An E-book Is Not a Whitepaper - Answering Your Question from 'Content Marketing to Woo the Executive'
(On May 2, Target Marketing hosted a webinar on "Content Marketing to Woo the Executive." One of the questions that came up during it was "How is a whitepaper different from an e-book?" Here is the speaker Johnathan Kantor's response.)
There's a lot of truth to the expression, "perception is reality;" especially with the terms "whitepaper" and "e-book." For most business decision-makers, the perception of a whitepaper is radically different from an e-book, and choosing the right term to apply to a business-focused marketing document can play a significant role in how your target reader perceives its contents.
Unfortunately, for a small segment of B-to-B marketers, there is a lingering perception that the terms "e-book" and "whitepaper" are interchangeable when it comes to business solution marketing. Maybe it's due to the chic trendiness associated with the name "e-book" as opposed to the more stogy moniker of "whitepaper" that has been around for almost 100 years.
To the general public, the term "e-book" is understood to be an electronic book, which is often associated with traditional educational or entertainment-oriented information. For C-level executives seeking information in support of a strategic business decision, the term "whitepaper" carries more weight or "gravitas" than the term "e-book." As someone who has spent over 30 years in the enterprise arena and has worked with countless business executives, the term that gets their attention is "whitepaper," not "e-book."
The answer to the question of terminology is as simple as looking at what leading business marketers use to describe their strategic deliverables, such as IBM, Oracle, or Gartner. They use the banner "whitepaper" and not "e-book."
Leading business marketing organizations know that when C-level executives are handed a whitepaper, they will perceive it as containing factual, well researched and validated information that can be used to form important decisions. Hand them the same information under the term "e-book," and most will perceive its information to be less serious. In fact, I can't think of a single Fortune 1000 corporation that uses the term "e-book" instead of "whitepaper" as part of its B-to-B communications strategy.
If you ask business marketers that favor e-books, you get a more casual definition of B-to-B content. One such person is Jonathan Kranz, who published a definitive e-book on the topic called, "The eBook on eBooks". In the e-book, Kranz states:
A successful e-book is more collegial, reader-friendly and visually interesting than the traditional whitepaper. Rather than communicating what you need to sell, it connects with customers by sharing what they want to hear: information, insights and answers they genuinely value.
Also take note the size of this tome, 44 pages, which is outside the realm of what most business decision makers can easily assimilate in one session unless they are emotionally invested in the topic. Most whitepapers fall into the six to 10 page range, a more digestible size for today's time- and attention-challenged executives.
For CIOs contemplating a strategic business decision—such as implementing a multi-million dollar, enterprise-wide supply chain management strategy—the words "reader-friendly" and "collegial" don't enter their minds.
In comparison to the more casual and friendly nature of an e-book, the term "whitepaper" has a long and established legacy as a document of institutional importance.
Starting as a government document in the early 1920's, whitepapers were a way to state an official position. Later within academic circles, whitepapers were used to represent scientific research and fact-based studies. After academia, whitepapers entered the commercial sector in the 1980s starting in the tech sector. This rich history is one of the reasons why whitepapers still carry the perception of "gravitas" or a document of valid, fact-based importance.
Today, whitepapers are considered an essential marketing tool in almost every business sector and industry, and this perception is one of the primary reasons why they remain a highly effective lead generation tool used to attract new customers via an online marketing campaign.
So when you want to deliver a casual business subject, feel free to use the term "e-book." When you want to deliver a mission-critical business strategy, the term "whitepaper" will be much more effective in engaging your target business decision maker. Rather than having your strategic business document perceived less seriously with the banner "e-book", why not take advantage of the automatic gravitas associated with the term "whitepaper" to promote your brand?
It seems like a 'no-brainer' to me.
Johnathan Kantor is principal and founder of The Appum Group. Reach him via his blog on The Appum Group website, or on Twitter @Jonathan_Kantor. You can also download a free copy of his whitepaper, "How to Craft White Papers that Appeal to Busy Executive Readers."