Content marketing is much more than distributing a blog article to your audience. White papers and eBooks are two great examples that can take content to the next level, offering your audience a new and exciting way to digest relatable information, while generating leads.

Though similar, there’s still something that sets these two assets apart. Think about it this way: You wouldn’t expect to get the same experience out of reading an illustrated novel as you would an essay, right? Both are valuable options for learning but with different goals and purposes.

If you’re still confused about the difference between the two, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s everything you need to know about what separates an eBook from a white paper:

What is a white paper?

A white paper is like a report or essay. It uses a combination of authoritative language and relevant data points to present a problem, then solves it.

You can use white papers to bring up a relevant industry issue and then talk about how your products or services can offer the solution. It’s important to remember, however, that white papers shouldn’t be salesy. They should be seen as educational resources that encourage readers to look further into the resolution you provide, thus generating leads.

A white paper contains expert knowledge alongside in-depth research. Generally, white papers tend to be on the lengthy side – between 1,000 and 10,000 words, as we’ve reported in the past.

white paper vs ebook

How do you create a white paper?

First, you must choose a relevant topic that highlights your expertise while also keeping your target audience in mind. How do you find that topic?

  1. Pay attention to industry trends by subscribing to market reports.
  2. Follow key influencers on social media to see what everyone’s talking about.
  3. Search through your company’s database of commonly asked questions.
  4. Speak with sales reps to see what prospects are concerned with the most.
  5. Check Google Analytics to see if you already have a high-performing piece of content on your site – then reformat that content into a white paper and redistribute.
  6. Compile relevant customer or industry data and publish as a white paper.

A few guideposts to making your white paper as impactful as possible:

  1. Use only credible sources: .gov/.org sites, industry publications, financial reports, proprietary research. Stay away from secondary sources or information that’s already common knowledge.
  2. Back up all claims with data: Not only do statistics allow designers to graphically call out important components of your white paper, but they lend additional authority to your argument.
  3. Follow a logical format: Start with a quick, informative intro that discusses methodology, then break up the main body of your copy into several sections or subheads. Finally, end with a conclusion that sufficiently wraps up your argument and harkens back to your original claim.

You’ll need a white paper if your goal is to:

  • Become an industry thought leader.
  • Generate leads.
  • Distribute research to your target audience.

Check out this example: CMS Wire’s “A Beginner’s Guide to Conversion Analytics

What is an eBook?

If you’ve never seen the word “eBook” before, you probably think it’s a specific reference to a novel or story that you can access on an electronic device like a tablet. In the content marketing world, however, it’s not quite the same. Here, it’s a valuable asset.

In comparison to white papers, eBooks are filled with illustrations and quick takeaways. It focuses on a topic of interest with an end goal to educate the reader, but it reads more like a book, with dedicated page breaks, a table of contents and helpful design elements that move the narrative along.

How do you create an eBook?

To create an eBook, the first step is researching a relevant topic that speaks to your target audience. From there, you’ll outline each chapter of the book, incorporating data, industry information, quotes and statistics that speak to the story you’re trying to tell – just like a white paper.

Then it’s time for the design process, which is where an eBook begins to stand out from a white paper in its final form.

A few design considerations to keep in mind:

  • Use colors, fonts and illustrations that align with your existing brand.
  • Decide whether still photography or custom illustration best conveys your message.
  • Try to keep each unique concept to its own page for better flow.
  • Use data points or metaphorical language in the copy to inform design cues.
  • Create a branded front and back cover page, again producing more of a “book” feel.

Lastly, think about your conclusion. Will you include a subtle call-to-action or a clear advertisement for your company? Unlike a white paper, an eBook can be salesy. “For more information, contact us today” is a simple and straightforward way to keep your readers at the top of your mind and offer a next step on their journey with your company.

You’ll need an eBook if your goal is to:

  • Introduce your audience to a new concept or service.
  • Turn a difficult topic into something that’s easier to comprehend.
  • Provide information in a visually satisfying way.
  • Boost lead generation.

Looking for an example? Check out Brafton’s own eBook, “8 software marketing strategies that work”, which teaches readers about software marketing in 2018.

(Shameless plug.)

The takeaway

Those interested in a problem-solving guide can benefit from a white paper. Someone looking for an asset that’s more creative and visually appealing may be more attracted to an eBook.

The bottom line: There’s no right or wrong choice! An evaluation of your current goals will steer you in the right direction for choosing a fresh content format that boosts brand awareness.

Chelsey Church is a senior writer and editor at Brafton. When she's not turning her thoughts into copy, she's enjoying a craft beer, playing with her dogs or listening to her favorite metal tunes. A Cleveland native, she'll never let you forget that the Golden State Warriors blew a 3-1 lead.