Let’s Not Kill B2B Whitepapers Just Yet

A couple weeks ago, my friend Kirk Williams wrote a thought-provoking post on the Wordstream blog called Can We Please Kill the Whitepaper in B2B PPC?. When I saw the title, my hackles went up. I started to think: “Kirk, how could you?”, because Kirk is one of my favorite people in PPC.

As I read the post, I found myself agreeing with him. What he’s really saying is we need to kill bad whitepapers in PPC. Bad whitepapers, according to Kirk, are “all too often nothing more than repurposed sales material.”

I agree.

The whole reason for using B2B whitepapers in PPC is to generate awareness and consideration for your product or service. B2B whitepapers are often used in the early stages of the buying cycle, when users are in research mode. No one wants to be sold to when they’re trying to do research. We all know how annoying it is when we’re trying to browse for a new appliance, car, or other considered purchase and some salesperson pounces on us with a hard sell. We don’t like it. Neither do B2B prospects. Repurposed sales material posing as a whitepaper is not helpful and should definitely die.

But good B2B whitepapers are a great fit for PPC. Our clients have created whitepapers offering opinions on news in their industry, checklists for businesses to consider when making a purchase, overviews of how to use their product, and many other valuable topics. The key is to create whitepapers that answer questions the prospect may have as they’re doing research.

Let’s look at an example. Say you’re doing in-house PPC, and your campaigns have grown to the point that you’re thinking about bid management software. This is not an inexpensive purchase, and there are many technical aspects to consider. You probably have 100 questions about what bid management software does and how it can work for your business.

Do you want to read sales brochures at this point? Of course not. You want to read case studies and information on how bid management software has helped businesses like yours.

That’s where the whitepaper comes in. A good whitepaper on bid management will explain what it is, what it can and cannot do, and how businesses can benefit. It will not be a sales brochure.

In his article, Kirk listed several alternatives to the whitepaper. They’re all great. We’ve found, though, that in situations where the user is early in the research process, free trials and discounts are too far from where the buyer is in his or her journey. Buyers at the early stages need something informative that doesn’t feel like a big commitment. Good whitepapers are just the thing.

Should bad B2B whitepapers die? Absolutely. Should all B2B whitepapers die? Of course not! Whitepapers are useful tools that belong in every B2B marketer’s arsenal. And I think that’s exactly what Kirk was saying in his article.

What do you think? Are whitepapers helpful to you as a B2B marketer or B2B buyer? Or should they be killed off? Share in the comments!

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