In Business-to-Business marketing, whitepapers are a tried-and-true marketing tool. Whether actually written by your brilliant CTO or ghost written by the product marketing or PR people, whitepapers have a long tradition in the marketing mix. A good whitepaper helps establish a company as a market leader, a thought leader in a particular industry or technology and a "player" in a market -- sometimes, actually generating leads.
According to MarketingSherpa's annual Business Technology Marketing Benchmark Survey, whitepapers still work well for Fortune 1000 firms, but not so well with SMB (small and mid-sized business) firms.
The survey summary appropriately indicates that technology purchases usually have a research phase where prospective buyers set off and gather information on likely products, services and vendors. In larger firms, this process is usually done by a mid-level manager, but this may not be the case in SMBs, where IT directors or actual business owners may make buying decisions without actually doing all the research.
Online has changed the rules. Small and mid-sized businesses can now find LOTS of product research information for free.
MarketingSherpa's survey of 1,900 marketers indicates that whitepaper syndication services (CNET's ZDNet, CMP TechWeb, etc.) appear to be an effective way to reach large organizations when selling software, hardware and other technology services. Online ads in general business sites were the second most effective way.
But paid search services such as Google AdWords appear to work best with medium-sized companies, while many of respondents thought industry-specific online ads were also effective with this market. For small business, ads in third-party newsletters worked best, followed closely by paid search ads. (No wonder Google is changing the world of advertising ... and practically everything else!)
Do whitepapers still have a place in the world? I think so, especially if you are selling to the Bigs. But if you are selling to SMB clients, you might want to rethink the need for that well-crafted whitepaper... or make it shorter. You might also think about providing a highlighted version for quick reading.
To find out more about this survey, visit the SherpaStore or read a review of the survey on page 2 of the St. Joseph's (MO) Chamber of Commerce newsletter (PDF file).