Ebooks and White Papers: A Complementary Pair

Ebooks and White Papers: A Complementary Pair
Michele Linn - Thu Jul 23, 2009 @ 08:02AM
Comments: 71

Complementary PairI have been thinking a lot about ebooks lately. Stephanie recently posted a fantastic interview with Cindy Kim that discussed how Lumension added ebooks to their marketing mix, and this started my gears turning. Then, about a week ago I had a very thought-provoking conversation with Chris Herbert from MI6 that made me want to look into this issue some more.

Here's the question on my mind: How are ebooks different from white papers, and how do you decide which one to use? Ebooks seem to be all the rage, but I am strong proponent of a (well-written) white paper as well.

In many ways, white papers and ebooks are similar:

  • Both should be targeted to a specific reader.
  • Both should educate the reader by solving a problem.
  • Both should not be product-centric, yet they should persuade a reader to reach a certain conclusion.
  • Both are lengthy, yet they should be easy to scan.

I would even argue that the registration requirement should be the same for both. While many suggest ebooks should not require registration and white papers should, this does not always prove to be the case. I've seen ebooks that require registration and many white papers that do not. At the end of the day, your decision to require registration lies more with your objectives (do you need to build a list and nurture leads?) than with the medium (ebook vs white paper).

And, according to the 2009 TechTarget Media Consumption Report, white papers and ebooks are also both popular in the awareness and consideration phases of the buying cycle. However, it is important to note that white papers are substantially more useful in the decision phase, which makes sense because there are white papers that can very technical in nature.

While it is useful to note the similarities, it still begs the question: how are white papers and ebooks different?

The first major difference between white papers and ebooks is the design. If done well, there is something very engaging and approachable about ebooks. I love this differentiation by Jonathan Kranz, author of the new (and very engaging) The Ebook Ebook: How to Turn Your Expertise Into Magnetic Marketing Material: "A successful ebook is more collegial, reader-friendly and visually interesting than the traditional white paper." (The entire ebook is fantastic and one I would highly recommend if you have an interest in ebooks.)

I think this is description is spot-on. The design of the ebook definitely makes this medium stand out. Here are some generalizations:

  • Ebooks are in landscape format, making them very easy to read on screen.
  • Ebooks are graphics-heavy, often using an image on each page for aesthetic appeal.
  • Ebooks have bold text treatments to really make key points pop.
  • Ebooks have a very sharp title page.
  • Ebooks have more white space than white papers.
  • Ebooks can have interactive content. (For a great example of this, see the Lumension ebook, 7 Things Every CEO Should Know about Information Security.)

The second difference between ebooks and white papers is that ebooks should not mention your product or service - at all. Instead, they solve a readers' problem by educating them and giving them a new way to look at a problem. White papers educate, solve products and should not be product-focused, but it is OK if they introduce the product. I think this makes ebooks a perfect vehicle to jump start thought leadership in your area of expertise.

What does this mean for you? If you are looking for a new way to communicate with your prospects and you have educational insights to share, consider an ebook. In many cases, because ebooks have this novelty about them, they appeal to readers in a way that most white papers do not.

As a general rule, I think it makes sense to use both ebooks and white papers in the marketing mix. As one approach, you can use ebooks early in the buying process to establish thought leadership in your area of expertise. A great follow up to the ebook would be one or a series of white papers that dive deeper into the topic.

I'd really love to get your thoughts: What are the differences you see between ebooks and white papers, and how do you use both in the marketing mix?

Related posts:

Read more Savvy B2B posts from Michele.

Comments: 71

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