A white paper and an eBook might appear to be quite similar. Both are useful for content marketing and leads generation, especially in the technology sector. However the two concepts are not the same and they are used in different ways, at different stages of the digital marketing funnel.
Generally, a white paper is an in-depth analysis of a business or technical problem, discussed in an impartial way. The style is formal, maybe bordering on academic, and people publish white papers with the needs of a knowledgeable audience in mind. A white paper will use formal references and quote expert or academic sources. If it relates to the IT sector these are usually well-known industry analysts. If there are any illustrations, they tend to be charts or tables. The length of a white paper can be anything upwards of 1,500 words. In practice, 2,000 words is usually long enough to communicate a business concept, although some white papers are longer.
An eBook is very different. An eBook is more likely to be aimed at a reader who is new to the topic. It might provide an overview or a beginners’ guide to a subject, and illustrate this with tips and advice or infographics. The style of an eBook is more chatty. It can contain colourful illustrations, pull quotes, bullets and lists. Some eBooks contain hyperlinks and video, to provide an easy interactive experience. The length of an e-book can be anything from ten pages upwards, but there is less text on each page than with a white paper, so the reading time will be about the same.
White papers usually have a plain business-like format with very little branding or direct advertising content. This is important because white papers are supposed to be impartial rather than promoting a brand. An eBook will be more colourful, and is likely to be more overtly promotional. It will have a cover, a middle and a back page, and will use a graphical format more like a book or brochure. It can contain some corporate branding.
Both kinds of document are published in PDF format, so that no one can edit them. Both the white paper and the eBook have a place in a content marketing campaign, at different stages of the marketing funnel.
White paper or eBook?
In marketing terms, you would choose a white paper to demonstrate thought leadership or to promote a new concept or solution. For readers who are learning about a topic for the first time an eBook may be more suitable. An eBook provides an overview of a subject in a simple format that is easy to digest. Some marketing people say that a white paper should be available to download freely, while an eBook should be used as gated content for top of funnel traffic.