Do White Papers Still Engage? They do if they are Interactive!

Published: October 19, 2010

The good news is that today’s buyer wants to be engaged, with 9 out of 10 actively relying on vendor provided information on their way to making a purchase decision. Using this content, buyers are taking control of the buying cycle from direct / channel sales, making the content that marketing delivers more important than ever in driving shorter sales cycles and increasing the number and value of transactions.

Unfortunately, most of today’s buyers suffer from Information Overload as a result of current “carpet bombing” marketing strategies. Today’s buyers have more sources of information than ever including traditional, on-line and social media sources. For example, the typical buyer receives over 20 e-mail marketing messages a week, up 32% over the past 4 years. Worse, the information is often not customized for the buyer, and is viewed as irrelevant “noise”. Instead of being engaged, buyers are now inundated with more meaningless product information and offers than ever before, creating “marketing fatigue”.

The question any marketer needs to ask – Are your marketing efforts adding to the clutter, or engaging with prospects to advance the buying cycle?

Let us examine one of the most important tools to engage buyers, white papers, and new best practices to help evolve this traditional medium into an effective selling machine.

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Do White Papers Still Rule?
Although social media and blog content have the hype, when we look to which marketing content B2B buyers use more than any other in driving decisions, the white paper shines well above all others (MarketingSherpa and IDG 2010).

According to sales and marketing effectiveness researcher SiriusDecisions, the basic white paper is still one of the most important pieces of marketing content – used and trusted as the key buying decision tool by over 64% of early stage buyers, and 61% of middle stage buyers.

IT publisher Ziff Davis Enterprise (ZDE) indicates similarly that white papers are used frequently in buying decisions, used by 84.1% of IT buyers, consuming an average of 3.2 white papers per month in order to educate themselves on opportunities, best practices and solutions.

Examining the usage of white papers in detail, ZDE indicates that:

  • 35% of IT Professionals use them for awareness and finding ideas
  • 33% of IT Professionals use them for finding vendors or comparing them
  • 23% of IT Professionals use them for creating a short list and for vendor evaluation
  • 10% of IT Professionals use them for making a final decision


The good news is that many B2B markets have recognized the value of this traditional medium, and have invested heavily in valuable white paper content to attract leads, connect and engage with buyers, and shorten sales cycles. HOWEVER, because of information overload driven marketing fatigue, ZDE and others report that white paper downloads and frequency of use are DOWN year over year.

One-to-One a Requirement
The issue is that traditional white papers are not engaging enough to break through the clutter. Although B2B buyers are not all the same, the bulk of white paper marketing involves communicating the same information, in the same way, over and over to prospects as different as Joe’s Barber Shop and Exxon Mobil. This results in a slower buying process and the continual carpet bombing of buyer inboxes with the same static, mass-distributed whitepapers that every vendor sends out.

So, how do you make whitepapers more effective, more relevant, more ONE-TO-ONE? How do you connect with buyers and make sure your message resonates to them personally? How do you ensure your content won’t get filtered out?

One way to overcome these issues is via Interactive White Papers – by creating content that is dynamic, adaptive and personalized in real time, fundamentally changing the way white papers engage buyers.

Research from MarketingSherpa and KnowledgeStorm, shows that targeted content is more effective, viewed by buyers as more valuable in the decision making process when customized for Industry (82% more effective), Role/job function (67%), Company size (49%), and Geography (29%).

Designed to create more impactful and highly relevant content experiences for buyers – and yield deeper engagements and higher conversions for marketers – Interactive White Papers, powered by Alinean, connect a solution’s benefits to the unique needs of each customer through a question-and-answer interface that updates dynamic text modules within the white paper. Based on responses to profile questions on industry, location, size, stage in buying cycle, role / job function, goals and opportunities, the white paper is personalized to analyze the buyer needs and present relevant and personalized results.

For buyers, Interactive White Papers provide a fast and easy way to personalize specific data and messaging points in the white paper, enabling them to streamline their research and create more effective resources that can be shared within their organization.

For vendors, personalizing white paper content based on user profile, creates a better connection and stronger engagement. To attract buyers, the interactive white papers deliver a more personalized analysis and relevant content, generating more leads than traditional white papers. Once engaged, the buyer connection is deeper because only meaningful and relevant information is communicated. Noise is removed and education streamlined, helping to reduce sales cycles and drive more sales.

Interactive White Papers offer a turnkey solution to build new, or upgrade existing, static white papers and start making deeper connections with potential customers by offering a higher level of relevance to their customers’ needs. All interactions with the Interactive White Paper are tracked, offering a higher level of buyer intelligence and insight into customer pain points than is available through standard white paper programs.

“Our research shows that the features today’s buyers want most is the ability to personalize and customize their content experience, to control how they interact with the content, and that they are more likely to share and socialize content that is relevant to them,” said Josh Heitsenrether, Senior Vice President, Ziff Davis Enterprise Strategic Services.

Interactive White Papers have been proven to address these buyer issues, and deliver more personalized and more impactful results to potential buyers that will ultimately lead to deeper engagements, higher lead conversions and reduced sales cycles.

The Bottom-Line
In the new world of information overload, important white papers are getting lost in the clutter, and worse, are not deemed relevant to today’s more frugal / demanding buyer. It’s no longer good enough to have a one size fits all approach to white paper content.

Interactive white papers provide B2B vendors with a quick and easy solution to help meaningfully personalize content and engage with overloaded buyers.


Tom Pisello has built his 20-year career helping companies to get more business value from their IT and business investments. Tom’s latest endeavor, Alinean, was founded in 2001 to develop software, methodologies and tools for changing the way B2B sellers reach frugal buyers using interactive assessment, ROI and TCO tools. These tools have been adopted by many of the world’s largest and best B2B companies including Microsoft, IBM, HP, EMC, Siemens Healthcare, Intel, Dell.

Tom’s ROI and TCO experience began in 1993 with Interpose, a company he founded to develop the first automated ROI and TCO analysis software for IT investments. Interpose was acquired by Gartner in 1998 and formed the foundation for Gartner’s Measurement, ROI and TCO software solutions. Tom served Gartner as Managing VP and was instrumental in the software becoming the industry standard for TCO assessment. Post Gartner, Tom was responsible for launching and maturing several innovative companies including FullArmor, Connotate Technologies, DigitalOwl, and

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