Are white papers dead?

Advertising Isn't An Expense. It's An Investment.

focused man working with laptop

As marketing and advertising professionals, we’re alway looking for the next bright shiny object that can attract attention to our clients.  But sometimes, glitz and tricks aren’t always the most effective way to do that.  In our zeal to be current, we sometimes overlook the tried and true workhorses of our craft.  White papers sometimes fall prey to the desire to adopt new strategies early and often.  

White papers are still a powerful tool in our plugged-in, multi-channel world.  

Why?  Because they offer rich, substantive information that educates rather than sells.  They share new ideas that can provoke innovative thinking, are highly relevant and timely, and provide sound lead generation when written thoroughly and thoughtfully.  

As Rob Leavitt, Director of Thought Leadership at PTC, puts it, “There is no substitute for well-researched, well-thought-through points of view on issues that really matter to your customers. If you don’t take the time to do that, it doesn’t matter what format you are using. It just won’t be effective.”

And that’s the whole point.  White papers have the unique ability to jettison the fluff and provide solid information on a topic that has real meaning to its intended audience.  Poorly researched perspectives and third-party, white-labeled reports that are generic in nature won’t stop someone who is already bombarded with requests for their time and attention.  White papers have to offer true value and true insight, or they’ll be quickly consigned to the desktop trash.

Statistics back that up.  A 2018 report from the Content Marketing Institute found that 50 percent of B2B marketers rank white papers among the top three most effective techniques for reaching customers and making sales.  In a DemandGen survey, 76 percent of buyers said they’d hand over their information in exchange for a white paper.

But how do they work when we all strive to get our message across in 140 characters or less?

There are several good reasons. The need for speed in communications isn’t the death knell of our collective attention span.  Statistics say that the average attention span has shrunk from 12 seconds in 2000 to eight seconds in 2015, which would make it appear that white papers just don’t work.  But that’s not a valid argument. A shortening of attention spans simply means audiences have more choices in what information they can consume, and they don’t settle for just anything anymore.  

Plus, there is an inherent convenience in being able to download a white paper and read it on your own time, rather than sitting through a five-minute video or 30-minute podcast.  Of course, those vehicles have their place, but sometimes a good read can get your point across better–especially when coupled with those other digital offerings.  Plus, it sets you up as a subject matter if the content is clearly written and chocked full of valuable information.

So what makes a good white paper?

White papers by their very nature are more serious and informative.  The best ones tell a compelling story that is engaging and cohesive, and persuasive enough to convince the reader that you are the undisputed authority on this topic. 

Here’s how you can make your white papers 

truly sing:

  1.  Have a plan.  A white paper is just one component in your marketing tool kit.  It needs to be part of a larger, more cohesive plan.  When paired with infographics, videos, webinars, and social pushes, white papers can push some sitting on the fence over to your side.  
  2. Craft an interesting story line.  Remember, this is long-form content writing, and it needs to take the reader on a journey they’ll enjoy going on.  When you figure out the information your audience is craving, then you can weave it into a story that resonates directly with them.
  3.  Don’t skimp on the facts and figures. Statistics never get old, especially in a research-intensive white paper.  Pepper white papers with valid statistics that show the true scope of the challenge or let the reader know they’re not alone.
  4. Use visuals and illustrations.  White papers aren’t just page after page of text.  They should be well designed, just like an annual report or brochure.  They should also be designed within your brand guidelines and feature visuals that further illustrate the valid points you’re making.
  5. Have a clear call-to-action.  If you lead them through 4 or 5 spreads of good information, and don’t tell them how to react to the conversation, it’s a little like stepping away in mid-sentence. Do you want them to go to your website?  Ask for a free consultation?  Become a member?  Be very clear on what actions you want them to take.

tcs cues white paper coverA very good case in point is this white paper that I wrote with the leadership team at CUES.  

CUES is the leading talent development solutions provider for credit unions in North America. They educate, develop and support credit union CEOs, executives, directors, and emerging leaders through partnerships with premier business schools, live and online events, digital learning, networking, and premium content. They currently have over 39,000 credit union members throughout the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean and dozens of supplier members that market their services to these top-level decision makers.  

When the pandemic was subsiding and we were all returning to “normal” back in late 2021, CUES supplier members that market to credit unions members, like most other businesses, found themselves in the unchartered territory of going from adapting to a year-and-a-half of working in a digital environment to returning to face-to-face networking and sales presentations.

CUES addressed this issue head on in a white paper entitled Back to the Future: How to Ignite Virtual Sales and Re-Engage with Credit Union Decision Makers Face-to-Face.  In this paper, readers gained insight into how to access solid strategies for creating a hybrid sales model, ways to reconnect with top prospects, how to improve online sales pitches, and things to keep in mind as we all returned to more face-to-face interactions.  You download a free copy here:

The Back to the Future white paper not only provided sound, well-intentioned advice, but also acknowledged the challenges sales people faced during and after the  pandemic, and offered solutions to meet those challenges.  

White papers are far from dead. In fact, they still perform vigorously.

Consider including white papers in your marketing mix.  They can help solidify everything else you’re doing, and help keep your pipeline brimming with qualified leads to follow up on.  If I can help you craft a white paper, let’s talk.  Together, we can release its full potential for great results.  To learn more, visit