A central part of digital marketing is content. You’ve probably already got a blog. No doubt you’ve been sending out regular newsletters too. Social media is pretty much mandatory. But what about case studies and white papers?
When it comes to B2B companies or those selling particularly complex or technical products and services, case studies and white papers offer an exceptionally valuable form of high-quality content that can generate leads and increase business.
Here we explore what exactly a case study or white paper is, and what distinguishes them from each other, as well as outline the best practices for both.
Case Studies vs Whitepapers: What Are They and What’s the Difference?
When it comes down to it, the only things case studies and whitepapers have in common is they’re both effective ways to drive engagement and generate leads, and they both happen to be forms of content often neglected in marketing strategies.
Here’s what you need to know.
A whitepaper is essentially a research-based report. It’s designed to help users understand a particular issue or problem, covering the topic in-depth with both data and analysis, providing an evidence-backed solution and assisting readers in making a decision.
A particularly valuable marketing asset for B2B companies, they are long-form content, usually at least six pages and over 2,000 words. This means they can take a few months to write and perfect.
White papers target visitors at any stage of the sales funnel but particularly mid-funnel customers who want to know more about your company. They help build awareness of your brand and explain particular issues, establishing your expertise as an influential and reliable source of information.
In terms of style, white papers are formal and quite academic. They should also be kept up-to-date and accurate, so they can continue to provide value to readers. This means they have a lifespan of between one and two years, depending on the industry.
White papers don’t reference products or services directly. They aren’t a sales pitch. Instead, they indirectly drive sales by establishing your authority and position as a thought leader in the industry, building trust and, consequently, interest in your brand.
A case study is a form of social proof. It’s essentially a long-form testimonial from a customer or client that shows how your product or service helped them or their company. People often look to their peers for reassurance before making a purchasing decision, making case studies a powerful source of motivation.
A case study is much shorter than a white paper, usually around 800 words. They are highly persuasive, showing potential customers exactly why your service or product matters in a relatable and personal way, focusing on benefits rather than features.
Despite being significantly shorter than a white paper, case studies still require a lot of research. You need to find the right customer to interview, reach out and ask if they’re open to the possibility, conduct an interview, and turn this into a compelling and persuasive piece of content.
That said, because your product or service is unlikely to change over time, case studies can be relevant and effective for quite a while—at least a couple of years.
Compared to white papers, case studies are targeted at those customers later in the sales cycle — those at the stage of comparing various products and solutions. They are designed to nurture prospects rather than generate leads.
These customers already know who you are and what you offer and potentially have some objections. Your case study will help overcome these objections, providing reassurance that they are making the right decision.
How Case Studies Can Help Convert Customers
Now we’ve explored what a case study and white paper are, we can dig deeper into how each content asset can boost your business.
With case studies, it’s about providing a real-world and relatable example of how your product or service can help solve a problem. By showing the success of your offering from the point of view of a real person or company, demonstrating evidence of satisfied customers, you build trust.
Case studies are particularly effective if your product or service is especially expensive or complicated. In these cases, customers are likely to be hesitant about committing, not sure if the product is right for them or worth the money, which is why 63% of B2B buyers read at least one during their research.
Case studies can alleviate any concerns, showing how an actual person or company has benefited from your product or service. Even better if the customer in the case study had objections that were solved by your business — or chose you over a competitor.
To craft a powerful case study, start by identifying a customer or client who fits the profile of your ideal buyer. Reach out and ask if they would be happy to be interviewed, offering incentives if necessary.
Once you’ve done the interview, turn it into a narrative with a clear beginning, middle, and end, describing the customer’s challenge or problem in their journey to find a solution and any positive result. Data and statistics are particularly persuasive.
Pull out specific quotes to make it feel more authentic. And format the case study so it’s easy to read with bullet points if necessary.
You might choose to make your case study a PDF download or have a dedicated case studies page on your website.
And once you have your case study, you can repurpose it into other content assets such as videos, infographics, or blog articles. Similarly, your sales team can use the case studies to make a persuasive argument when on the phone with people.
Case studies may be time-consuming to create, but they’re worth the effort. 62.6% of US marketing agency executives in an eMarketer survey said client case studies were effective in generating leads.
How White Papers Can Generate Leads
White papers are less directly persuasive than case studies and are more of a long-term strategy. They encourage customers to trust your company based on facts and evidence, not just your word.
White papers are a great form of lead generation. When you provide a genuinely insightful piece of content in one easy-to-access PDF, readers are happy to hand over something in return — namely their contact details.
A white paper will also help establish your authority in your niche, positioning you as a thought leader. You build trust and credibility by analysing problems facing your industry and providing well-considered solutions and an impressive amount of research. No wonder 71% of B2B buyers have used white papers to research purchasing decisions in the last 12 months.
Using your own original research will also allow the white paper to differentiate you from competitors who won’t have access to this data. Yours will be a fresh take that customers can only get from you.
You can also use your white paper as a springboard for blog posts and other content assets. You may even get links back to your white paper from other people who use it as a reliable source of information.
After writing your white paper, make sure to include a CTA, encouraging customers to join your email list, request a free demo, or even make a purchase. Then share it on social media and distribute it at conferences and webinars. LinkedIn is a good platform for B2B content. You can also spread the word via email.
The best white papers are comprehensive, clear, and concise. They’re less about a hard sell and more about subtly promoting the usefulness and relevance of your service or product when it comes to solutions to issues affecting your industry.
White papers should look professional, have a catchy title and headline, include facts, data, and statistics, and be well structured. They should also include images, illustrations, and quotes from experts.
E-Books vs White Papers
Some people argue that white papers have been replaced by e-books, which are more informal, engaging, and shareable. But the fact is, white papers and e-books have very different goals and targets.
E-books are more casual ‘how-to’ guides that inform customers about your service and promote your company. White papers are about sharing complex knowledge. They aren’t explicitly about your brand and, in terms of tone, are more scholarly and text-heavy.
One report found that 76% of buyers were willing to share personal information in exchange for white papers — 13% more than those who would be willing to do so for an e-book.
Adding Case Studies and Whitepapers to Your Content Arsenal
It’s clear that case studies and white papers are a great addition to your content marketing strategy.
While both require a fair amount of time and effort, both effectively drive engagement and, consequently, sales. In a world where many content marketers are focused on social media and churning out blog posts, creating these more complex but incredibly valuable content assets can pay off, helping you stand out in the noisy online landscape.
When deciding between case studies and white papers, work out your goals and who you want to target. Do you want to spread brand awareness? Generate leads? Boost conversions?
Remember that case studies talk about the customer while white papers talk about solutions. Case studies are more effective later in the sales cycle, while white papers help move customers from awareness to interest.
Most importantly, both can be used and reused for a couple of years in various forms, making them an excellent investment of your marketing team’s time, money, and energy.