Can We Please Kill the Whitepaper in B2B PPC?


The History of Civilization 101 (Or At Least the Whitepaper)

Final exam time. If you fail this, you will be flunked back to Freshman year and thus doomed to wander aimlessly about the campus trying to find your next class.

business to business marketing strategies

Question 1: When was the whitepaper created?

(a)  2014

(b)  2002

(c)  1998

(d)  1922

If you answered (b), then you are wrong.

Actually, a, b, and c are all wrong. The answer is (d), the whitepaper was first written by the British in 1922 to address “the existing political situation in Palestine” (no seriously, you can read it here if you want: British White Paper of June 1922).

What does this have to do with B2B PPC?

Well, the purpose of your exam and brief history lesson was to demonstrate that, at one point in time, the whitepaper actually served a purpose: to educate and inform in a detailed and valuable manner.

To my knowledge, this purpose continued into the 21st Century as the whitepaper was repurposed and widely used in a digital fashion. I remember downloading whitepapers when I first began marketing and eating them up. Some were disappointing to my expectations, and some delivered with impressive depth.

There was a place for this more detailed wealth of knowledge, and companies began to identify the potential for utilizing this as a means of offering something valuable in exchange for the up and coming currency, information. The gated form and PDF download was born! The company got information for future sales possibilities, and the studious customer got in-depth information  immediately applicable to her business from a professional (of some sort in some sort of specific area).

b to b marketing ideas

Both parties smiled, and peace reigned in B2B. It was a healthy and vibrant marketplace.

Well, I’m not sure if things were ever that hunky dory, but I contend there was a level of satisfaction with the exchange of vibrant and vital information (business) and personal information (customer).

DEATH to the Whitepaper as a Conversion!

Then it all changed.

I would argue that the current whitepaper, taken as a broad whole, is now all too often nothing more than repurposed sales material. The exchange has become imbalanced, because the user still has to give away personal information. In some ways, their information has become even more valuable in the age of information. A piece of information like a cell phone number, not publicly available, is even more emotionally valuable to the consumer.

b2b strategies

The whitepaper, on the other hand, seems to have degressed from being educational and informative to “salesy.” This experience is becoming far more common, and I’d like to put a stop to it for the good of our industry. It promotes distrust in giving personal information, and degrades what used to be (and could be again) a great source of marketing.

It’s time for the whitepaper to die in B2B PPC.

Offer Something Personally Valuable {Insert Sunglasses Emoji - FOR LARRY}

I suppose I could end this post here and get all sorts of nasty comments about how “whitepapers get email addresses so they are worth their weight in gold, regardless of the perception of the consumer for long-term consideration.”

But my goal is not to leave us B2B PPC’ers without a proper solution. To be honest with you, I think we use the whitepaper because we feel like we don’t have anything else to offer, not because we all actually believe it’s the ideal format for a valuable information exchange.

I think there is a better option. I think instead of offering the generic whitepaper, we should change the offer to be something personably valuable to the B2B visitor to our landing page (this is actually something I learned from WordStream, so I am honored to be writing this post as a guest blog!).

What do I mean by personally valuable? I mean, something that the person hitting your landing page actually wants to receive. Something they would willingly hand their sacred phone number over for. 

What is that holy grail of B2B offering? Here are 7 ideas.

7 Examples of Personally Valuable B2B Offers

You won’t be able to implement all of these into your client landing pages, and this certainly doesn’t come close to covering all the possible options there are out there! The goal here isn’t to be exhaustive in ideas, rather, take some time to think through what your client can offer that will be personally valuable to LP visitors (using these examples as starting off points for your ideas).

Offer a Free Trial

marketing offerings for b2b ppc

Amazon isn’t solely B2B, but their good example helps if it can work with your business model. A potential customer landing on your page is going to actually be interested in trying out your software (or Shipping Club, or whatever). Why not give them something they actually want, like access to what you are offering for a period of time to test it out?

Offer a Free Analysis

b2b ppc analysis

If you offer some sort of solution that meets your customer needs, then kill two birds with one stone. Give them something they will value (a professional analysis of their account), as well as the chance to show you know what you’re talking about. I can see this working for far more B2B companies than just PPC, especially in the SAAS industry.

Offer Free Media

business to business marketing strategy

Unbounce does something awesome with their CTAConf, they give you full access to all the sessions for free, er, well… for the low, low price of your personal information. But for this marketer, it was well worth handing over my email address! Also, sidenote, don’t you L.O.V.E. that they just ask for your name and email address? How can you not throw it in there for a free conference session? No phone number, no address, no job title, just email! <3

Offer a Free Consultation

how to marketing a b2b offering

I didn’t point to any particular business for this one, since so many do it, but it is a great alternative to the whitepaper. I actually offer this with my PPC business (hey, we agencies are B2B, remember!). Instead of offering a whitepaper, collect a phone or email address and offer to hop on a free call specifically to talk through the potential client’s account and situation.

