EBooks vs. Whitepapers: Which Performs Best?

The Difference Between eBooks and Whitepapers in Marketing

eBooks vs. Whitepapers: Which Performs Best?

eBooks and whitepapers share some similarities, with the obvious one being that they’re usually much longer than your average blog post. But despite that, it can be a little tricky knowing which format to choose when it comes to publishing a long-form piece of content.

As noted by Nicolas Straut, SEO Associate at New York-based Fundera, the primary difference between an eBook and a whitepaper is the audience each format targets. Straut explained that an eBook often serves as an extended guide on a topic for a general audience. “A whitepaper is more [of an] academic report on a particular topic that presents new research or information for a more niche audience of experts,” he said.

Another difference between eBooks and whitepapers is the objective they both aim to achieve. Mike Tirone, digital marketing strategist at Baltimore MD.-based R2i shared the main objective of a whitepaper. A whitepapers aims to persuasively educate it’s target audience, according to Tirone. “Whitepapers directly address a specific topic, [or a problem], and [then] provide a tangible resolution, commonly written in the style of a report or case study. It’s written in a tone that is persuasive, detailed, and authoritative, further supporting the author’s expertise in the subject,” he continued.

Tirone expanded further by saying that whitepapers are often used by marketers to highlight the brand’s value proposition — which could be a product, service, or solution — in a polished deliverable with strong visuals and writing. “The structure of a whitepaper can vary, but the common components remain pretty consistent; [it starts with identifying] a problem, [followed by a] methodology, guidance, [and then the proposed] resolution,” he explained.

Because whitepapers are more data-driven and are more targeted towards individuals who are familiar with the area around the topic, Tirone says the content will be presented differently in eBooks and whitepapers. “An eBook is more formally structured than a whitepaper and typically longer. An eBook can be easily read and understood without being contextually rich like a case study or a detailed whitepaper.”

Are eBooks Better Than Whitepapers, or Vice Versa?

Hubspot writer Emily Haahr paints a somewhat sharp contrast between whitepapers and eBooks in her article “Why eBooks Are Better Than Whitepapers”. In the article, Haahr concludes that eBooks are inherently better because they are simple and cheaper to produce, the content is easier to digest, and they can “spread like wildfire.” She argues that this is due to the more casual tone of an eBook, which makes it appealing to wider audiences.

However, Ketan Kapoor, CEO and co-founder at Haryana-based Mettl, doesn’t share this viewpoint. Kapoor observed that eBooks and whitepapers each have “distinct’’ advantages. “EBooks and whitepapers are information-rich content properties that aim to progress the buyer journey. However, the difference [in performance] lies between the stages they target in the buyer journey or funnel,” Kapoor said.

“EBooks perform well at the “awareness” stage of the buyer journey, where a person is trying to accumulate information about a particular product or service and wants to gain a comprehensive understanding first. [Consumers at this stage] are more concerned about the “problem” part of the equation.” said Kapoor. “Whitepapers, on the other hand, target people in the “decision” stage in the buying-journey. Whitepapers are introduced when a person versed with the basics [is] looking for “proven validation” of a concept to fuel their buying decision,” he continued.

Kapoor also noted that whitepapers tend to take longer to produce due to their more specialized nature, which also means they incur higher costs to create. “Depending on the research involved, eBooks are fairly easy to [make] and are good at capturing a person’s share of mind in your products. An eBook can educate a layman who has no expertise or experience using a product or service,” said Kapoor. Whitepapers, on the other hand, are more about providing a, “data-backed solution to the user’s problem. That’s why [producing] a whitepaper takes plenty of research and time as you have to include plenty of data to convince a person into buying.”

What’s your objective?

How to use white papers for marketing

White papers are generally seen as more academic and data-focused compared to ebooks, and often follow the structure of Problem > Discussion > Solution (as the below infographic shows). And they’re usually written in the style of a report or case study, with an authoritative and objective tone.

narrative arc white papers

Moreover, white papers often educate readers on a specific problem that they might not have even been aware of, helping to subtly build your sales argument as you position yourself as part of the solution.

Ultimately, the purpose of the white paper is to act as a keystone document that showcases your in-depth expertise of a certain subject and act as a dossier of your company’s values. It provides a great opportunity to foster thought leadership and increase brand and consumer trust.

How to use ebooks for marketing

Ebooks, on the other hand, are less explicitly about your company and your products. They provide “how to guides”, industry insights or other content that helps to educate or inform your target audience . Of course, the subject of an ebook has to tie into the product you provide. For example, our PR for Growth Playbook provides a step by step guide on how to do PR, which as a PR company we’re in position to educate people about.

Who’s your audience?

Defining your objective goes hand-in-hand with identifying your target audience. Customers going through different stages of the sales journey are going to be interested in different types of content.

Ebook target audience

For example, a customer who’s at the top of the sales funnel would probably prefer an easy-to-digest ebook that’s written in a more informal tone, if they aren’t yet overly familiar with your industry. At this point, you might have only recently entered their radar and they’re still at the “awareness” stage. In fact, Hubspot writer Emily Haahr argues that ebooks are the winner altogether, thanks to their casual tone and wider appeal, enabling them to be able to “spread like wildfire.”

A great example of an ebook that provides value and serves as a successful lead generation content is Hubspot’s ‘how to create an ebook for lead generation’ . It educates its audience on how to achieve their goal while demonstrating Hubspot’s expertise.

White paper target audience

So, writing an ebook can be a great way to use content marketing to generate new leads and increase awareness. However, if a customer is at the later stages of the sales funnel and looking for evidence that you’re as credible as you say you are, a white paper is a better demonstration of that. At this point, the customer is at the decision-making stage and is looking for “proven validation.”

Thanks to the rigorous research and expert insights that good white papers are usually bursting with, they can be a great tool to fuel a buying decision. In fact, according to the Eccolo Media B2B Technology Content Survey , more than half of respondents said they read a white paper before making a buying decision.

This gives a clear answer for those who are still wondering if white papers are still relevant. A well-written white paper can be the deciding factor on closing the sale, especially for B2B companies.



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