No One Wants To Read Your Whitepaper. Let’s Hope They Recycle It.

by Lauren Carlson

CRM Market Analyst,


I have no interest in reading a War and Peace-style sales pitch — and, let’s face it, that’s what most whitepapers are these days. Once scholarly in their ambition, whitepapers have devolved into thinly-veiled, lengthy sales pitches that no longer appeal to the educated buyer’s shortened attention span. Companies need to find new and more direct ways to reach the buyer 2.0 without going all Tolstoy on them.

Twitter is a powerful tool for finding, fostering and maintaining customer relationships. Graphic technology makes it easy to take your PDF to a new and more captivating level. And marketing automation software makes it easy to create, manage, and track buyers’ activity on microsites. There’s no excuse for sticking with the whitepaper.

Let the Past Go

Buyers used to get their information from a vendor, relying on research from whitepapers for education. Now, they educate themselves and each other. Information about your company, products, and even customer experiences is just a few mouse clicks away. Accordingly, individual attention spans have shrunk, forcing businesses to communicate in incredibly responsive ways. The average user’s attention span is now only about 7 seconds.

In a study presented by Information Week, 500 senior-level execs polled stated that only 17 percent of the whitepapers they read seemed unbiased. This is another reason why buyers avoid whitepapers during their research process — they’re not perceived as credible. Plus, whitepapers lack the ability to engage buyers through interaction. Interaction is the antidote to shrinking attention spans.

Twitter #Chat

Twitter is all about interaction. A type of Twitter activity known as #chat is a series of tweets that occur at a designated time, all focused on a specific topic. Anyone with an interest or opinion can join in. They are easy to follow because each tweet has the same hashtag attached to it. For example, I could host a chat about CRM vendors with a #CRMvendor hashtag. Everyone participating would use that hashtag, making it easy to follow the conversation.

One of the most successful topic chats is #blogchat hosted by @MackCollier. Every Sunday from 8-9pm CST, people log on to Twitter and talk about interesting blogs. A recent #blogchat had a whopping 5,600 tweets from more than 700 participants. If your company organized a #chat, participants could ask questions and your experts could be there with the answers.

With 5,600 tweets in an hour, you might need a tool for tracking the overwhelming Twitter activity and trends. We use TweetDeck, which is free. Another great application is TweetReports. It is a paid service, but provides much deeper analytics, such as sentiment analysis, most active users, and top shared links. There are even several marketing automation vendors that have built-in social media monitoring and reporting.

Twitter #chats are great for sharing information, finding out what potential buyers want to know, and building relationships. Individuals and organizations using this tool have reported strong follow-up from their Twitter #chats, many of which result in new customers. Marketing automation tools can be used to track activity, such as number of leads that come from Twitter so that companies can gauge the effectiveness of their chat sessions.


What if we took an old fashioned whitepaper and enabled it to evolve in real time, with new content constantly updating? And what if reader feedback and the most current news and information on a particular topic or issue could be shared? Readers would have reason to revisit again and again. Introducing the microsite.

Microsites function much like a normal website, but they focus on a precise segment of the market. For example, Software Advice has a primary website, but also maintains several microsites that cater to specific niches. One such niche that promises growth is marketing automation software. So, we launched Marketing Automation Software Guide, a microsite dedicated to the subject. This allows us to create a tightly focused message and user experience, which has helped boost our activity in the marketing automation space.

Marketing automation software often includes applications for building microsites. With features such as customizable templates and drag-and-drop form builders, it is easy for users of any technical skill level to create and launch a microsite. Additionally, marketing automation software helps to monitor microsite activity such as click-throughs, downloads, and conversions. This way, marketers can see how users are interacting with the content and make adjustments based on the effectiveness of that content.

