New Research Reveals Marketing Role of White Papers

By Michael Stelzner

InformationWeek recently released a report titled, “Tech Marketing: Best Practices Research Series: White Papers: How to Maximize the Use of White Papers in Your B2B Marketing and Sales Process.” Yes, that is a mouthful, but so is the report. It full of great facts about the marketing power of white papers.

Here is my summary:

  • Viral nature: 93% of buyers pass‐along up to half of the white papers they read/download
  • What folks do AFTER reading: The first thing readers do is go to a search engine for more information (75.8%)
  • Can you trust them?: Only 40.7% if all white papers are deemed as trustworthy
  • How papers impact sales decisions: The role white papers play in the purchasing decision:
    • General education (76.3%)
    • Investigate technology in more detail (73.8%)
    • Learn about a vendor’s solution (68%)
  • Best white papers are here: Where do readers find the best white papers:
    • Vendor websites (50.8%)
    • Professional organization (43.4%)
    • Research firms (38%)
    • B2B sites and libraries (32.8%)
  • Suggested content: The best white papers should have:
    • A tight, to-the-point abstract (80%)
    • Minimal marketing (78.6%)
    • Use/Case studies (75.6%)
  • Other stuff: The perception of white paper content improves based on the reputation of the media source, so reported 78.9% AND if the vendor is known, 68% will trust the content, regardless if it is posted on a trusted media source

Summary: Most of these findings are in line with the other research I have covered.  Some real interesting new findings were the fact that folks rush off to search engines after reading white papers.  This is why I think it is so important to provide a shopping list of recommendations to readers, to bring them back.  In addition, the lack of trust related to so many white papers has much to do with the type of content folks are producing—too sales focused and not enough education.

What say you?

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  • Michael Kelberer

    Hi Michael,
    Thanks, as always, for the timely information. My take away from the trust issue is that it is always better to give first and worry about receiving later.
    Not sure I got the connection between a shopping list of recommendations and the rush to Google. Could you elaborate?

    Michael Kelberer’s last blog post..Keys to effective business proposals: #4

  • Jonathan Kantor


    I’m glad to see a white paper study finally confirm the importance of abstracts (aka Executive Summaries).


  • Michael Stelzner

    Michael – If a reader of a white paper immediately goes to Google, that typically means he/she is looking for more information and may come across the competition. This makes it valuable to have “What to look for when seeking a XYZ provider” type of section in the paper. Make sense?

    Jonathan – I agree this lends credence to abstracts. But I do take issue with the fact that the survey said “Abstract, tight and to the point” in it’s option. I think that could be misunderstood as a paper that is tight and to the point.

  • Jonathan Kantor

    Yes, “misunderstood” would be the operative word from these findings.


  • Charles (Chaz) Broersma


    Once again a brilliant synopsis… we have always promoted SEO as a major component for our Small Business Marketing efforts. How relevant and significant the additional information is, that they (whitepaper reader i.e., prospective customer) find, will invariably determine whether they will indeed become a customer or not.


    Thanks again!

    Charles (Chaz) Broersma’s last blog post..If you Twitter, Tweet don’t Twack!

  • Laurie Phillips

    Thanks for the summary. Prospects often tell me that attention spans are too short to read a 6+ page document. The updated statistics help offset that perception.

  • Sarah Mitchell

    Hi Mike,

    The issue of trust with white papers has been proved by an experience I had. I ran a discussion on white papers on a LinkedIn technology group discussion board. White papers have been around for decades in the IT field so people working in this industry know exactly what they are for and how to use them.

    I was surprised that every single person in the discussion expressed some form of distrust with white papers because they tend to have too much commercial slant and not enough objectivity. It’s further confirmation that when writing a white paper we need to keep “education” as the main objective.

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