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Marketing Insight: White Papers and Inbound Marketing

by Randall Craig on July 26, 2013

Filed in: Blog, Make It Happen Tipsheet, Marketing, Strategy

Tagged as: , , ,

Nowadays, a white paper can be just about anything.

In the olden days of the 1980s, it typically meant a definitive exploration of a specific topic, often 20 pages or more. The author (and their organization) would be recognized for this knowledge by the marketplace, resulting in queries, and eventually, new business.

While some organizations still do white papers of this length, there are a number of options that exist that provide very similar benefits, but with far less investment. There is also a recognition that not everyone is interested in consuming 20+ pages of information, all of the time. Consider the options:

Book: A very significant effort, which is why it is one of the best ways to demonstrate thought leadership – and differentiate. Of course, a poorly written (or amateur-ish design) will lock-in the opposite impression. Two examples: Social Media for Business, The Everything Guide to Starting an Online Business.

eBook: These range from Kindle-based version of “real” books, to downloadable PDFs that can be over 100 pages. If the content is substantive, ebooks are both convenient and have a very low cost of distribution. Sadly, many ebooks are thinly disguised advertorials, with wide margins, large fonts, and double-spaced text. Great ebooks are great: bad ebooks… are bad.  Consider these two versions of Online PR and Social Media: Paperback, PDF.

White papers: Perhaps because attention spans have decreased, white papers are now much shorter – often between five to 10 pages. The better ones still seek to be a definitive exploration on a topic, but in a quicker, more concise way. Two examples: Social CRM, Viral Marketing

White sheets: These are similar in nature to a whitepaper, but are usually only one or two pages. The advantage is both the speed of creation, and the tighter focus (and therefore value) for the reader. White sheets can be in the form of a formal document, or in the form of a more lengthy blog post. Two examples: Socializing the HR Cycle and Social Media Damage Control.

Email or Blog: There are shorter, single -topic posts, usually three to five paragraphs. They demonstrate perspective, but given their length, don’t demonstrate as much depth of knowledge. On the other hand, blog posts or emails rarely stand alone; taken together, a long string of individual posts absolutely demonstrates thought leadership. Of course, this assumes that each post is actually, thoughtful. (Judge for yourself with my blog: over 400 posts like this one. Here’s another, on Omni-channel marketing.

Tweet: Twitter’s 140 characters do not quite give you the opportunity to directly demonstrate depth. On the other hand, Twitter gives you the ability to do this indirectly (by pointing to your thought leadership), and to do so over time. Check out @RandallCraig, and @108ideaspace.

This week’s action plan: Download and review the provided examples, and compare them with what you have. And if you don’t have anything  – or enough – in one of the categories, then this week fill in the blanks.

Note: The Make It Happen Tipsheet is also available by email. Go to to register.

Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)
:  Professional credentials site
.com: Web strategy, technology, and development
:  Interviews with the nation’s thought-leaders



Randall has been advising on Digital Strategy since 1994 when he put the Toronto Star online, the Globe and Mail's GlobeInvestor/Globefund, several financial institutions, and about 100+ other major organizations. He is the author of eight books, including Digital Transformation for Associations, the Everything Guide to Starting an Online Business, and Social Media for Business. He speaks and advises on Digital Transformation, Digital Trust, and Social Media. More at

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