Here’s the deal though, remember that it must be personally valuable TO THE PROSPECT. So market it as such, and tone down the Type-A Salesy talk. I find this especially helpful with SMB prospects since often they are unsure where they should go next. It is actually valuable to them to hear a professional make a suggestion as to what they should try next. There has been more than one occasion where I have counseled someone NOT to pursue PPC, but rather focus on say, a new website first. You may think it’s crazy to let someone off the phone without getting a sale, but guess who they will return to when they are ready for PPC (and when they actually have a website that can convert)?

Offer Club Pricing

b2b landing pages

This is something that would likely work better for a B2B e-commerce company, but offering a lower price for certain personal information could be a way of building a group of loyal customers, especially in a highly competitive vertical. Admittedly, this could also be a way of losing money so… only do it if it makes sense in your situation.

Humorously enough, in the example above, the email request isn’t for the purpose of collecting contact information, but for getting around Minimum Advertised Pricing policies set by the manufacturer (don’t get me started on MAP. That has its own issues in PPC, as I’ve written elsewhere: The Secret Conflict of MAP Pricing and Google Shopping.)

Offer Free Product Samples

marketing for b2b advertisers

Perhaps you sell promotional products (SWAG) or something else in which it makes sense to offer a free sample to visitors. In that case, a visitor doesn’t want to see a whitepaper telling them they should use promotional products, they most likely want to actually get one of your samples in their hands. Convince them with the product itself, it’s personally valuable and they’ll gladly part with a bit of information for it. In fact, since you actually have to ship something physical to them, you can go the extra mile and get even more information out of them like their physical address to build into your fantastically maintained and well-used CRM (*snort, guffaw* ok, I’m done laughing now).

Offer a Good Whitepaper

Ha, I caught you, didn’t I? You hate me now, don’t you?

Well, remember my original premise. It’s not that whitepapers are inherently bad, it’s their salesish, buzzwordy content that stinks. Perhaps you have a client in an industry that actually does personally value good content above other things. In that case, give the people what they want! Spend the time to create awesome content, maybe even an infographic? Make it deep, full of knowledge, and your customers will be happy and come back for more.

...And if you do all that, then I guess I’m okay with you keeping your whitepapers.

What about you? Any other personally valuable offers you would add to the list? What’s the most creative offer you have run across?

About the Author

Kirk Williams is the owner & minion of ZATO, a PPC marketing agency, and has been working specifically in paid search since 2010. He has written for Search Engine Land, Moz, PPC Hero, and the Bing Ads blog. In 2015 Kirk was named 1 of the Top 5 Rising Stars of PPC by PPC Hero and 1 of the 30 Best PPC Experts to Follow by White Shark Media. Kirk likes to chat PPC, and you can find him speaking at various conferences across the US. If you follow him on Twitter, you know he likes to make dumb PPC memes.



Amy Hebdon
Jan 20, 2016

Another B2B offer I see that's just as insidious as whitepaper is "demo." What does demo even mean? It could be a video playback, an hour+ call with a sales rep, a sandbox... who knows! It's almost never explained, just "give us your contact info and get a demo." I'm surprised anyone ever completes the form, but it's the primary lead-gen tactic for a lot of B2B companies (demo or whitepaper).

Jan 20, 2016

Great observation. Perhaps one way to remedy this if your business offers a legitimately good demo is to be more clear on what that is in the form/context-around-the-form.

"Ready for a 1 hour, 1 on 1 personal demonstration of our platform? Fill this out. {short form}"

Lena Prickett
Jan 21, 2016

Awesome post Kirk, couldn't agree more. Marketers have to deliver personally relevant value -- or one-time-shoppers won't come back. It's all about trust, right? Delivering a crummy experience on the other side of a form breaks my trust.

Jan 22, 2016

Thanks Lena! It's funny, even with the number of poor content download "conversions" we see out there, I would guess that many marketers actually agree with this sentiment. The problem often seems to reside with the client. Poor content whitepapers/ebooks are what they have on hand so that naturally morphs into the "goal conversion." I think especially when first onboarding a new client, having a conversation that communicates the importance of a genuinely, personally valuable offer and brainstorms ideas can be a very helpful way to establish this as a better practice and help the client shift energy and resources into building better offers rather than just making their 7 year old whitepapers "work".

Johnny Partron
Jan 22, 2016

Not sure about this. Whitepapers provide added value, and for business owners whitepapers can be vital in keeping senior stakeholders informed about key changes.

Corey Zeimen
Jan 28, 2016

I think the whole point of the whitepaper is to clearly identify a specific pain point. Far too often do these whitepapers do that with the expectation of the sale to be made in the copy itself instead of selling in a proper nurturing series...

A better approach would be to solve specific problems for the user, and position that info in the places where your ideal prospects are actually looking for it.... This is what I do for all of my clients...

Melissa Mackey
Feb 03, 2016

Bad or overly salesy white papers should absolutely die. They're not useful for anyone. OTOH, good white papers serve a valuable purpose in B2B marketing. Prospects early in the buying cycle are usually not ready for a trial or demo. They're just researching what's out there. Trials and demos are asking for a date, when the prospect just met you 30 seconds ago. Done properly, white papers will get prospects into a nurture stream that guides them through the buyer journey.

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