Let’s get this out of the way up front; white papers and e-books — not the same thing. Well, not entirely. Some elements are similar and overlap in both structure and design. The terms for the two content formats are used interchangeably often, especially by clients, who often have an idea in mind and care less about terminology and more about getting a piece of content that delivers. Rightly so! 

But as content marketers, we need to keep the differences straight in our head and ask the relevant questions at the briefing stage.

Here are four things to keep in mind to get that cracking white paper or e-book that converts.

The difference between the two formats is a depth of content

As with all things in content, the first step is to evaluate who your target audience is. Are you trying to clarify a new technology for your customers or perhaps a trend in an industry? A subject matter that requires in-depth research, perhaps?

White papers are heavily researched pieces of content. They are seen as authoritative, reflecting an expert opinion on a subject.

On the other hand, e-books are much “lighter” — easily digestible content.

If your goal is to be seen as a thought leader, share research through an educational piece of content, then a white paper is the way to go.

Take the example of the following subject: 5G technology: Use cases for humans and society. The subject matter is probably best dealt with as a white paper!  But the topic, Top 5 cool uses of 5G technology for your home, probably best dealt with as an e-book. 

Create graphics and visuals that help enhance the subject matter

The general wisdom is that e-books tend to have more illustrations, graphics and multi-media than a white paper which perhaps needs to more ‘scholarly’ in both design and tone.

I don’t generally agree with this perception. For me, as a content marketer, design and tone and voice of writing are not in neat, separate boxes. Just because a subject is complex and merits a white paper, does not mean that the content will not benefit from quick takeaways, snappy graphics and illustrations.

Just ask my 13-year-old trying to understand Newton’s laws of motions. Since she was struggling with the turgid school text, I found an animated YouTube video that explains the fundamental laws of physics.

Point being, anything that makes the content accessible and has the target audience asking for more, is on the table. Indeed, good design helps to keep the audience’s attention span. 

Take a look at this white paper from Cisco on enterprise networks. The content is highly technical, but the design pulls out critical insights in an eye-catching manner.  

A structure is important — a beginning, a middle and an end

To paraphrase Aristotle, every story must have a beginning, a middle and an end.

True for fiction but also non-fiction. A strong and good narrative needs to tie in together neatly.

Before you set out to write the piece of content, you MUST have an outline in place. Ideally, time permitting, this outline needs to be cleared by the client before the writer sets out to write the white paper or e-book.

Start with an executive summary up front.

Imagine that this is a first blind date — your introduction and the first impression must be dazzling enough to get the date to agree to a second data; in this case, read the rest of the white paper or e-book and click on the call to action.

Outlining the structure will also help the writer avoid the one common mistake in white papers, particularly: making the content too abstract and theoretical and not offering actionable insights. Unlike e-books, since white papers are authoritative pieces of research, it is easy for writers to get lost in the research and lose sight of the applicability of the client’s proposition.

Sure, 5G maybe the best thing since sliced bread but what does that mean for your audience? Make sure that your content addresses that one

Entice the target audience with a summary of the white paper or e-book 

Offer a short teaser on your webpage or social media. A summary, a few interesting facts or maybe even more than an outline, is a great way to feed the audience’s interest. Here is an example from an image-recognition company, Trax Retail. This is a white paper on Perfecting In-Store Execution, essentially actions that CPGs and retailers need to take to ensure that all products are on the shelf at the right time and price. This teaser covers the content in clear bullet points so that the actionable insights are visible to the audience.

Here is another excellent example from LinkedIn on a Marketer’s Guide to LinkedIn. The teaser is concise; the benefits are clear upfront, enticing your audience to offer their details and click on the download button.

Speak to us today about how we can help you create and amplify the perfect content for your business. We have loads of references and samples to share with you.