers and digital. New tools have meant the whitepaper has had to evolve, but there’s still a place for it within the marketing mix. Some formats, for example, serve more effectively as bite-size content, whereas the strength of whitepapers lies in their ability to communicate deeper insight. It’s all about using the right content at the right time.

Power to the B2B buyer

While there’s a perception of content saturation, whitepapers and other materials are contributing to a more empowered B2B buyer. According to recent research, B2B buyers consume an average of five pieces of content before they’re ready to start a conversation. Whitepapers might seem outdated but if we consider two of their main purposes – informing and educating – then the medium couldn’t be more relevant in today’s marketing landscape.

From a buyer’s perspective, whitepapers not only deliver a richer viewpoint, but they can better support purchasing decisions by providing in-depth information. As more B2B buyers actively seek the answers to their business problems before engaging with a company, whitepapers are an ideal tool to meet this need.

Creating a conversation

Whitepapers also offer a collaborative approach to content creation. Those that work are often the result of collaboration, rather than a single author, with each different viewpoint adding deeper insight and credibility.

Ultimately, the topic has to resonate. B2B whitepapers have suffered a bad reputation in the past but marketers can make them work if they use provocative, intelligent and credible topics. By doing this, they have the opportunity to kick-start industry discussions and help build brand affinity. The rules of content are the same, whatever the format. Whether it’s a whitepaper, a blog post or a tweet, the topic has to be compelling to make it stand out. As always, it has to have affinity with the brand connected with it, otherwise the credibility just isn’t there. Those marketers who perfect the whitepaper, alongside today’s digital channels, will be the ones who stand out.

Whitepapers aren’t showing signs of disappearing anytime soon. The key to their continued relevance and competitive advantage is the ability to evolve quickly to meet demands and expectations. Once that is understood, the whitepaper will thrive.


By James Foulkes, Director & Co-Founder, Kingpin

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