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Today’s marketing focuses a great deal on creating content. Many people come to us with a good idea but aren’t sure which content type to use in order to communicate it – whitepaper, blog, ebook, brochure …?
It’s important to consider your objectives when creating a piece of content but it’s equally important to take customer expectations into account. And for the love of scotch, don’t start writing until you know what type of content you’re creating!
Let’s take a look at the various options and discuss what is best to use when.
Whitepaper: information dense
A marketing whitepaper is an authoritative, in-depth piece of content on a specific topic. It is neither a product nor a company pitch. Rather it showcases your company’s expertise on a complex topic in your market. Ideally, it is a thought leadership piece that positions your company, its leadership, or its staff as a credible authority and industry expert in the minds of your customers.
A whitepaper is aimed at helping your audience understand a complex topic and/or inform a difficult decision. It not only offers a thorough explanation, it provides a solution. A whitepaper includes facts and references – it’s like a well-researched article in an industry journal.
However, don’t confuse a marketing whitepaper with an academic one, which is typically a peer-reviewed piece, extremely dense with research results, and neutral in its approach. A marketing white paper should not contain a sales pitch, but it should guide the reader to a specific conclusion with carefully crafted messaging.
Marketers consider the whitepaper to be a cornerstone content type – a “big rock” that spawns individual pieces of content (like blogs, podcasts, videos, webinars, and presentations). The latter act as teasers to get people to read your whitepaper, which many companies gate behind a form to capture leads.
Finally, your whitepaper must offer value. It is informative and educational, and it leaves the reader feeling the time they invested in reading your paper was time well spent.
eBook: broad audience
A marketing ebook is typically a source of help for the reader. This content type is a vibrant attention-getting reader-friendly piece with strong visuals: photography, charts and graphs, and interactive media. Like a whitepaper, it is considered long-form premium content and can be put behind a form to capture leads if that is your strategy.
The objective of creating an ebook is to build credibility and establish a connection with your audience by providing helpful information – also like a whitepaper. Similarly, it is not a product or company pitch and must provide value to the reader.
Sound confusing? To make matters worse, many people think that an e-book is a gussied-up white paper turned on its side.
The best way to differentiate between the two is to think of a whitepaper as information-dense content on a narrow topic and an ebook as high-level content on a broad topic.
Another big difference is the audience. A whitepaper is generally targeted at a narrow audience of experts. It’s more data-driven and seeks to engage and further educate well-informed individuals looking for more data and solid answers whereas an ebook tends to suit a broader, less-specialized audience.
Blog: for the world to see
A blog is an online “journal” whose content can be updated much easier than other content types. This content type is essentially a web page that works as an SEO vehicle to build visibility and drive traffic to your site.
A blog can be many different things, including a vehicle for commentary, product updates, and opinion pieces. It can also be used to introduce new executives, make announcements, and let people know where to see your company next. It can also be used to point people to other content that you want highlighted – say a press release or a whitepaper.
People often ask us about when to do a whitepaper versus a blog. While there is some crossover when a blog does a deeper dive, there are some fundamental differences.
For starters, a blog is typically shorter than a whitepaper but its length can vary widely depending on your objective. At the low end, a blog can be 500-750 words while at the high end it can hover around 2,400. Whitepaper length can vary too but it is long-form content that typically starts where blogs end.
Another difference between the two, a blog can be more opinionated and handle many different marketing tasks, while a good whitepaper is always factual in nature and based on research. For this reason, business buyers tend to take a good white paper more seriously than a blog post. What’s more, people are more vested in content when they have to give up their email, and it’s far easier to gate a whitepaper than a company blog.
My advice, if you meet the criteria for a whitepaper – a deep dive on a specific topic – then it’s best to do both. Publish the whitepaper first, then use your blogging platform to talk about separate sections of your whitepaper and drive people to the full paper for more details.
Brochure: hard pitch
Most of the content types we’ve discussed thus far work best at the top of the funnel (the awareness phase) to draw people to your company. A brochure on the other hand works best lower in the funnel where a hard sell is not only tolerated but expected.
This is the one piece of collateral where you can and should directly talk about yourself, your technology, and your products. In fact, educating people about your company and your stuff is a brochure’s raison d’être.
But don’t try this approach with a whitepaper or an ebook as most people will be turned off by such egocentricity at the start of their journey. No one who downloads a white paper is looking for a sales pitch.
The information in a brochure should be kept at a fairly high level. If you want to do a deep dive on your technology/product, try a product brief or data sheet. These content types are drier, less emotive, and meet customer expectations for low-level information.
Think of a brochure as a great sales tool – a credibility piece that works nicely at the decision stage to help close a deal.
Press release: for the media
A press release is also a heavily biased content type. This is not only okay, it’s expected.
According to Wikipedia: A press release is an official statement delivered to members of the news media for the purpose of providing information or making an announcement. The media are always looking for stories to cover but your release must be newsworthy to get a reporter’s attention.
Before issuing a release ask yourself if what you have to say is really news. It has to be about a current event that is of interest to stakeholders outside of your company. Like a blog, a release can be about many things – a new product, new executive, new customer, or new partnership. But it must be news.
Another thing to keep in mind is your PR must be delivered with a very neutral tone. You want to make it extremely easy for reporters to lift your copy off the page and use it verbatim in their articles.
It’s important to get a PR right because posting it to a news wire costs you money. (So does a PR company but if you’ve already got one of these you’ve got the guidance you need.)
Resist the pitch
I have found that, for the most part, companies cannot resist talking about their technology and/or products. And while some content types can accommodate a pitch or are designed for it, many people tend to highjack all content types to be thinly veiled sales pitches. There are many reasons for this not the least of which is lead quotas and ROI.
Unfortunately, this does nothing to build trust and relationships, which is the cornerstone of today’s marketing. Prospects in the B2B space take a long time to educate themselves before they are interested in jumping into anyone’s funnel.
For instance, creating a whitepaper or ebook that’s overtly product-biased will turn customers off. It feels like being accosted by a timeshare sales team the minute you get off the plane.
Ask yourself about where in the funnel you need support. This should tell you whether you need a thought leadership piece or a company/product/technology pitch. Know that there’s a content type to accommodate your needs, just be aware of what it is you want to do.