Dynamic PDFs, eBooks

Adding multimedia elements to PDF documents helps to increase readers’ interactivity and help buyers to stay engaged. It is easy to add video, presentations, music, and animation to PDFs. This kind of eye candy helps to break up the text of your presentation and keep the reader interested. Also, because it is dynamic, your content is appealing to a wider audience. Some people absorb visually rather than through text; dynamic PDFs perform on both levels.

Another worthy successor to the whitepaper is the eBook. While both terms are often used interchangeably, they are quite different. The eBook is more interactive and contains multimedia elements. eBooks allow readers to participate by clicking on links, watching videos, or filling out surveys. They are presented in a landscape format that makes it easier for online readers to view. The whitepaper can be read online, but because of the formatting, whitepapers often must be printed to digest — this is an extra step that risks losing readers. With the eBook, you save trees and save your reader the headache that accompanies a tome of inert text.

So, while the whitepaper isn’t completely dead, it sure is showing its age. By using multimedia, real-time chats, and niche marketing via the Web, marketers can remain competitive and increase reader engagement. Save Tolstoy for bedtime.

We want to know your thoughts on whitepapers. Do you still see it as a viable lead generation tool or do marketers need to explore other options for reaching new customers? If so, what do you see as the solution? Please leave your feedback in the comment section below.

Thumbnail image created by iowa_spirit_walker.



I agree. Whitepapers can be painfully subjective and dull. There’s other interesting, creative content that can serve the same purpose.

The most successful brands / companies spend an extraordinary amount of tedious attention to creating aesthetically pleasing experiences. Style guides are strictly adhered to. Creativity is embraced. Artists are hired. Product development geeks are queried, but then politely shooed away, “Thanks you. We can take it from here now.”

Comment by Greg Jordan

White papers can be good, useful tools for marketers IF they deliver value. No one wants a War and Peace-length sales pitch. On the other hand, I’ll read a good white paper that offers tools, tips, and techniques that I can use no matter how busy I am. Some companies do it very, very well — and I tend to remember them when it’s time to make a purchase. But you have to earn my business — just because I’m a consumer of your publications doesn’t automatically make me a customer for your business.

Comment by Deb McAlister

I think whitepapers can be effective if you know how to write them.
They have to tell a story and be personal, no corporate jargon.
The best strategy I have found is to interview the experts. Pick someone inside or outside your company. Interview them, transcribe it, then edit it to tell a story. Your final product will have more character & personality than if you tried to just write about a topic. Try it.

Comment by Jordan Krizman

I’m perplexed by the implication that the use of a white paper somehow precludes leveraging marketing automation to track buyer behavior, enable subsequent lead scoring, etc. Is this just a matter of nomenclature (making the assumption that “white paper” = “boring PDF with too much text”?)

White papers can be interesting, compelling, useful and engaging. And they can certainly be part of an integrated program to engage leads, drive site traffic, etc. As the other comments here indicate, it’s a matter of how they are written, how they are repurposed, and how they are used to drive deeper engagement. Dismissing the white paper out-of-hand feels a lot to me like dismissing “all of Europe” because you had some bad pasta one time in Rome. There’s a lot of variety out there.

Comment by Amy Bills

I’m going to throw a perspective in here that, on the one hand–in highly vertical fields (like IT Security, Tech-based businesses, and Educational Vendors)–a “White Paper” can provide a good base of tactical information to support overall decision-making (in general terms).

I certainly agree with the author that there is a glut of vendor-bias (even from the so-called “neutral” analyst groups), usually because said documents are written with a slant to support a high-paying subscriber or for key product placement and expansion.

Writing, however, for the sake of providing solid technical analysis–maybe even with a bent on business “value” is not lost in the White Paper genre.

At least for my part, I will take heed to the author’s concerns (I hate Tolstoy), when writing future docs in this category. As long as White Paper writers consider that these documents provide true objective reasoning, with sound attribution for support, and perhaps just a bit of “perspective” (i.e. mild bias), if it’s all qualifiable, current and relevant, then there will remain a need–perhaps even a growing interest–in these docs.

Comment by Drew Williams

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